2011 was a year of growth for CMI. Long-term members continued to refine and apply tools developed in our first decade to better understand CO2 capture and storage, natural carbon sinks, and carbon policy, while also striking out in new directions. At the same time, new faculty members have joined the CMI community with projects that complement and extend existing research.
The Low-Carbon Energy Group (formerly the Capture Group) has continued developing innovative strategies to advance a low-carbon energy economy, including motivating CO2 capture and storage in the near-term (even in the absence of carbon mitigation policy) and improving energy storage for renewable power. Researchers continued work on novel fossil-fuel/biomass systems with carbon capture and storage that produce fuels and electricity, showing that using the captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery can make these facilities profitable even at low CO2 prices, while also substantially decreasing fuel-related carbon emissions. They also found that achieving this vision will require incentives for commercializing co-production facilities and a substantially expanded infrastructure for transporting CO2 over long distances. In energy storage research, new models have substantially improved prediction of the amount of energy stored in batteries with variations in charging power, laying the groundwork for better design of battery storage systems for wind and solar power.
The Carbon Storage Group has been investigating challenges in CO2 storage from the field scale down to the molecular level. In field-based studies, researchers have collaborated with BP and Schlumberger to measure effective permeabilities of existing wells and have completed an analysis of the overlap of shale gas formations and potential CO2 storage aquifers. The modeling teams continue to refine basin- and injection-scale models and use them to study potential storage sites, while bench-scale experiments are providing new insights into controls on CO2 transport and dissolution. The group’s molecular-scale modeling effort has been expanded through collaboration with new CMI members Athanassios Panagiotopoulos and Jeroen Tromp.
Carbon Science Group researchers have continued to monitor the marine and terrestrial carbon sinks and to develop new tools to improve both carbon cycle observations and the simulation of natural processes in Princeton’s Earth System Model. Satellite observations show increased evidence for a recent abrupt increase in carbon uptake on land and new models are shedding light on the future of the CO2 fertilization sink. A project with new CMI members Lars Hedin and David Medvigy on the future of the Amazon rainforest is augmenting existing terrestrial carbon cycle studies, and work on the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on marine ecosystems has also been expanded. Finally, studies of the causes of long-term climate variability have been boosted by the discovery of Antarctic ice over 1 million years old that might enable extension of the atmospheric CO2 record back 500,000 years or more, and by new modeling of the decadal-scale impacts of volcanism on carbon cycling.
The Carbon Policy & Integration Group has continued to develop and improve tools to enhance understanding of the challenges of carbon mitigation and the impacts of climate change, particularly sea-level rise. New work focuses on the communication of uncertainty about future “high-consequence” outcomes of climate change. The team has also added a focus addressing the practical challenges of scaling up low-carbon energy solutions, including a project by new CMI member Alexander Glaser to assess the promise of small modular nuclear reactors.
For the first time in 11 years, this report also pays homage to CMI’s role in educating and mentoring graduate students. “CMI Student Update” features eight Ph.D. students, four past and four present, who are breaking new ground in scientific research and policy and whose varied career paths show the imprint of CMI support.
Finally, CMI’s efforts are being enhanced by other energy-related initiatives on campus now more than ever. The Siebel Energy Challenge, directed by Robert Socolow, has awarded several new grants this year to strengthen undergraduate education in energy and the environment. Another complementary effort, Princeton’s new Andlinger Center for Energy & the Environment, is a focal point for research on renewable energy and energy efficiency on campus in which several CMI members are involved. Ground has now been broken on the Andlinger Laboratory, an ambitious complex of three interconnected buildings that is intended to meet LEED silver standards and will provide more than 125,000 square feet of laboratory, cleanroom, classroom and lecture hall, and faculty and student space. We expect these complementary campus initiatives to offer continuing opportunities for research collaboration and cooperative educational efforts.