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Masdar City taps ZCV to tackle methane emissions

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The UAE’s Masdar City has announced its partnership with Zero Carbon Ventures (ZCV). The first project will deploy UK technology that converts methane emissions into graphene and hydrogen.

  • The partners’ first project will use UK climate tech company Levidian’s Loop devices to convert methane emissions into graphene and hydrogen. 
  • Methane’s global warming potential is up to 86% stronger than that of CO2, but existing technologies make it far easier to capture and monetise. 
  • Public-private partnerships in urban environments could serve as an ideal testbed for developing innovative solutions that can then be adopted at scale. 

Situated in the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) capital city of Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is a low-carbon development comprising a rapidly growing clean-tech cluster supported by its business free zone and its residential neighbourhood. Masdar City is a subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company, funded by the Abu Dhabi government.

Long-term partnership to address regional decarbonisation

Under its memorandum of understanding with technology-focused climate investor Zero Carbon Ventures (ZCV) the urban development aims to accelerate decarbonisation across the Middle East.

The partners’ first project will capture methane emissions and transform them into graphene and hydrogen, using technology developed by UK climate tech firm Levidian, which joined forces with ZCV in May 2021. Their plan is to deploy 500 of Levidian’s Loop devices by 2026, primarily to mitigate the methane emissions of landfill and gas flaring sites. 

Masdar City’s executive director Ahmed Baghoum said: “This agreement with Zero Carbon Ventures underscores our commitment to advancing the development of low carbon solutions and further supports the UAE’s Net Zero goals. Having Zero Carbon Ventures based in Masdar City also adds another important area of climate response specialization to our dynamic network of tenants and comes at a particularly pivotal time as we pave the way towards the UAE’s hosting of COP28 in 2023.” 

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 

Methane’s global warming potential is estimated to be up to 86 times stronger than that of CO2, particularly in the short term. Although some methane is emitted naturally, research suggests that around 60% of its emissions come from human activities including oil and gas, agriculture, landfill, wastewater treatment and coal mines.

The methane problem may be even worse than was first thought, however. Research indicates that the methane emissions of natural gas flaring have been underestimated, with a US study concluding that unlit flares and inefficient combustion resulted in a fivefold increase from what had previously been assumed. 

Not only that, but a 2022 study of satellite data from Delhi, Mumbai, Lahore and Buenos Aires found that city-level methane emissions were between 1.4 and 2.6 times higher than previously estimated. The study goes on to say that landfills account for up to 50% of those emissions. 

The good news, however, is that methane is easier and cheaper to capture from industrial processes than CO2. With existing technologies such as steam methane reformation, microwave plasma and pyrolysis, methane can be seen as the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of the industrial transition to net zero. 

Furthermore, captured methane offers several opportunities for monetisation, providing an economic incentive for the adoption of such technologies. 

Levidian’s Loop technology turns methane into valuable products 

Levidian’s Loop devices can be installed at any methane-producing site, such as wastewater treatment plants, power generators or anaerobic digestion facilities. When redirected into the Loop systems, the methane molecules contained in waste gas streams are broken down into carbon and hydrogen. 

The carbon is then extracted in a powdered form to make graphene, a solid carbon material that is valued for its light weight, flexibility, corrosion resistance, water-repelling properties and high thermal and electrical conductivity. Graphene is also estimated to be 40 times stronger than diamond and around 300 times stronger than steel. 

As such, graphene can be used within several different industries to create composite materials and more durable products. Potential applications include its use in lightweight vehicles, sustainable construction materials, battery manufacturing and medical devices. 

Hydrogen produced through the Loop technology, meanwhile, is captured as a gas that can be compressed and sold or used on site. There is currently high demand for hydrogen, with it having been positioned as a crucial approach to the decarbonisation of heat, electricity generation and transportation. 

Indeed, Levidian claims that businesses which use its Loop technology to replace some of their natural gas consumption with hydrogen can reduce their CO2 emissions by an average of 40%. 

Urban environments are useful testbeds for decarbonisation solutions 

As centres of economic growth, innovation and transportation, cities hold significant influence over the wider decarbonisation of macro-level systems such as the energy, transport and construction sectors.

Local authorities are uniquely positioned to experiment at the policy level, providing opportunities for successful solutions to be rapidly scaled, while supportive settings for local businesses provide ideal conditions for intervention, innovation, iteration and adaptation. 

Public-private partnerships, such as Abu Dhabi’s partnership with Masdar (also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company) to develop Masdar City as a sustainable community, could therefore be crucial in bringing low-carbon technologies to scale. 

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