Energy company BP has committed to a five-year renewal of a joint research partnership with Princeton University that identifies ways of tackling the world’s climate problem. It will support Princeton to at least its current level of funding for the years 2011 to 2015.
The grant reflects the success of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI), which has had a significant impact on the climate change debate, according to Princeton faculty and company officials. Launched in 2000, the project has produced new practical approaches to managing the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.
BP’s original 10-year-commitment initially funded the program at $1.5 million a year and later increased it to more than $2 million a year. CMI is aimed at supporting fundamental scientific, technological and environmental research that would lead to safe, effective and affordable solutions to climate change.
The project has been led by Stephen Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Robert Socolow, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. It is part of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), the University’s interdisciplinary center for environmental research, education and outreach, which Pacala directs.
“With the renewal of BP’s commitment to CMI for five additional years at this time, we will have approximately as much collaborative time looking forward as looking back,” said Socolow. “Looking back, we view with pride the knitting together of a university-wide effort, the creation of model university-industry relationships, and global leadership in inventing and implementing strategies for climate change mitigation. Looking forward, we acknowledge that the climate change problem appears even more daunting than when CMI first began. Nonetheless, we are confident that CMI will continue to conduct the pathbreaking, multidisciplinary research and to motivate the key demonstration projects that can generate an unprecedented worldwide commitment to a safer environment.”
BP and Princeton renewed the partnership this year rather than waiting until 2010 because Princeton, like other universities, builds its research efforts on multi-year commitments, especially to graduate students. With this agreement, Princeton will avoid any reductions in commitment from faculty participants.
BP Research and Technology Group Vice President David Eyton said: “The challenge of climate change requires policy development at all levels: global, national and local. Our work with Princeton is an example of BP’s commitment to collaborative research, and has already provided a vital contribution to the pace of policy development. We trust that governments will be successful in reaching a consensus for significant action, and we are working to inform their actions based on our experience of low-carbon technologies and businesses.”
From the beginning, the project’s leaders have sought to integrate a deep understanding of scientific issues with technological and policy expertise. CMI scientists have developed models of power generation that include the capture of carbon and have evaluated risks of leakage for carbon storage systems. They have developed new computer models simulating the Earth’s carbon cycle, advancing the understanding of interactions between the atmosphere, oceans and forests.
One of the initiative’s best-known contributions to the climate change debate is the concept of “stabilization wedges.” The concept, first published by Pacala and Socolow in a 2004 issue of Science, introduces 15 existing technologies, each representing a so-called stabilization wedge, and proposes that any combination of seven wedges could prevent global emissions of greenhouse gases from rising for the next five decades. The concept has given the climate change policy community a common unit for discussing how to reduce emissions and allowing a comparison of different carbon-cutting strategies. It was featured in “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 film about climate change.
Under the new agreement, the research will continue to evolve. Scientists in the program will expand efforts to understand the facilities where carbon dioxide emissions are “captured” from fossil fuels used in electricity, hydrogen and synthetic fuel production. They will look into new areas including assessing unconventional methods of lessening the impact of climate change, such as evaluating the direct capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Program scientists will continue to develop and analyze data from the oceans, atmosphere, ice cores and the land biosphere to study how carbon levels have varied in recent and ancient times, and how they will respond to future climate change. Collaborative efforts with BP will expand, directed at understanding how to minimize the risks of injecting carbon dioxide underground for permanent storage. CMI will retain its emphasis on communicating its insights to industry, government, nongovernmental organizations and the general public.
The project involves 70 faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and students from more than 10 departments and research units on campus, including: the Department of Chemistry; the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; the Department of Geosciences; the departments of chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science; the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; the Department of Near Eastern Studies; and the PEI’s Energy Group. In addition, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, a U.S. government lab located on the University’s Forrestal campus, is deeply involved.