Based at Princeton University, the Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) is an independent academic research program sponsored by bp and administered by the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI). Established in 2000, CMI is Princeton’s largest and most long-term industry-university relationship. Its mission is to lead the way to a compelling and sustainable solution to the carbon and climate change problem.
CMI currently includes 16 lead faculty investigators and over 50 research staff and students. The program brings together scientists, engineers, and policy experts to investigate the dual challenge of supplying the energy that the world needs without emitting greenhouse gases that change the climate. Since its inception, 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.
One of the unique characteristics of CMI is that it continually readjusts its programming based upon new scientific discoveries, technological advances, and changing political landscapes. Over the past few years, CMI commenced several new initiatives, the most recent of which are the Net-Zero America project, the Soil Carbon project, and the Methane project.
Realizing net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States requires serious efforts based on realistic, real-world assessments. The Net-Zero America project aims to provide policy makers with the necessary analyses to pursue net-zero goals including estimates of plant and infrastructure build- outs along with an assessment of impacts on industries, communities, existing infrastructure and the natural environment.
To understand the complicated role stored carbon plays in global climate, a team of CMI researchers is investigating the role clay minerals play in storing carbon and how this carbon might be released. The team is also researching how moisture affects organic carbon decomposition, soil-carbon residence time, and carbon capture by rock weathering. Understanding these processes is a key component to the implementation of emissions cuts required by the Paris Climate accords.
Methane (CH4) is the second most important anthropogenic climate forcer after carbon dioxide. Determining the importance and mechanisms of different methane sources and sinks across temporal and spatial scales remains a fundamental challenge for the scientific community. A team of CMI researchers is undertaking three complementary research projects to address critical unknowns in methane cycling.
Ongoing Research Focus
- how global warming and anthropogenic activities are impacting the concentration of oxygen in the world’s oceans;
- how climate and volcanic eruptions are changing cyclone activity;
- understanding carbon storage in terrestrial vegetation under climate change;
- how agricultural irrigation and tropical forests influence worldwide climate change;
- measuring anthropogenic methane emissions associated with the oil and gas industry; and
- optimizing clay-based sustainable cements in order to reduce carbon emissions.
The 18th CMI Annual Meeting marked yet another milestone as it celebrated its third renewal. Commencing in 2000 with a 10-year contract, the program has since undergone three five-year renewals with bp (2010-15, 2015-20, and the latest in 2020-25).
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 has steadily shaped the national dialogue on climate science and carbon mitigation,” he said. Joining in the announcement, bp’s group head of technology David Eyton exclaimed this is the third time he has had the pleasure of announcing an extension of CMI.
The 2019 annual meeting was held April 16-17 in the Friend Center Convocation Room on the Princeton campus.
Eyton and Eisgruber also thanked CMI’s co-directors Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow for their outstanding leadership of the program over the past 19 years.
Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, will continue as director, while 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 was honored at the CMI Annual Meeting which followed a well-attended day-long symposium, “Destiny Studies for a Small Planet,” which he organized.
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, passed the baton to Liz Rogers, vice president of environmental technology, now the designated relationship manager.
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, Hill presented 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.
Brandon Reichl, 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.
CMI continued active engagement with three outstanding research programs bp has long supported: the Center for the Environment at Harvard University; the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University; and the Thermal Engineering Department and the Tsinghua-bp Clean Energy Research and Educational Center at Tsinghua University.
In addition, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine appointed Pacala as chair of a new Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions. The Committee will examine the status of technologies, policies, and societal factors needed for decarbonization and recommend research and policy needs, focused on the near and midterm (5-20 years). Jesse Jenkins and Kelly Gallagher, co-director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University, are among those appointed as committee members. Jenkins, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, is a new addition to both Princeton and CMI. Jenkins is a macro-scale systems engineer focusing on the rapidly evolving electricity sector.
In 2019, numerous honors and prizes were awarded to CMI scholars including: the Weldon Memorial Prize from Oxford to Stephen Pacala; the 2020 John Dalton Medal from the European Geosciences Union to Amilcare Porporato; a 2019 Sloan Research Fellowship to Laure Resplandy; a 2019 National Academy of Inventors Fellow to Howard Stone; the 2019 Gustavo Colonetti Medal to Claire White; and a Simons Foundation Early Career Fellowship to Xinning Zhang.
New Additions to CMI Leadership
A newly created CMI executive committee composed of CMI faculty will serve as advisors to Pacala. In addition to Pacala, the committee includes Jonathan Levine, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who recently joined Princeton and CMI, and Amilcare Porporato, the Thomas J. Wu ’94 Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and PEI.
Also in this report, each of the PIs or teams of PIs selected one research highlight from 2019 to feature and provided context for the work. For each highlight, a short summary is provided referred to as “At a Glance.” These highlights are supplemented by a complete list of this year’s publications.