New CMI Investigators

In 2011, CMI competitively awarded three projects that have brought new faces to the program. The projects involve faculty from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and the Departments of Geosciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.



Re-engineering the nuclear future

Alexander Glaser, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and international affairs, and M.V. Ramana, an associate research scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School, will focus on emerging nuclear technologies that emphasize small-scale solutions. They will examine how nuclear power potentially fits into a modern low-carbon energy system – one that may be more decentralized than today’s system. The research project will draw expertise from the fields of computing, engineering, and policy to evaluate a range of possible alternative energy futures.

Investigations of the Amazon as a carbon sink

David Medvigy, assistant professor of geosciences, and Lars Hedin, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will coordinate field- and model-based assessments of the response and resilience of tropical ecosystems to global environmental change. Their study will seek to understand how nutrient feedbacks can affect the strength of the tropical forest carbon sink in the future, to better resolve the processes responsible for the conversion of soil carbon to atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and to investigate how plant diversity impacts the response of tropical forests to climate change.

Molecular modeling of CO2 capture and storage (CCS)

Athanassios Panagiotopoulos, professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Jeroen Tromp, professor of geosciences and director of the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering, will join the Storage Group’s Pablo Debenedetti in developing molecular-based computational tools for predicting the physical and chemical behavior of systems relevant to CCS. In particular, the group will study CO2/water/salt phase and interfacial behavior, examine systems for the separation of CO2 from flue gases using novel solid adsorbents, and improve on the accuracy of seismic monitoring of CO2 sequestration projects.


CMI Student Update

CMI has funded over 50 graduate students and over 60 postdoctoral fellows and research staff members since 2000, providing support for interdisciplinary research and an environment that encourages examination of issues from science, technology, and policy perspectives. Here are a few examples of impacts the CMI program has had on its graduate students’ research and careers:

Samir Succar is a Staff Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C. His current work addresses key barriers to continued growth in renewable energy related to the development of electrical grid infrastructure for accessing and integrating variable energy resources. These include multi-region planning activities in the electric power sector as well as federal and regional transmission policy to facilitate large-scale renewable energy deployment.

This work has allowed him to expand on the research he undertook at CMI with Robert Williams from 2003-2008 on compressed air energy storage systems coupled to large-scale wind farms. His work in the Capture (now Low-Carbon Energy) Group focused on the technical and economic aspects of providing baseload power from hybrid wind/storage systems over long distance, high voltage direct current transmission lines. At NRDC, Samir interacts with federal and regional policy makers on matters of market design and regulatory policy for planning transmission and integrating renewables with variable output. His Princeton research and the interactions with CMI collaborators fostered a broad understanding of power system technologies, fuels, and carbon abatement pathways, which provides the foundation for all the work he does today at NRDC. Samir has also been able to continue to build on collaborations with Williams and others at Princeton to further the work on wind/storage systems, including several recent and forthcoming publications.


Elena Krieger is a fifth year doctoral student in Craig Arnold’s Energy Storage Group. Her research includes modeling the fundamental rate limitations of battery charging, characterizing the frequency response of energy storage systems, and exploring how stochastic charging affects the poor practical lifespan of batteries in stand-alone wind and solar systems. This work can be translated into optimized design and control of energy storage systems in variable charge applications, leading to improvements in battery lifespan and total system efficiency.

Elena’s broader interests are in the area of energy and international development. She has previously worked on clean energy technology in Brazil, Guatemala and Eritrea, and continues to stay engaged in development projects. Her involvement in CMI has allowed her to contextualize her work within the international energy field and better understand the challenges of simultaneously increasing access to energy while reducing reliance on carbon-emitting fuel sources. She hopes that her future work will have the same interdisciplinary nature as CMI, allowing her to integrate science, technology and policy while working on efficient clean energy systems in the developing world.


Sarah Gasda’s affiliation with CMI started in the fall of 2001, when she began as a master’s student in the Storage Group with Michael Celia. The focus of her master’s thesis was the Alberta Basin, Canada, where she examined CO2 capacity estimates and the age and spatial distribution of existing oil and gas wells in the Viking formation.

Sarah continued as a doctoral student in the Celia Group, developing new modeling tools for simulating CO2 migration in saline aquifers and potential leakage through abandoned wells, particularly vertically integrated models that simplified the physics of large-scale CO2 migration coupled with small-scale wellbore leakage more efficiently than a full-physics simulator. During her time at Princeton, Sarah also collaborated with bp Alternative Energy to quantify in-situ wellbore integrity using a downhole pressure test that she and Celia designed. To date, several wellbores have been field-tested using this technique, which provides valuable data concerning the leakage potential of abandoned wells (see page 28).

After receiving her Ph.D., Sarah took a postdoctoral position at the University of North Carolina, where she continued to study CO2 simulation techniques while also publishing research on more efficient modeling of general problems of flow in porous media and groundwater remediation technologies. In 2011, she was appointed to a senior researcher position at the Center for Integrated Petroleum Research (Uni CIPR), a Norwegian Centre of Excellence at the University of Bergen, Norway. Having benefited greatly from her decade-long involvement with CMI, particularly her interactions with the CMI research network and industrial partners, she plans to continue work on problems of geological CO2 storage. Her long-term goals are to further develop modeling tools that can be used for risk assessment of industrial-scale CCS projects.


Benjamin Court’s doctoral work (2006-2011) focused on two critical aspects of CO2 sequestration: CO2 sequestration safety and the newly identified issue of water management coupled to CO2 capture and sequestration operations. He was advised by Michael Celia of the Storage Group and also benefited from insights and advice from Robert Williams and other members of the community.

CMI support allowed Ben to study not only the technical aspects of CCS, but also its legal and policy implications. His coursework spanned engineering and natural sciences, and included courses taught by bp-Vann Visiting Fellows. Working with Michael Oppenheimer, and the Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) program, Ben’s research was further informed by eye-opening courses at the Woodrow Wilson School and NYU Law School. CMI’s continued commitment also provided Ben the freedom to work with a team from the Environmental Defense Fund at the Copenhagen climate conference and collaborate with Schlumberger on water and software projects.

The experiences and insights Ben gained from Princeton and CMI are now serving him well at Boston Consulting Group. He recently joined the Paris office as a Senior Associate contributing to the BCG Sustainability, Energy, and Public Sector practices.


Bryan Mignone pursued doctoral work with Jorge Sarmiento in the Science Group on questions related to the ocean carbon cycle. He focused on mechanisms by which the ocean takes up and sequesters anthropogenic carbon dioxide, one aspect of the larger set of processes that shape the evolution of global climate. He also worked with other members of the CMI community, including Robert Socolow and Michael Oppenheimer, on policy research questions related to carbon management.

Upon graduating from Princeton in 2006, Bryan moved to Washington, D.C. to focus full-time on climate change and energy policy issues. Over the last six years, he has served as a fellow and research director at the Brookings Institution, as a professional staff member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and as a senior advisor at the Department of Energy (DOE).

In his current role at DOE, Bryan coordinates domestic climate change activities within the Office of Policy and International Affairs, oversees a broad research portfolio spanning climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation, and advises DOE leadership on a variety of related policy matters. He has been involved in several specific activities, initiatives and reports, including the U.S. Government’s first social cost of carbon estimates, the President’s clean energy standard proposal, and DOE’s report on electric system resource adequacy implications of forthcoming EPA air quality regulations, among others. Bryan’s approach to research and policy problems continues to be heavily influenced by his experiences at Princeton across the Department of Geosciences, the Woodrow Wilson School, and CMI. In particular, his interdisciplinary and inclusive approach to problems was developed and facilitated by a collaborative CMI research environment that brought together natural scientists, engineers, and economists in pursuit of a common objective.


Joseph Majkut currently works with Jorge Sarmiento in the Science Group, using modeling tools, observations and statistical methods to understand the processes that govern the ocean circulation, the distribution of chemical tracers within the ocean, and the carbon cycle. Using ocean simulations and a newly released database of surface ocean carbon content, Joe has developed a novel estimate of the historical air-sea carbon flux that reveals where in the ocean the flux was changing significantly over the last half century. The results show significant multi-decadal trends in the flux rate that he is currently working to attribute to various phenomena related to the upwelling of deep water, biological export and mesoscale temperature variability. He has also started using output from coupled atmosphere-ocean simulations and ocean models forced with averaged surface conditions to consider longer timescales.

Joe’s work is one example of the many new tools developed as part of the Carbon Observing System supported by CMI to characterize natural sinks of carbon and better understand the carbon cycle. As an example of the kind of opportunity CMI support provides, Joe attended a summer school in Corsica hosted by SOLAS, the international Surface Ocean and Lower Atmosphere Science organization in 2011, spending two weeks interacting with students and young researchers from around the world and learning about the latest groundbreaking work in carbon cycle studies.


Luca de Lorenzo was part of the Capture (now Low-Carbon Energy) and Policy & Integration Groups from 2003 to 2006, working primarily on understanding the interaction between climate change policies and the energy sector, with a particular focus on power. His research with Tom Kreutz and Robert Williams tried to shed light on the best configurations for coal power plants with carbon capture and storage and explored the possibilities of coproducing electricity and hydrogen via syngas generation. Luca also worked with Robert Socolow and Tom Kreutz to understand to what degree such plants would be able to penetrate the power market.

In 2006, Luca joined bp Alternative Energy in London in a Group looking to develop/acquire novel carbon capture technologies. His career eventually led him to join bp Upstream and move to the Sahara desert at In Amenas (sister plant of In Salah gas, although with no CO2 re-injection). There he experienced hands on what producing high amounts of CO2 and possibly re-injecting them in the ground would “really” entail, beyond simple models. It was an eye opening experience.

In the last year Luca has joined the Energy Practice of the Boston Consulting Group and is continuing to apply the fundamental lessons he learned in CMI’s university-industry partnership. He now works on several energy-related projects, ranging from Oil & Gas country entry strategies to advising big European utilities on how to deal with policy changes (e.g. nuclear acceptance or the ETS market).


Nicolas Lefèvre is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate working with Robert Socolow in the Policy & Integration Group. His research focuses on China’s growing wind power industry, and aims to assess the mechanisms which have allowed Chinese wind turbine manufacturers to close the gap in terms of technological capabilities with western companies at the technological frontier. In particular, Nicolas is interested in the role of China’s system of technological change, including interactions among firms, government institutions, and the research community that catalyze progress.

CMI supported Nicolas on two trips to China in 2011. During these trips Nicolas was hosted by long time CMI collaborators Professor Li Zheng, Director of the Tsinghua-bp Clean Energy Research and Education Center, and Professor Ni Weidou, who founded the center.

With the help of Professor Li and Professor Ni, Nicolas conducted interviews throughout the country with technology managers at several of China’s largest wind power manufacturers, policy makers from various government bodies working on the wind power sector, officials with the main wind power industry associations, and professors and other researchers working on wind power technology at some of the country’s leading research institutions. These meetings and interviews were the source of a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data that Nicolas is integrating into his dissertation.