19-10-2021 | | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, Google announced that its route-finding algorithm on Google Maps will also offer the lowest carbon footprint journey. Why is carbon reduction a difficult challenge to solve, how will Google use technology to help reduce carbon emissions, and could clever algorithms be a major contributor to carbon reduction?
Rising sea levels, increasingly unpredictable weather, and widespread droughts are but a few apocalyptic topics frequently being discussed in media, and it is generally well accepted among the scientific community that human activity is the cause. Of all the pollutants and emissions that human’s produce, CO2 is arguably the worse due to its ability to trap heat from the sun and contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the biggest goal for environmentalists is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. However, achieving this is no small feat as almost all modern life relies on energy and production processes that produce CO2, so simply eliminating these would do more harm than good.
Polluting energy sources such as coal and oil can be replaced with wind and solar. Still, as we have discussed many times on Electropages, most renewable energy sources are unreliable and require energy storage technologies to replace fossil fuels. Using alternative materials to concrete is another solution to CO2 reduction (as concrete produces unbelievable amounts of CO2), but this is only practical for small buildings that are not entirely dependent on concrete strength (hence its use in tall buildings).
When considering how every aspect of life is somehow tied to CO2 emissions, whether it is the development of technology, production of medicines, or the harvesting of crops, trying to eliminate CO2 is something that could very well be impossible for a millennium.
Instead of trying to stop CO2 sources, the answer to CO2 reduction could come from the very thing that has contributed to it the most; technology. For example, carbon capture technologies are designed to extract carbon from the atmosphere, and these can be placed onto the chimneys of power stations. So long as the captured CO2 is stored safely with minimal chance of leaking, then the amount of fossil fuels that are burned makes no difference to the environment at all.
However, Google is taking carbon reduction a step further and has now integrated a new feature into its Google Maps routing finding algorithm to give users the option for the lowest carbon footprint. Typically, road users will choose either the fastest route or a route that avoids motorways. Still, with society becoming increasingly more carbon-conscious, a third environmentally friendly option may now be viable.
Calculating the lowest carbon footprint is no small feat as many factors have to be taken into account. For example, inclines in roads require more fuel to get over, and thus one route with a single large incline might be more carbon-friendly than a straighter road with many small hills. Real-time factors, such as traffic, also need to be considered as stationary traffic is notorious for producing excessive amounts of CO2.
According to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, the new carbon option may help reduce global carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons. For perspective, this is the equivalent of 200,000 cars being removed from roads. The new system will also consider the type of vehicle used by the user and present the various carbon emission values for a route to demonstrate the benefits of using electric and hybrid vehicles.
There is no doubt that clever algorithms and AI could help reduce global CO2 emissions; making sensible choices and finding alternatives can be a great way to reduce CO2 without limiting daily life. Such software is already being introduced into industrial processes (such as manufacturing) to help reduce waste by better organising a production line and using predictive maintenance to minimise downtime.
The use of algorithms in the case of Google to reduce CO2 could now be the spark that ignites a new wave of innovation in CO2 reduction. For example, power grids may be able to deploy algorithms to try and reduce the use of fossil fuel-derived power, intelligent traffic lights could prevent cars from being stationary for too long, and sensors across cities could help identify areas that are most affected by CO2 production.