The Landscape of Innovation The Five Grand Challenges

Climate change can seem like a problem that’s either too big—or too far down the road—to solve.

But we know the main sources of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions: manufacturing (30 percent), electricity (26 percent), agriculture (21 percent), transportation (16 percent), and buildings (7 percent). We call these the Five Grand Challenges of climate change. To get to zero, we need to tackle all five—and we need to get started right away.

Breakthrough Energy works across the innovation pipeline to drive progress across all Five Grand Challenges—from idea incubation to commercial adoption in the global marketplace.

Defining the Problem The Five Grand Challenges

Manufacturing: 30% How We Make Things

Manufactured goods and materials—the cement in our buildings, the steel in our appliances, the clothes we wear, the books we read, the plastic in the device you’re using to read this sentence—account for nearly one-third of emissions worldwide. To bring this sector to net zero, we need to use clean electricity and production processes whenever possible. When they’re not, we need to scale up existing technologies that capture and store carbon so that it doesn’t enter the atmosphere.

Every ton of cement creates a ton of carbon dioxide. The U.S. produces more than 96 million tons of cement a year—nearly 600 pounds per person.

Electricity: 26% How We Plug In

We are using more wind and solar power than ever before—and thanks to technological advances and policy incentives, they are now more affordable than ever, too. But they aren’t always available, and we still rely heavily on fossil fuels and other emitting technologies to power our lives. We need to find new ways to generate, store, and use low-carbon electricity while scaling up existing technologies like wind and solar, advanced nuclear power, geothermal energy, and thermal generation with carbon capture.

Worldwide energy demand is expected to increase 50 percent by 2050.

Agriculture: 21% How We Grow Things

Some agricultural emissions come from the livestock we raise for meat and dairy. Others come from the soil itself. Bringing these emissions to zero while still meeting growing global demand for food will require us to make significant changes to the ways we farm and eat: reducing the use of fertilizers, improving soil management, cutting methane emissions from livestock, and minimizing the consumption and waste of high-carbon foods by scaling up technologies like plant-based meat and dairy products.

There is more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined.

Transportation: 16% How We Get Around

The internal combustion engine has changed everything about the way we live, but it has come at a steep price. From electric vehicles to low-carbon fuels, getting transportation to zero will require a complete transformation of the way we move goods and people from place to place.

One gallon of gas has as much energy as 130 sticks of dynamite.

Buildings: 7% How We Live

Buildings emit carbon in two ways: when we build them (using manufactured cement, steel, and iron) and when we use them (with heating and air-conditioning). We can make existing buildings more energy efficient, but we cannot change the emissions released when they were built. From greener materials to cleaner industrial processes, we must find ways to build and use buildings without emitting carbon.

The world’s building stock is growing so fast that it’s effectively adding a new New York City every month for the next 40 years.

What Do We Do First