What does the US-EU methane pact mean for Australia?

21 September 2021
Deal aims to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent
Professor Jun Huang and Dr Shenlong Zhao from the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering comment on the joint US-EU methane reduction pact and what it could mean for Australia.

Last week, the United States and European Union set a target to cut methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030.

Accounting for approximately 20 percent of emissions, it is the world's second most emitted greenhouse gas. 

In Australia, most methane emissions come from natural and liqueified gas industries, the production and transport of coal, agriculture, and decaying organic mass in landfill. 

The joint US-EU commitment has been described as a big advance towards the Paris agreement's 1.5°C goal. 

But given many of our large commodity exports, such as coal, natural gas and livestock contribute to methane emissions, where might this leave Australia?

Decarbonisation experts, Professor Jun Huang and Dr Shenlong Zhao comment on the reduction pact and explain how a domestic and export hydrogen industry could reduce Australia's methane emissions.

Professor Jun Huang is developing technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Credit: University of Sydney

US-EU methane pact "direction we should all be heading"

Professor Jun Huang is an expert in decarbonisation, methane and hydrogen from the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Sydney Nano Institute

Using nanoscience, Professor Huang’s team works to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, developing a carbon capture and conversion technology to remove carbon. 

“Methane is the second-most emitted greenhouse gas after CO2, accounting for around 20 percent of global emissions. Globally, its concentration in Earth’s atmosphere has doubled over the last two centuries," said Professor Huang.

“The joint US-EU pact to drastically cut methane emissions while reducing CO2 levels is reasonable and is in the direction we should all be heading.

“In Australia, the main contributors to methane emissions are our natural and liquefied natural gas (LNG) industries, agriculture, and landfill.

“While natural gas and agriculture are important for our country’s economic prosperity as large export markets, they may potentially overexpose us as the world moves away from greenhouse gases, evidenced now by the US and EU’s methane deal.

“Simply put, if no one is buying then we won’t be selling, so Australia should look to cut its methane emissions. However, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom – this policy may actually stimulate and promote Australia’s fledgling hydrogen economy.

“We already have the technology available for carbon-neutral hydrogen production from biogas and natural gas, which can reduce methane emissions while exporting hydrogen to the global market. With timely action and the right focus, Australia could become a leader in the shift away from CO2 and methane and towards hydrogen, which would be a boon for the environment and economy.”

World must urgently implement global methane reduction pledge

Dr Zhao has created a water-splitting catalyst that requires less energy to produce pure hydrogen than earlier catalysts. Credit: University of Sydney

Dr Shenlong Zhao is an academic in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering who works with Professor Huang on decarbonisation technologies.  He believes the world should follow the US and EU's lead in reducing atmospheric methane. 

“Increasing greenhouse gases are changing the environment humans depend on to survive. Rising sea levels, melting polar ice, and desertification have a close relationship with humans’ massive CO2 and methane emissions," said Dr Zhao. 

“The US-EU deal is a welcome move and is a signal to the rest of the world that we must urgently implement a global methane pledge. This would be positive for the whole world, especially for Australia as a sea-surrounded, dry country that is at high risk of impact from climate change.

“Novel technology would play a key role in such an implementation, and Australia is well-placed to capitalise on this, considering our abundant sunshine,  long and uninterrupted coastline and world-leading researchers. 

“For example, our team at the University of Sydney is developing a technology to combat the rise of the other main greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide. We are producing a photo-electrochemical water splitting and CO2 conversion combined technology. This will provide a sustainable way to both capture and convert CO2 to chemicals.

“This proposed ‘kill two birds with one stone’ strategy not only significantly reduces methane use by producing clean energies such as green hydrogen, but also directly utilises captured CO2 as feedstock to produce pure chemicals such as alcohols.”

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