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1 Tonne of CO2: What Does it Look Like?

When we talk about climate change, carbon is often the focal point of the conversation. But 1 tonne of CO2 remains an abstract notion for most of us; by contextualising the carbon savings, it will hopefully give us more motivation to take action, for example by switching to alternative fuels.

We’ve taken a look at some direct comparisons so you know exactly how much CO2 you’re emitting. These can be valuable in communicating your business’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy, reduction targets and other initiatives aimed at cutting your carbon emissions.

What is 1 tonne of CO2 equivalent to?

To help visualise what 1 tonne of CO2 looks like, there are various online calculators which use different formulas to translate abstract measurements into concrete, tangible equivalents. We’ve summarised them below:

  • 500 x CO2 fire extinguishers
  • 1 x 500m3 hot air balloon
  • The average emissions of one passenger on a return flight from Paris to New York
  • Driving 6000km in a diesel car
  • 121,643 smartphones charged

To help you better visualise your carbon footprint, Antony Turner and artist/scientist Adam Nieman teamed up in 2009 to form Carbon Visuals to help people “see” carbon dioxide. They transformed the mass of CO2 emissions into easy-to-understand 3D visual representations in familiar landscapes, such as New York City.

What is CO2?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an invisible, odourless and colourless greenhouse gas that’s a natural component of breathable air, making up part of the carbon cycle.

Although it’s a gas, it has a mass of 1,964g/litre or 1.964kg/m3. As the mass of the atoms in CO2 is affected by gravity, CO2 has a measurable weight.

Human activity is producing too much CO2 in our atmosphere which is having a devastating impact on our planet. As a result, the carbon cycle is becoming overloaded. The UK government has set a target of net zero carbon by 2050. If nothing changes, incidences of forest fires, heat waves and sea level rise will only continue to intensify.

Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted over 2,000 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere – 1 gigaton is equivalent to one billion metric tonnes.

Where does CO2 come from?

Carbon dioxide is naturally released into the atmosphere through respiration and the burning or decomposition of organic matter. At the same time, photosynthesis helps to reduce atmospheric CO2. The solubility of CO2 in water depends on the temperature, so oceans can both produce and reduce CO2.

Man-made (anthropogenic) CO2 comes from combustion. Almost all combustible fossil fuels (except pure hydrogen) have some variation of a hydrocarbon structure (you may know the alkanes from school), which means they all have a degree of carbon content in their unburnt form. As they are burned, the carbon reacts with oxygen in the air to produce heat and CO2 which is expressed in the below formula:

C + O2 = CO2 + heat

That’s equivalent to:

  • Driving 23,000 miles in the average car (once around the world)
  • 18 dairy cows in weight
  • 25 million plastic straws

How much CO2 do fuels produce?

Fuelkg CO2/ kWh generated
Fuel oil0.271
Natural gas0.206
Household waste0.149
Source: Energuidebe.

How much CO2 do vehicle fuels produce?

Fuelkg CO2 / litre
Diesel 2.67
Source: Energuidebe.

How can you remove carbon from the atmosphere?

  • Forests – The first goal announced at COP26 was to end deforestation by 2030. Trees store carbon removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, so expanding, restoring and managing forests to encourage more carbon uptake can help fight climate change.
  • Farming – Soil naturally stores carbon but due to intensive use, they are running a big deficit. Planting cover crops when fields are otherwise bare can extend photosynthesis throughout the year, sequestering around ½ of a metric tonne of CO2 per acre per year.
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – we discuss more below.

How can you capture CO2 through CCS?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is three-step process to reduce carbon emissions released from industrial processes such as steel and concrete production as well as from burning fossil fuels:

  1. Capture the CO2 produced through human activity: separate it from other atmospheric gases
  2. Transport it: the CO2 is compressed and transported through pipelines, road transport or ships to a site for storage
  3. Store it deep underground: the CO2 is injected into rock formations deep underground for permanent storage

According to the Global CCS Institute’s 2019 Status Report, 40 million metric tonnes of CO2 from plants in operation or construction are captured and stored each year. There are 51 large-scale CCS facilities in operation or under construction world-wide. A large-scale facility is defined as a power plant that captures over 800,000 metric tonnes of CO2 every year and other industrial facilities that capture over 400,000 metric tonnes of CO2.

To capture 1 tonne of CO2, approximately 50 trees must grow for one year. However, this depends on the location, type of tree and weather conditions.

What is Crown Oil doing to reduce CO2 emissions?

We’re currently putting plans in place to make our operations net zero carbon. To achieve this, we have a number of sustainable initiatives in place, including encouraging all our customers to switch to Crown HVO fuel.

As of November 2021, our customers have saved 31,500 tonnes of CO2 from switching to HVO fuel which is equivalent to:

  • CO2 emissions from 3,793 homes’ energy use in one year
  • Carbon sequestered by 520,859 tree seedlings grown for 10 years
  • CO2 emissions released from 6,851 passenger cars driven on fossil fuels in one year

We have also moved our entire delivery fleet over to HVO to showcase the fuel’s ability to perform excellently as a direct renewable diesel alternative. We predict a saving of around 3,080 tonnes of CO2 during a 12-month period compared to using fossil diesel. This is equivalent to:

  • The average carbon footprint of over 242 UK residents per year
  • 770 Asian elephants in weight
  • Driving around the earth 81 times

Ready to start reducing your carbon emissions?

Climate change is endangering our planet. Without taking steps to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions, global warming is going to exceed 1.5oC. Take responsibility and do your bit to tackle global warming.

By choosing a sustainable fuel such as HVO, you will reduce up to 90% of your net CO2 emissions straight away. Call 0330 123 1444 to speak to a renewable fuels specialist.

tonnes of net CO2 reduced across our transport fleet from using HVO

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