Live near a factory? You’ll want to know about this new tech


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Quick takes:

  • Companies and governments have high hopes for hydrogen as a clean energy source, but…
  • Scientists have raised concerns about hydrogen’s climate risks.
  • An innovative new technology can detect and measure climate-harming hydrogen leaks.

The world’s biggest green hydrogen project — which will extract pure hydrogen from water using renewable electricity — recently broke ground in China. Hydrogen fuel cells that can power trucks are being manufactured in upstate New York. Around the world, hundreds of billions of dollars in public and private investment are poised to flow into nearly 700 proposed hydrogen projects.

Companies and governments have high hopes for hydrogen as a potential clean energy source. 

But experts caution there are considerable challenges to making hydrogen climate-positive. For one, most pure hydrogen today is extracted from fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Current hydrogen production would be the world’s fourth largest source of CO2 emissions, if it were a country. 

And there’s another, less well-known problem — hydrogen gas itself can pose a threat to the climate. It can have a powerful warming effect, and it leaks easily — two critical facts that are often overlooked in the race to build out hydrogen energy.

“If hydrogen is going to deliver what its backers promise,” says Environmental Defense Fund scientist Ilissa Ocko, co-author of a recent study on hydrogen’s climate impacts, “we need to keep it from escaping into the atmosphere.”

That task is easier said than done. But a recent breakthrough suggests hope is on the horizon. 

The challenge of hydrogen leaks

Hydrogen is an indirect greenhouse gas, and when it leaks, it creates a chain of chemical reactions that increases the amount of greenhouse gases, like methane, in our atmosphere. Pound for pound, hydrogen’s warming potential is about 40 times greater than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release

According to research by Ocko and colleagues, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a multitude of hydrogen leaks at a global scale could undermine the climate benefits that hydrogen is supposed to provide. 

But there’s almost no real-world data on hydrogen emissions, in part because the technology to measure them doesn’t exist. Hydrogen is a tiny molecule, odorless and invisible, even to infrared cameras. Hydrogen sensors today are designed for safety: they’re used to alert people to the presence of a large, potentially explosive hydrogen leak. They lack the speed and sensitivity required to detect and measure smaller leaks of hydrogen wafting through the air. 

As the world looks to hydrogen energy as a climate solution, the lack of data on hydrogen leaks has become a critical issue. 

Breakthrough technology

Fortunately, new technology is on the horizon. A novel hydrogen sensor developed by Aerodyne Research was able, for the first time, to measure a small hydrogen leak. 

In an experiment designed by EDF scientist Tianyi Sun, in collaboration with Aerodyne and Cornell University, scientists drove the new sensor in a specially equipped research van over a grassy test site dotted with oil and gas equipment, where a pipe was releasing tiny amounts of hydrogen. 

Within seconds, the sensor detected tens of parts per billion of hydrogen wafting through the air, representing a breakthrough in hydrogen emissions detection. 

On its own the quantity of leaked gas was not significant. But replicated across thousands of facilities and miles and miles of pipelines, such leaks could add up to undermine the climate benefit that makes hydrogen so appealing in the first place. 

“Now that we know it works, we can take this instrument to real-world facilities like fertilizer plants, or hydrogen fueling stations, and measure how much hydrogen is escaping day to day,” says Sun. “Right now, we know very, very little about how much hydrogen leaks. And filling that gap in our understanding is critically important for the climate.”

EDF says that minimizing leaks, through good engineering, regular inspections and producing hydrogen close to where it’s used, should be a key consideration in any hydrogen project. The group is also urging industry leaders to get involved in research efforts. 

“There’s a lot more to learn about hydrogen emissions,” says Sun. “And the clock is ticking.”

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Are you making climate change worse?

Are you making climate change worse?

Climate change is a real threat — but it’s one you can help combat. By understanding how big companies and common household items impact the environment, you can make more informed and sustainable choices in the products you use and companies you support.

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Despite promises to align banking and lending practices with the Paris Agreement — an international treaty on climate change — top 35 global investment banks have largely failed.

Banks including JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America contributed over $150 billion each to fossil fuel companies since 2016, according to the Rainforest Action Network’s Banking on Climate Change Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020. Combined with 31 others, these banks funneled a combined total of nearly $2.7 trillion into fossil fuels in just four short years.

Not only is the fossil fuel industry pushing global warming to dangerous levels, but it’s also contributing to devastating water and air pollution. And it’s not just our environment that pays for it. Significant health problems are a direct result of climate change, including heart disease, lung cancer, respiratory failure and strokes.

Green alternative: Open an account with a smaller, ethical neobank

Neobanks are online-only fintech companies that offer benefits like minimal fees, competitive interest rates and less waste production since there aren’t any physical branches.

For example, neobank Aspiration is up front about its policies on working with fossil fuel companies and has green practices that back your banking habits. It plants trees with every swipe of your debit card and offers carbon offsets to help reduce your contribution to climate change.

When you compare environmentally friendly neobanks, do your due diligence and check its owners. Although some fintechs purport sustainable environmental policies, you should work with a company that is transparent about where its money and investments go.

Look into where the electricity for your home comes from. Many parts of the country rely on fossil fuels to power their cities — though some make use of clean energy sources. Wasting energy by not turning off the lights or running the AC with the windows open can contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Likewise, driving a car that isn’t fuel efficient also increases your impact on the environment. But even electric and hybrid car owners should be aware of where their power comes from. If your city mainly uses coal or natural gas for electricity, then you won’t be cutting fossil fuel emissions as much as you think.

Green alternative: Use more energy-efficient products

While you don’t have to go all out and refit your home with energy-efficient appliances and products all at once, making the switch when you do need to replace your dishwasher, water heater or other big appliances will add up. Check for an Energy Star Label and compare a wide range of options before settling. Not only will you help the environment, but you’ll also save money in the long run by buying more energy-efficient options.

In the meantime, stay mindful. Check your electric company’s peak hours. Running your dishwasher or washing machine at non-peak times will save you money and reduce the pressure on your area’s infrastructure.

Limiting your use of the dryer — air-drying your clothes reduces your energy consumption and helps keep your clothes intact longer — and your HVAC system will also decrease your individual impact on the environment.

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It’s old news that cattle and factory farms are bad for the environment. Not only do cows produce methane — a major greenhouse gas — but their water and food consumption is staggering. And in quite a few parts of the world, forests are removed to make way for pastures, which further compounds the harm they do to the environment. Other animals have their own impacts, but by far, unsustainable red meat production is a major contributor to climate change.

Green alternative: Go local and plant-based

Shopping for in-season, local produce — and actually eating it — is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. This doesn’t necessarily mean going vegetarian or vegan. Rather, try to incorporate more vegetables and legumes into your diet. Opting for poultry or fish instead of red meat is another more sustainable option. Freeze what you don’t use, eat your leftovers and compost when you’re able.

If you continue to eat meat, cut down on your portions and continue to add more plants to your diet. You should also reach out to local farmers and butchers. Supporting local, animal-based businesses reduces the toll of factory farming on the environment and help increase demand for farms in your area.

But don’t assume going plant-based is without consequences. Monoculture — when farms and plantations produce only one crop — can damage an ecosystem’s biodiversity, especially when crops replace natural forests. Almonds and palm oil trees are major contributors to water consumption and deforestation. Always check the labels of the foods you buy and do your part in researching how the staples in your diet affect the environment.


Beauty products are often packaged in hard plastic with mixed ingredients — making them nearly impossible to recycle. And the chemicals found in many beauty products, as well as the water and palm oil used in the manufacturing process, all play a role in making most beauty products extremely unsustainable. So unless you’re willing to DIY all of the products in your beauty routine, you need to research how your products are made to understand the full scope of their impact on the environment.

Green alternative: Support businesses with environmentally friendly practices

As with most advice, there is a reason the first word in the green mantra is reduce: The less you consume, the less demand there is for products. Cut back on your makeup and beauty routine where possible to avoid producing excess waste. This is generally the most sustainable option, but if you can’t, investing in products with eco-friendly ingredients is a positive change you can make to your routine.

But keep in mind that many common terms like natural and green don’t have set definitions. Any company can claim its products are environmentally friendly — and many do. Always consult the list of ingredients and look into how products are produced to be sure you’re buying from a truthful and transparent company.

Pay attention to packaging as well. A natural or eco-friendly product packaged in plastic — or even plastic-coated cardboard — is still contributing to climate change. There are some mascara brands, for instance, that come in bamboo tubes and are refillable. Metal and glass containers are also more sustainable, so look for products with this type of packaging when you can.

The convenience of a paper towel, cleaning wipe or plastic straw may be hard to beat — but we all know how much our trash contributes to climate change and the destruction of natural environments. Not only are reusable items more cost effective, they are a simple way to reduce your overall waste.

Green alternative: Invest in reusable products

Although it can be tempting and easy to buy single-use products, don’t fall into this trap. For every disposable product you buy, there’s a reusable product that saves you money and helps you reduce your total waste. And for real savings, you can visit bulk and no-waste stores that allow you to fill up your own containers with shelf-stable foods and other products like soap and shampoo.

Reusable grocery bags, water bottles and coffee mugs are simple switches for everyday use. Using a metal safety razor with a replaceable blade may be intimidating at first, but it cuts down on the plastic used to make the razor and the packaging it comes in.

If you buy single-use cleaning supplies, consider an all-purpose cleaner and rags instead. It may still use energy to wash your rags after a spill, but throwing away paper towels has a much more damaging effect on the environment. And like other daily reusable products, you’ll spend less by cutting up an old shirt and buying a cleaning concentrate than new bottles and paper products every few weeks.

It should come as no surprise that physical mail contributes to climate change. Even if you recycle everything mailed to you when possible, the paper manufacturing process and the fossil fuels used to deliver the mail to you have an impact on the environment. And while using your computer or phone does have a small carbon footprint, it’s minimal when compared to the waste produced by physical mail.

Green alternative: Go paperless

The quickest way to reduce your physical mail is to go paperless. Most banks and fintech companies offer a paperless billing system that sends transaction receipts and account updates to your email. Using your bank’s app to complete transactions — rather than writing physical checks or using cash — also helps reduce the amount of paper waste you create.

If you receive a high volume of unsolicited mail, you can add yourself to the Federal Trade Commission’s national opt-out list or reach out to each company directly. Unsubscribe from coupons and physical store newsletters and receive them as an email instead. Reject a physical receipt when you shop and opt for digital instead. Going paperless where you can has a monumental impact on how you contribute to climate change.

As helpful as it is to pay attention to your own waste production and contribution to climate change, this isn’t an individual issue. Large corporations are responsible for their impacts — and many largely go unchecked. It may be small, but working with an environmentally friendly neobank will literally help you put your money behind the issues that matter most to you.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

Featured Image Credit: Максим Шмаков / istockphoto.