The Carbon Footprint of the Consortium

Part of my motivation to join the Pioneer project was the environmental topic. The chance to contribute to tackling the challenge of climate change captivated me. On the other hand, here I want to be very honest with you, another part of my motivation came from the prospect to travel around a lot in Europe and even the world. These contradicting feelings bothered me for a while. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the benefit of research is worth a distinct amount of traveling. However, in my opinion we scientists have to act as role models even more if the research is dealing with an environmental topic like it does within the Pioneer project. We must take responsibility and try to reduce our CO2 emission as much as possible.

Of course, others have already thought about this issue. Didier Barret presented a carbon footprint calculator for large research consortia [1]. It can be found on https://travel-footprint-calculator.irap.omp.eu/. Before using the calculator let’s have a look at the background. The tool focuses on aviation since flights are the biggest contribution to a scientist’s carbon footprint. Basically, it calculates the carbon footprint of round trips, so traveling from a city of origin to a destination and back. This calculation is performed individually or for a group of origins and destinations. The latter is handy to assess the footprint of consortium meetings or conferences and even allows to determine an environmentally preferred meeting location.

For this purpose, the tool on the one hand calculates the distance between a given pair of cities. Deviations from the shortest possible path are considered. On the other hand the tool uses seven different publicly available methods to calculate the carbon dioxide emission as a function of the flight distance. The results of the methods may yield estimates that differ by a factor of five due to uncertainties in the flight related emissions. The environmental impact of aviation is not limited to the combustion of fuel and by this producing radiatively active substances (RAS) such as CO2. Furthermore, planes release material in the atmosphere that produce/destroy RAS such as NOx or substances that trigger the production of aerosols. These non-CO2 effects are considered (or not) in the methods by multiplication factors on the carbon dioxide emission. When choosing multiple models an average is formed. For the calculation economy class is assumed. Higher classes can be included by an additional multiplication factor. Finally, another input is the minimum distance for flying. For shorter travel distance a journey by train is assumed.

The usability of the calculator is now illustrated at the example of the Zaragoza Catalysis School combined with the annual project meeting. Due to the corona pandemic we didn’t meet in person but online. Let’s see how much CO2 we saved, shall we? The calculator on https://travel-footprint-calculator.irap.omp.eu/ needs the origin and destination as pairs of city name, land in US English without diacritics. For the Pioneer consortium it would now look like this:

Origins     Destination  
City Country Number City Country
Eindhoven Netherlands 6 Zaragoza Spain
Antwerp Belgium 2    
Paris France 5    
Caen France 2    
Trento Italy 2    
Lisbon Portugal 4    
Zaragoza Spain 4    
Bucharest Romania 1    
Krakow Poland 2    
Liverpool Great Britain 2    
York Great Britain 1    

For multiple people starting from the same origin (e.g. ESR + Supervisor) the number of identical entries for that respective origin in the csv file given to the calculator has to match the number of people. The minimum flight distance was set to the default of 500km. The combination of the methods of ADEME, MyClimate and DEFRA that all use multiplication factors to account for non-CO2 effects yield an emission of 17.3t of CO2 Equ. as can be seen in Fig. 1. The ICAO method that is not using any multiplication factors and is therefore not recommended by Barret yields 6.7t CO2 Equ. There is need for a commonly accepted standard on flight emissions!

Fig. 1: CO2 emission for traveling to Zaragoza, Spain from different origins calculated with the ADEME, MyClimate and DEFRA method.

Barret argues that videoconferencing takes about 7% of the carbon yield of an in-person meeting. This would make 1.211t CO2 Equ. Eventually we saved 16.089t of CO2. Now I feel better even though I couldn’t go to Spain…

Even when traveling will be allowed again in the hopefully not so distant future we should try to keep our footprint as small as possible. Barret advises to limit conference attendance to the absolute minimum, use videoconferencing as often as possible or combine smaller meetings into a big one to reduce the amount of traveling. He sums up this whole issue very nicely:

“Traveling will not be banned but optimized.”

This text was written by Maik Budde


[1] Barret, D. Estimating, monitoring and minimizing the travel footprint associated with the development of the Athena X-ray Integral Field Unit. Exp Astron (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10686-020-09659-8

Annual Meeting 2020 & Mid-Term Check

Even though it feels like we just started with the project, on June 4 and 5 2020 it was time for our annual meeting and the mid-term check respectively. Although completely online these two days brought us closer together. We highly appreciate the input from externals of the advisory board, our industrial contacts and of course the PO from the EU. They highlighted what is going well and where we can even improve. Therefore, we feel confident with respect to the further course of the project.

Training at Catalysis School

Early Stage Researchers and other interested attendees followed a series of lectures about heterogeneous catalysis (15-29 May 2020). The training was originally planned in Zaragoza, Spain but due to the corona crisis the organizers (Maria Victoria Navarro and Tomás García) reorganized the event to be completely online. So every ESR was able to join and participate in the lectures.

Call for Attention: EU Global Response

To fight the ongoing corona crisis the European Union launched a global response effort on May 4 aiming to raise €7.5 billion. €1 billion are mobilized by Horizon 2020. The effort is based on two fundamental beliefs. The situation can only be coped with research and innovation and maybe even more important through cooperation. Therefore, the EU brings together and supports researchers and innovators to create effective and safe diagnostics, treatments and vaccines with fair and equal access for everyone. We would like to call attention to this outstandig efforts. See what they do yourself at https://global-response.europa.eu/select-language?destination=/node/1

Modelling Workshop

On December 2, 2019 the DIFFER institute and the Instituto Superior Técnico organized the modelling workshop All about the Electron Boltzmann Equation at DIFFER, Eindhoven. Interested students and researchers learned in various talks and hands-on exercises about the possibilities and challenges of the modelling of low-temperature plasmas. The organizing committee was formed by Vasco Guerra, Paola Diomede, Pedro Viegas and Luca Vialetto. The ESRs Omar Biondo and Maik Budde joined as participants.

Electrical discharges for CO2 conversion

A seminar series was held at Università di Trento, 19-20 November 2019, organised by Paolo Tosi and Giorgio Dilecce.

Speakers included Sara Quercetti, Cesare Montesano and Matteo Ceppelli, young researchers from Uiversità di Trento, and Vasco Guerra, from IST, Universidade de Lisboa

KEROGREEN Workshop

The plasma/catalysis conversion of CO2 is investigated by a diverse community, which is targeting the issue from different directions with various methods and several objectives. In order to benefit from a different point of view multiple ESRs and supervisors of the PIONEER project attended a workshop of the KEROGREEN project on Plasma catalysis for renewable Fuels and Chemicals (November 15 2019) at DIFFER in Eindhoven.

Kick off meeting

The PIONEER Kick off meeting will take place in Paris on February 11 and 12 on the Jussieu campus of Sorbonne University. About 30 people representing all partners will be present to get the project on track!