The Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI), based at Princeton University, is an independent academic program sponsored by bp. The goal of the program is to bring together scientists, engineers, and policy experts to design carbon mitigation strategies that are safe, effective and affordable. Since its inception in 2000, CMI has been committed to the dissemination of its research findings so they may benefit the larger scientific community, government, industry, and the general public.
In July 2017, the administering entity for CMI, the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), underwent a leadership transition. Michael Celia, the Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a CMI principal investigator (PI), became the Institute’s new director, succeeding François Morel, the Albert G. Blanke, Jr. Professor of Geosciences and also a CMI PI. Morel served two terms as PEI’s director: first, from 1998 to 2005, which included CMI’s early years and again from 2014 to 2017.
CMI is currently comprised of 18 lead faculty and more than 50 Princeton research staff and students. The program identifies both risks and opportunities posed by the carbon problem. Research teams are organized into three groups: science, technology, and integration.
CMI Research Team Groups
CMI Science features close collaboration with Princeton’s neighbor, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) of the US Department of Commerce. Together, CMI and GFDL are improving the understanding of atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and other greenhouse gases. The role of oceans as carbon and heat sinks is under investigation, with an emphasis on the relatively unexplored Southern Ocean. A growing effort is focused upon developing a better understanding of past tropical cyclone activity and intensity in order to improve the ability to predict future activity in response to changing climatic conditions. The study of surface waves at the interface between the atmosphere and ocean waters has important implications for improved understanding of climate and weather. Modeling of ice flows reveals new information about ocean mixing with implications for ocean ecology. Research on the role of terrestrial vegetation in the carbon cycle continues with additional focus on the hydrological cycle. An initiative launched in late 2017 investigates the physics of soil carbon dynamics to inform practical strategies for enhancing carbon storage in soils. In addition, a new supplementary award was announced to study methane sources and sinks in the atmosphere and on land.
CMI Technology studies CO2 storage in geological formations with a focus on understanding leakage risks associated with old oil and gas wells, and on modelling injection in unconventional reservoirs. A program on advanced batteries is developing new diagnostic methods. Other research focuses on incentivizing the decarbonisation of the transportation sector, with an emphasis on biofuel production combined with CO2 capture and storage.
CMI Integration introduces new conceptual frameworks that are useful to governments and citizen groups considering climate change policies. One current effort seeks to make the emerging statistical analyses of extreme events, such as urban heat waves, more accessible. Another initiative involves the study of renewable energy intermittency, lulls in windpower in particular, and examines potential implications for power management.
2017 Annual Meeting
The 16th annual meeting of CMI, held at Princeton University from April 4-5, 2017, gathered over 100 people to hear presentations and take part in discussions about terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks, modeling of tropical cyclones, energy innovations and disruptive technologies, US climate policy including the regulatory and tax outlook, and climate change perspectives in the era of the Trump administration.
During a celebratory reception at the meeting, bp’s chief scientist and head of technology, Angela Strank, presented the 2017 CMI Best Paper Award to Princeton University postdoctoral research fellow Bhargav Rallabandi. Rallabandi, who works in PI Howard Stone’s lab, was selected for his paper, “Wind-Driven Formation of Ice Bridges in Straits.” The paper was published in Physical Review Letters in March 2017.
The day before the commencement of the CMI annual meeting, a symposium entitled “Energy for a Carbon-Constrained World,” honored Robert Williams on the occasion of his retirement after more than 40 years at Princeton. Williams, former head of the Energy Systems Analysis Group, had participated in CMI since its inception. The all-day celebration featured renowned international 8 Seventeenth Year Report – 2017 experts from academia, industry, and government speaking on a variety of solutions and technologies that can provide sustainable energy and mitigate the impact of climate change on the environment.
Stephen Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and CMI co-director, was appointed as chair of a new National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Developing a Research Agenda for Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration. The committee’s objective is to assess the benefits, risks, and sustainable scale potential for CO2 removal and sequestration approaches; and to increase their commercial viability.
CMI is pleased to announce the addition of three new PIs: Amilcare Porporato, Xinning Zhang, and Vaishali Naik. Porporato is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and PEI; he is known widely for his work in soils and hydrology. Zhang is a biogeochemist who began her assistant professorship in the Department of Geosciences and PEI in 2017. Naik is a physical scientist at GFDL; she is an expert in atmospheric chemistry and global modelling.
Also in 2017, bp assigned Michelle Horsfield, the bp Climate Science and Sustainability Manager, to work closely with Gardiner Hill and Cindy Yeilding in managing bp’s CMI relationship.
In this report, each of the PIs or teams of PIs selected one research highlight from 2017 to feature and provided context for the work. These highlights are supplemented by a complete list of the year’s publications.