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