Carbon Mitigation Initiative

Third Year Report 2004

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Third Year Report 2004
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A Letter from the Co-Directors

The ten-year Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) at Princeton University is concluding its third year. Over the first three years we have rooted CMI in four areas of the campus, achieving substantial commitment from faculty, staff, and students. From an initial group of fewer than 20 researchers, CMI has increased its ranks to include 60 investigators. We have built new labs and office space, expanded into new research areas, and developed new relationships with other institutions.

In this, our third annual report, we review our accomplishments, take stock of our program, and spell out our vision for the future. We evaluate how far we’ve come on the path toward finding a climate “solution,” and discuss how we propose to move forward.

We have made considerable progress on our original goals. The Capture Group has evaluated a variety of energy production technologies that could reduce global carbon emissions, and their research is influencing policy in the United States and in China. The Storage Group, having determined that leakage from abandoned wells could impact the effectiveness of CO2 storage in deep aquifers, is embarking on a new research plan to assess the magnitude of this effect. The Science Group has assessed natural land and ocean sinks as well as strategies for deliberately storing carbon in the natural environment, and new work has identified unforeseen impacts of reforestation and renewable energy production. The Policy Group has modified well-known economic models to incorporate non-linear outcomes identified by climatologists, and has developed a model for emissions trading that may provide a flexible framework for global decreases in greenhouse gas emissions.

In the past year, we have increased our effort to integrate the knowledge possessed by our disparate groups into a coherent picture of what would be required to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at levels toward the low end of the range usually considered. In the absence of CO2 controls, emissions of carbon dioxide are commonly projected to double by 2050 due to a global increase in energy demand. Instead, suppose CO2 emissions were to be no higher in 2050 than today. We are evaluating existing low-carbon technologies that in various combinations could achieve that objective. In the politically charged global discussion of stabilization goals, we are trying to inject a more pragmatic focus on stabilization tools.

In the near future, our major projects will include: engineering studies of the competition among coal, natural gas, and biomass as primary sources for electricity, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels; laboratory studies of changes in cement integrity that will affect CO2 leakage rates from geological formations; a new software system linking carbon-cycle models with observational data; and studies, using integrated assessment models, of the costs of cutting emissions deeply using a variety of technologies and fiscal incentives. Our integrative activity will sharpen our message that significant carbon management is feasible through the commercialization of existing technologies. And a new outreach effort will allow us to expand our communication with academic and industry colleagues, policymakers, and the general public.

CMI is breaking new ground in the carbon and climate debate by coordinating research in science, technology, and policy to find paths toward a stable climate. We believe we are off to a promising start and look forward to another seven years of progress.

Steve Pacala and Rob Socolow
CMI Co-Directors

CMI: An Overview

If all the world's coal, oil, gas, and other fossil fuels reserves were burned and the carbon they contain were released to the atmosphere, then atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels would reach levels five to ten times higher than today's.

Such high levels of this greenhouse gas would lead to dramatic and damaging climate change. This prospect has prompted many people in the scientific, governmental, corporate, and non-profit communities to call for early action to reduce future CO2 emissions.

The Carbon Mitigation Initiative is a 10-year, 20 million dollar program jointly funded by BP and Ford that seeks solutions to the CO2 problem. The goals of this university-industry partnership are to determine:

  • the size of emissions reductions needed to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at a safe level.
  • the feasibility of emission reduction strategies.
  • the impacts (both positive and negative) of mitigation programs.
  • the cost of proposed emissions reductions.
  • the effectiveness of proposed policies for encouraging emissions cuts.

The program officially started in January 2001 and and is led by Co-Directors Steve Pacala and Rob Socolow. The CMI is comprised of five teams.

Capture Group

The Capture Group, led by Bob Williams, focuses on low-emissions options for generating electricity and producing fuels, the logistics of distributing energy to the public, and hydrogen combustion and safety.

Storage Group

The Storage Group, led by Mike Celia, investigates the short- and long-term fate of CO2 injected into underground reservoirs using both numerical and experimental methods.

Science Group

The Science Group, led by Jorge Sarmiento, concentrates on the global carbon cycle and climate system. The group estimates how the sizes of natural sources and sinks for carbon will change with time.

Policy Group

The Policy Group, led by David Bradford and Michael Oppenheimer, studies the costs and benefits of carbon mitigation and potential policies for achieving cost-effective mitigation.

The Integrative Activity, led by Pacala and Socolow, provides coordination, attacks crosscutting problems, and communicates results to the wider community.

The group has grown to include over 60 university researchers, including 17 faculty members in six departments. The CMI team now also includes 18 professional research and technical staff members, 13 postdocs, and 13 graduate students.

CMI research benefits from interaction with our corporate sponsors, but the research initiatives of the program are investigator-driven.

Research Highlights for 2003

New results are helping to define the size of emissions reductions needed to stabilize atmospheric CO2, and to assess technologies and fiscal incentives that will lead to a low-carbon economy.

Capture – Lowering CO2 emissions
  • New modeling results indicate that facilities coproducing clean carbon-based synfuels, electricity, and hydrogen from coal could offer a bridge to the hydrogen economy while facilitating early carbon capture and storage actions.
  • A study of hydrogen infrastructure requirements describes the rate at which central station hydrogen generation could provide the fuel for fuel cell vehicles in urban areas.
  • Doping hydrogen fuels with hydrocarbon gases could reduce problems with “knock” in hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines and decrease the potential for explosion in storage.
Storage – Sequestering CO2
  • Analytical solutions have been developed for determining the characteristics of CO2 injection plumes, and to estimate leakage rates through abandoned wells, much faster than complex numerical simulators.
  • Novel experiments to assess the potential for cement failure in wells and subsequent leakage from storage reservoirs are underway.
  • Geochemical experiments have shown that pressure has only minimal effects on mineral dissolution rates in deep aquifers, which will simplify simulation of the fate of CO2
Science – Determining Sources & Sinks
  • New observational and data-based estimates of terrestrial and ocean carbon sink size and variability confirm previous estimates and are reducing uncertainty in carbon cycle processes.
  • New data indicate that polar oceans were stratified during the last glacial period, supporting the hypothesis that decreased evasion of CO2 from the deep ocean had a cooling influence on climate.
  • Data from polar oceans provide the first evidence that natural iron variations produce changes in marine biological productivity, possibly influencing CO2 uptake.
  • A new state-of-the-art climate model has been completed and is running initial simulations.
  • Analysis of Wisconsin forests sampled since the 1960’s indicate growth rates have decreased with rising CO2 levels, undermining the theory that carbon dioxide’s fertilizing effect on land plants will increase CO2 uptake in the future.
Policy – Economics of Mitigation
  • New economic analyses indicate that delaying mitigation of CO2 emissions by decades could make avoiding specific climate thresholds prohibitively expensive.
  • Experiments with a number of integrated assessment models have been initiated to estimate the costs of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 levels at less than twice the preindustrial level.
Last update: April 30 2014
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CMI is sponsored by BP.