4 Technologies Amazon Is Using to Reach Zero Emissions for Shipping

The company is cutting the carbon out of the equation.

Amazon is going green. The world’s largest online retailer announced on Monday its goal to eventually bring all of its shipments to net zero carbon emissions, an ambitious plan that could inspire other firms to follow in its footsteps.

“We believe that lower costs include lowering the costs to the environment we all live and work in every day,” Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations, said in a statement. The company’s goal is to power all of its global infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy. Its medium-term goal is to reduce carbon emissions to the levels where 50 percent of its shipments are neutral by 2030, a proposal dubbed “Shipment Zero.”

Amazon has been working with a team of more than 200 scientists and engineers to achieve these goals. It plans to share an update on its progress later this year, as part of a two-year project to develop a model to map the firm’s carbon footprint. The company expressed confidence that it can reach its goals through a combination of new technologies:

1. Aviation Bio Fuels

This area focuses on making alternatives to traditional jet fuel out of biomass. This nascent area of research could cut back on the aviation industry’s carbon emissions, estimated to account for two percent of total man-made carbon emissions. Its development will be necessary as the industry is predicted to double in size over the next 20 years.

Progress has been slow, though. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab developed a means of creating biofuels from plant matter in 2016, while the University of California has explored ways of using human excrement to create fuel for cars. Uptake from airlines has seen little progress, with United Airlines only buying one million gallons of biofuel for its fleet that uses four million gallons of fuel per year. Amazon may be correct in its assessment that this area shows promise for decarbonizing air travel, particularly as the electric jet requires breakthroughs in battery technology.

“A lot of people feel that the one market that has at least a glimmer of light is the alternative fuel jet market,” Michael Wolcott, director of Ascent, a federally funded coalition of universities and industry in aviation research, at Washington State University, told GreenBiz. “The only way to meet climate goals is to decarbonize the fuel.”

Air travel could run on something more sustainable.
Air travel could run on something more sustainable.

2. Reusable Packaging

Amazon’s plastic mailers have a poor reputation in the recycling world. Lisa Sepanski, project manager for King County Solid Waste Division where Amazon is based, told the Washington Post that the packaging “suffers from the same problems as plastic bags, which are not sortable in our recycling system and get caught in the machinery.”

Amazon claims to be making strides toward fixing this, reducing packaging waste by 20 percent worldwide last year. It also announced the $10 million Closed Loop Fund in October 2018 to improve American recycling rates. Perhaps its biggest breakthroughs could come from ditching the packaging entirely — its experiments with ground-based drones could remove the need for any sort of wrapping designed for the letterbox.

3. Renewable Energy

Amazon committed its web services division in 2014 to reaching full renewable energy. It was a tough goal, considering half its servers were based in Virginia where Dominion Power offered just two percent of its energy from renewables. The company claims to have reached 50 percent renewables usage in January 2018. Greenpeace criticized the pledge this month, as the service “appears to have turned its back on its 100 percent renewable commitment, increasing its already massive operations in Virginia by 59 percent, without any additional renewable energy supply.”

The company has built a number of wind and solar projects to power its operations. The Wind Farm in Texas, built in 2016, uses more than 100 turbines to generate 253 megawatts, enough for 90,000 homes. The company also built a 150-megawatt wind farm in Indiana that same year, and has also built wind and solar operations in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina.

Amazon has also made progress on the fulfillment center front. In October 2018, it announced plans to built 20 megawatts of solar capacity on its buildings in the United Kingdom, covering 10 of its centers. It also purchased renewable energy backed by Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates, ensuring that all its buildings in the country would be fully powered by clean energy. Google and Apple used a similar method to reach its 100 percent energy goals.

4. Electric Vehicles

Amazon has announced plans to trial ground-based electric delivery drones. In July 2018 it also purchased 100 Mercedes-Benz eVito vans to deliver its packages. But perhaps its most interesting movements on this front come from its investment in Rivian, announced last week, that sees the firm leading a $700 million investment round in the all-electric automaker.

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