The Carbon Mitigation Initiative’s 18th Annual Meeting: a celebration of renewal and partnership
The 18th Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) Annual Meeting marked yet another milestone as it celebrated its third renewal.
In announcing this renewal, Princeton University’s president Christopher L. Eisgruber stated that Princeton has long been a place of innovation—a place where world-class researchers come together to tackle scholarly and practical problems in inventive ways.
“CMI is a powerful example of that intellectual tradition,” he said. “That is why I am thrilled to announce the renewal of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative. With this new commitment, BP’s generous support will extend over 25 years and total over $56 million, affirming CMI’s place as Princeton’s largest and longest-running University-industry research relationship.”
This year’s meeting was held April 16-17 in the Friend Center Convocation Room on the Princeton campus.
Joining in the announcement, BP’s group head of technology David Eyton said, “This is the third time I have had the pleasure of announcing an extension of CMI.”
Based at Princeton and sponsored by BP, CMI is an independent academic research program investigating the dual challenge of how to deliver enough energy to supply a rapidly developing world with billions of people trying to join the middle class, while simultaneously emitting fewer emissions. With an initial 10-year contract established in 2000, the program is now extended through 2025.
“CMI enables BP to maintain a strong fact-based understanding of the dual challenge of producing and delivering more energy with fewer emissions, and provides a broad understanding of the technology options that are material in helping mitigate climate change and support adaptation,” said Eyton.
Both Eyton and Eisgruber noted several successful elements of the partnership.
“BP’s approach to CMI has consistently demonstrated respect for academic freedom. This freedom has fostered one of CMI’s greatest strengths: its nimbleness and ability to adapt to new scientific discoveries, technological advances, and changing political landscapes,” said Eisgruber.
“CMI provides thought leadership to BP, which leads to actionable strategic insights and helps BP to keep ahead of current thinking, by looking at what issues are just over the horizon,” said Eyton. “BP respects Princeton’s academic freedom and the independent thought and counsel it brings.”
Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, will continue as director, but Socolow, professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering, announced his decision to resign as co-director. He will continue as a senior advisor to the program.
Socolow’s contribution to this year’s annual report took the form of a short valedictory essay in which he looked forward and back.
“CMI research expresses the norms of natural science. We are irreverent. We are committed to understand the problems deeply, to document our work fully, and to keep our thumbs off the scale. We aren’t hired guns. We are also committed to getting our ideas in to the public discourse,” wrote Socolow. “This ethos, in my view, is the principal reason why CMI has been so fortunate in the recruitment and retention of faculty and student participants.”
“Steve Pacala sails on, with food in the larder for seven years, an open sea, and good weather for now. To all of you on board with him, now or soon, have a great voyage.”
Socolow was honored with heartfelt words of appreciation and toasts at the CMI Annual Meeting which followed a well-attended day-long symposium, “Destiny Studies for a Small Planet,” which he organized.
A newly created CMI executive committee comprised of CMI faculty will serve as advisors to Pacala. The committee includes Jonathan Levine, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Amilcare Porporato, the Thomas J. Wu ’94 Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and PEI.
Also celebrated at the Annual Meeting was Gardiner Hill, who has been BP’s relationship manager for CMI since the program’s inception. Hill, recently promoted by BP to vice president of carbon management, is passing the baton to Liz Rogers, vice president of environmental technology, the newly designated relationship manager.
The initiative currently includes 17 lead faculty principal investigators (PIs) and over 60 research staff and students including two new faculty. Laure Resplandy, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences and PEI, specializes in ocean and climate modeling and Claire White, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, is known for her research on sustainable cement technology.
In an overview of CMI during the meeting, Pacala described three recently launched initiatives on methane, soil carbon, and U.S. energy infrastructure.
In 2017, CMI commenced a study with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) to research the largest unknowns in methane cycling through the environment. Methane is the second most consequential global warming gas after carbon dioxide (CO2). The research on wetland methane emissions and the development of two global-scale modeling efforts focus on critical unknowns in the methane cycle, which is much less well understood than the carbon cycle.
In 2018, a project was launched to enhance the understanding of a key control on the stability of soil carbon. “Soils contain far more carbon than the atmosphere, mostly in the form of chemically or physically stabilized carbon. We do not understand how this material forms, and critically, how it will respond to climate change.” said Pacala. He added that the research spans spatial scales ranging from molecules to landscapes and that it could help inform practical strategies for enhancing the soil carbon sink.
Most recently, CMI initiated a large project to schedule and estimate costs for the transition to a net-zero greenhouse gas-emitting US economy by mid-century. The effort involves the Princeton Environmental Institute, which administers CMI, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, the Woodrow Wilson School, and numerous outside collaborators.
These research initiatives and many other climate science, technology and policy research outcomes were presented and discussed during the meeting.
Participants and attendees included Princeton faculty and researchers, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, and colleagues from BP, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, 10 national and international universities, several environmental non-profit organizations and policy think-tanks.
During a reception, BP’s Vice President of Carbon Management, Gardiner Hill, presented the two CMI Best Paper Awards. This award is presented to a CMI-affiliated postdoctoral research associate or associate research scholar for his or her contributions to an important CMI paper published within the past two years.
Kieran Bhatia, a former Princeton postdoctoral research fellow, received the award for his paper “Projected response of tropical cyclone intensity and intensification in a global climate model,” published in The Journal of Climate. Bhatia is now the climate science program lead at BP. His work was supervised by Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences and PEI.
Brandon Reichel, now a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton, received the award for his paper “A simplified energetics based planetary boundary layer (ePBL) approach for ocean climate simulations,” published in Ocean Modelling. His work was supervised by Elena Shevliakova, physical scientist and senior climate modeler at GFDL and PEI.
Since the program started in 2000, CMI researchers have produced over 850 peer-reviewed articles in highly respected journals.
“This groundbreaking research has generated sustainable solutions to climate change and informed the development of technologies that will allow us to reduce the adverse effects of carbon emissions,” said Eisgruber. “CMI has steadily shaped the national dialogue on climate science and carbon mitigation.”
In his closing Eyton said, “Standing at 19 years, this is one of the longest standing and most important strategic university relationships that BP holds. And who knows, maybe I will be standing here again in 5 years’ time talking about more of our shared successes and announcing a further extension!”