Illustration showing different kind of climate spilling.

Climate research and expertise

Chalmers has conducted research into a sustainable future for decades. Our ambition is to use knowledge and technological solutions to renew and improve conditions in all areas from carbon capture and sustainable energy systems to human behaviour and what is required from political systems to achieve real change.
Here we have collected examples of areas where our climate research is particularly strong as well as some of our experts in each area.

  • Climate policy
  • Energy
  • Biomass and carbon sinks
  • Aviation
  • Fossil-free transport
  • Food
  • The impact of clothing
  • Emissions from industry
  • Lifestyle and human behaviour

Climate policy

Professor Christian Azar undertakes research on the challenges and opportunities of the future in combating climate change. 
In a study published in summer 2020, he showed, together with research colleagues including Associate Professor Daniel Johansson, that an optimal climate policy from an economic perspective is in line with the Paris Agreement’s two degrees limit – and that an ambitious climate policy is profitable for society.​ 
He was also one of the three Swedish delegates at the final negotiation of the summary of the latest IPCC report.
Azar observes that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing at a faster rate than has ever been measured, but the positive elements are that usage of renewable energy is increasing rapidly, and a new climate movement is gaining ground. 
Opinion piece: Sweden can show the way with climate burdens that are reasonably distributed

Professor Björn Sandén conducts research on climate and innovation policy and on technological solutions to the climate issue, such as whether renewable energy can replace fossil fuels entirely and whether electric cars solve the emissions problem in the transport sector. He is an expert who is in demand by industry, public authorities, politicians and the media on matters such as what policy instruments are needed to bring about social change on a large scale.

A dozen primary industries’ facilities are responsible for about one fifth of Sweden’s emissions of greenhouse gases. The technology for reducing these emissions to nearly zero already exists, according to Filip Johnsson and his colleagues at Mistra Carbon Exit, but it requires huge investment. It has now become urgent for policy and financial instruments to be introduced that are powerful enough for that investment to come in at the rate required. 

Lars Marcus, Professor of Urban Design and Planning, and Holger Wallbaum, Professor of Sustainable Building, suggest that today’s taxation model, based primarily on income tax, ties us into an unsustainable relationship with our environment. That is the reason why we ought to switch from taxing work to taxing the use of land and natural resources.
Opinion piece: “Shifting the tax burden from work to land is a more effective measure than a tax on plastic bags”

Anna Elofsson, doctoral student in Physical Resource Theory, was secretary to the Biojet government inquiry on aviation that was presented in the spring of 2020. The main proposal is for a duty of reduction relating to aviation, with a view to increasing the blending of biofuel into aviation fuel. 

Chalmers has established the world’s first global research network on climate change denial, which studies how the advance of right-wing nationalism in Europe has contributed to an increase in climate change denial. Martin Hultman has made a name for himself internationally by demonstrating the link between conservatism, xenophobia and climate change denial​. He distinguishes between organised and party-political climate change denial, but also response denial among politicians and the everyday denial that people’s day-to-day behaviour illustrates.

Energy

Professor Tomas Kåberger is a member of the Swedish Climate Policy Council and an Affiliated Professor at Chalmers. His research includes the electricity market and the Emissions Trading System. The rapid development of new energy technology has had an impact on the market and solar and wind power now often outcompete other types of energy investments. 

Jessica Jewell is an Assistant Professor of Physical Resource Theory and the main author of an analysis of a worldwide database of coal-fired power plants. She says that current efforts to decommission coal-fired power plants are severely inadequate to reverse climate change.
In September 2020, Jessica Jewell was awarded a 1.5€ million grant by the European Research Council for a project which will advance our understanding of whether and under what conditions it is feasible to avoid dangerous climate change.

Not only does oil exacerbate the greenhouse effect when it is used as fuel, large quantities of the extremely strong greenhouse gas methane are also emitted during the extraction of crude oil. This is according to a study in Science magazine, in which Professor Sonia Yeh took part.

Kasper Moth-Poulsen and his research group have designed a molecule that can store solar energy in a special liquid for up to 18 years. When the solar heat is to be used, the liquid is pumped through a catalyst, which produces a reaction such that the heat rises by no less than 63°C. The energy system is completely emission-free, and researchers have named it MOST (molecular solar thermal energy storage).
In the autumn of 2020, an EU project led by Chalmers started on MOST. The researches will develop prototypes of the new technology for larger scale applications, such as heating systems in residential houses. The project has been granted 4.3 million Euros from the EU.

Organic solar cells weigh very little, are cheap and have a very small climate footprint. Ergang Wang develops polymer solar cells that are flexible and easy to manufacture in large printing presses, rather like those used to produce newspapers.

The Internet has emerged as something of a climate change villain in social debate, causing carbon emissions on a scale comparable to aviation. If the increase continues at the same rate, without any energy efficiency measures, within ten years the Internet is going to consume more than the entire world’s current production of electricity. Peter Andrekson and his colleagues are studying how fibre-optic communications systems can be made more energy-efficient​. The measures proposed by the researchers include smart, error-correcting data chips that have been designed so that they consume ten times less energy.

Biomass and carbon sinks

Göran Berndes, a Professor in the Physical Resource Theory division, conducts research on climate and human land use. He has studied how one section in Brazil’s legislation makes it possible to reduce the requirement for nature conservation, which risks increasing the deforestation of the Amazon region. He also says that forests can be crucial for climate goals. 

Göran Berndes and colleagues have presented an action plan that contrasts with the extractive and linear fossil-based economy. Instead, it describes a circular bioeconomy that relies on healthy, biodiverse and resilient ecosystems and aims to provide sustainable wellbeing for society at large.

“We can no longer meet our climate goals by limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon storage must also be factored in”, according to Anders Lyngfelt, Professor of Energy Technology. He has developed a new method of carbon capture (known as Carbon Capture and Storage, CSS), which has made him one of the most cited researchers in the world in this field.
Read also: Anders Lyngfelt wants to clean the atmosphere of carbon 

Separating and storing carbon emissions from 27 Swedish facilities with CCS technology would enable the removal of the equivalent of half of Sweden’s total carbon emissions at a cost comparable to the Swedish carbon tax. Filip Johnsson is a Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems and has written reports about what is required for CCS technology to become a reality.

Researchers at Chalmers under the leadership of Professor Anders Palmqvist have developed a new material with excellent properties for capturing and storing carbon (CCS/CCU)​. The material consists of a biobased hybrid foam with a high content of ‘zeolites’ and has many advantages – it is sustainable, has a good capacity for carbon capture and the cost of use is low. 

Aviation

On average, emissions from a Swedish resident’s air travel are equivalent to 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year, approximately five times as high as the global average, which is around 0.2 tonnes per person. This was what the study “The climate impact of air travel by the Swedish population 1990–2017” showed, which the researcher Jörgen Larsson undertook together with Anneli Kamb, commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. This impact has increased by 47 per cent since 1990. According to the study, which includes high altitude effects and the climate footprint caused by foreign travel all the way to final destinations, this means that aviation has approximately the same impact in Sweden as the use of private cars. 
Jörgen Larsson and other researchers have also produced a travel calculator.

Aviation is the sector that is having the most difficulty managing its climate footprint. “Maybe aviation should have priority in terms of the limited quantity of biomass that can be used for biofuel,” argues Maria Grahn, Director of the Energy Area of Advance at Chalmers. She is an expert in what is known as electrofuel, a groundbreaking method of manufacturing fuel from only water and electricity, and then carbon dioxide. It requires enormous quantities of fossil-free electricity.
“It is one way of reducing the pressure on biomass, so as to meet future scarcity of land and water in the long term. Electrofuel can stretch the potential of biofuels, if the world makes such a choice in terms of technology.”

Chalmers researcher Anders Forslund is focusing on electric aircraft for 19 passengers with a 400-km range, which have caught the interest of SAS and the well-known business accelerator Y Combinator in Silicon Valley.
“Bearing in mind how battery technology has advanced in the last ten years, there is no reason to think that development is not going to continue,” says Anders Forslund.

To achieve cheap biofuel for aviation, rapid development of microbial cell factories is one of the most important goals. The other is effective conversion of biomass (plants and trees) to varieties of sugar that can be used in the cell factories.
“Biofuel is crucial for heavier forms of transport such as aviation and lorries,” says the researcher Eduard Kerkhoven​.

Fossil-free transport

According to the Swedish Transport Administration’s 2018 annual report, emissions from road traffic fell in the years up to 2015 but have since increased again. Increased goods traffic and thirstier petrol and diesel cars cancel out the impact of ever greater numbers of electric cars being sold. Frances Sprei and Anders Nordelöf describe the importance of encouraging a growing market for electric cars. Even today electric cars are the right climate choice for the individual, regardless of how the batteries and electricity are produced.
Frances Sprei and two colleagues explain in a video how vehicles powered by electricity, which are shared, have the potential to reduce emissions from road traffic significantly. If, in addition, goods traffic that is suitable can be automated, the potential is even greater.

Sonia Yeh is a Professor of Transport and Energy Systems and an expert in alternative fuels, technological change, consumer behaviour and urban mobility. She has acted as an adviser regarding change in the transport sector in the state of California among others and can respond to many types of questions on creating a more sustainable transport sector.

The car industry is investing heavily in vehicles being powered by what are known as solid-state batteries. Aleksandar Matic and colleagues at Chalmers and the University of Xi’an Jiaotong in China have presented a way of taking this promising battery concept closer to large-scale production. A spreadable, butter-like intermediate layer in the battery helps to make the current density ten times as high, at the same time as both performance and safety are markedly improved. 

Selma Brynolf undertakes research on future fuels for shipping, modelling of global energy systems and evaluating marine fuel’s environmental impact from a life-cycle perspective. She is convinced that Sweden can forge ahead with good examples of fossil-free and climate-friendly shipping​ and show that it is possible to achieve them.
“If we are to achieve our big climate goals, we must switch fuels,” she says.

Food

Two studies clarify the climate impact of food consumption by combining satellite data from rainforests, global agricultural statistics and data relating to trade flows between countries. The results show that one sixth of emissions from an average diet in the EU can be directly linked to deforestation of rainforest.
“If the EU wants to achieve its climate goals, we must set tougher environmental requirements for those who export food to the EU,” says Martin Persson, who conducted the studies together with Florence Pendrill.

Organically grown food has a greater climate impact than conventionally produced food because larger areas of land are required. 
“Our study shows that organic peas cultivated in Sweden have a climate impact that is approximately 50 per cent greater than the conventionally grown variety,” says Stefan Wirsenius, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Analysis.

At the same time, Christel Cederberg suggests that comparisons between organic and conventional farming need to improve. It is problematical to evaluate indirect effects such as the assumption that the lower return in organic farming can be automatically translated into increased carbon emissions because of the greater requirement for land that can lead to deforestation. 

Food researchers at Chalmers provide their best advice as regards food in the Nordic region, based on the report Nordic food systems for improved health and sustainability. Rikard Landberg, Professor of Food & Nutrition Science, welcomes the EAT-Lancet report, but believes, as does Christel Cederberg, that the Nordic adaptation that has been done is overly simplified
“The report gives the same advice to everybody, and that is where the problem lies,” says Christel Cederberg, Professor of Physical Resource Theory.
Karin Jonsson, Doctor of Food & Nutrition Science, also collaborated in the above graphic.

In addition to reduced consumption of beef and dairy products, more effective production and improved technology are key
“In order to propel such climate-friendly technology forward, a much more ambitious climate policy for farming is required than what we have today,” says the researcher David Bryngelsson (no longer at Chalmers), co-author with Stefan Wirsenius, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Analysis.

It is Christel Cederberg’s view that one of our most important sustainability tasks is to farm our land so that it remains fertile in the long term for future generations. She believes that people will look back at the period from the second half of the 20th century onwards and wonder “how such enormous volumes of so many poisonous substances could have been allowed to be spread in the world’s agriculture”.

In the last 20 years, Swedes have increased their beef consumption by over 50 per cent. The really big win would be to stop eating beef products.
“Even the person who eats a low-carb-high-fat diet that is extremely rich in protein based on chicken makes a greater environmental contribution than the person who is vegetarian and consumes a lot of dairy products,” says David Bryngelsson (no longer at Chalmers), who was co-author of the study with Stefan Wirsenius, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Analysis.

If we do not reduce beef and dairy consumption, emissions from animal agriculture are at risk of doubling by 2070, which would make it almost impossible to achieve our climate goal. This is what Fredrik Hedenus, Stefan Wirsenius and Daniel Johansson, wrote, all three of them Associate Professors of Environmental and Resource Analysis.

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food can be saved with better logistics. This is what was established during the Resvinn project, in which 43 companies and organisations participated (including restaurant owners Tareq Tailor and Paul Svensson).
“When it comes to waste, several steps in the food chain are involved, which is why it is difficult for individual players alone to reduce waste,” says researcher Kristina Liljestrand​, now at Chalmers Industrial Technology.

The impact of clothing

Our trips to clothes shops and the number of garments we buy are the most important factors if we want to reduce our clothes’ impact on the environment. Swedes’ purchases of clothing make up the fourth largest share of the country’s carbon emissions – after our transport, food and accommodation. Sandra Roos (no longer at Chalmers) has done a life-cycle inventory based on 30 different subprocesses of textile production.

The fashion industry may be responsible for as much as ten per cent of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Nearly 92 million tonnes of waste are created, and 79 billion cubic metres of water are consumed every year to produce clothes. System-wide change is necessary to immediately reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment. This is what Greg Peters​ together with researchers from several other international universities suggest.

“If we can make our garments last longer in our wardrobes, we can minimise the enormous environmental impact that occurs when the garments are created,” says researcher Greg Peters​, Professor of Environmental Systems Analysis.

Emissions from industry

Filip Johnsson, Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems, says that emissions from steel and cement production must be drastically reduced. This would result in significant cost increases for the producers, but the price of the final product would only rise by about half a per cent. We must therefore find new innovative instruments and funding types for the necessary investments.

In just 25 years, Sweden is to become one of the first fossil-free welfare states in the world. Is that possible? Enormous technological advances are required but the cost need not be insurmountable. This is the view of Johan Rootzén (now at the University of Gothenburg) and Anna Elofsson, doctoral student in Physical Resource Theory, who are both advisers to industry on the journey towards a future without climate emissions.

Existing biomass boilers could cope with Sweden’s entire transition to renewable fuels. Henrik Thunman, Professor of Energy Technology, has shown that existing Swedish energy facilities should be able to produce renewable fuel equivalent to ten per cent of the world’s aviation fuel.

Lisbeth Olsson, Professor of Industrial Biological Engineering, is leading research that should produce more resilient microorganisms that are good at producing environmentally friendly materials, chemicals and – fuels​.

Lifestyle and human behaviour

After more than two decades of climate negotiation meetings, it is clear that reaching agreement on the reduction of emissions is a big challenge. Climate negotiators often come to the negotiating table with a high level of strategic thinking. Vilhelm Verendel’s research increases the theoretical understanding of mechanisms that can have an impact on the result of negotiations.  

How would Swedes’ quality of life be impacted upon by the climate adaptation works that are required for the two-degree goal to be achieved? This was something the Chalmers researcher Jörgen Larsson studied as early as 2013.
“Research indicates that people’s quality of life after the transition to a green economy would be more or less comparable to what it is today,” says Jörgen Larsson.

In 2013, Chalmers research showed that more and more Swedes feel that a changed lifestyle is necessary to solve the climate emergency, whereas fewer believe in technological solutions. 
“This provides support to politicians that the introduction of instruments that have an impact on our lifestyles may be acceptable to the general public. If this trend continues, politicians can make progress over time as regards introducing such instruments,” says Filip Johnsson​.​

Published: Thu 08 Oct 2020.