The Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) is an independent academic research program that brings together scientists, engineers and policy experts to design safe, effective and affordable carbon mitigation strategies. Sponsored by bp and administered by the High Meadows Environmental Institute, CMI is Princeton university’s largest and most long-term industry partnership. Since its inception, CMI has been committed to the dissemination of its research findings in peer-reviewed academic literature so they may benefit the larger scientific community, government, industry and the general public.
CMI, now in its twenty-third year, has left an immeasurable impact on how society deals with the climate problem. In 2022, over 50 researchers and students worked under the leadership of fourteen principal investigators to find ways to mitigate crises and help policymakers develop equitable solutions to environmental problems. The Research Highlights found in this report are prepared and written by lead faculty principal investigators and their research groups. At the end of the report, there is a list of publications in 2022 from CMI and CMI-related projects.
Ongoing Research Activities
The world changed considerably in 2022 – the war in Ukraine demonstrated to everyone the vulnerabilities associated with reliance on fossil fuels. The United States passed two major climate bills, after discussion and debate significantly influenced by the CMI-led Net-Zero America project. An offshoot of Net-Zero America, the REPEAT project, provided specific and targeted analyses in real time to policymakers considering particular environmental legislation, and continues to do so today. Net-Zero Australia was developed using a similar modeling design, leading the way for more countries to develop their own versions of net-zero guidelines.
CMI continues to conduct groundbreaking and foundational research in the areas of science, technology and policy. Research teams made progress on a number of ongoing initiatives:
- The latest REPEAT project assesses U.S. progress on net-zero goals. It concludes that the spending and incentives included in the current climate legislation will not reduce emissions to the goal of 50% by 2030, but there are ways to close the gap.
- Energy systems models identify the most critical barriers to successful implementation of current legislation, and focus attention on the pace of deployment in the electricity sector.
- Clean fuels play a crucial role in the goal of reaching net-zero in 2050. Research explores how the Inflation Reduction Act impacts the economics of clean hydrogen and liquid fuel.
- India needs large-scale carbon capture and storage to help it reach net-zero, but the Deccan Traps basalt province appears to be unsuitable for large-scale CO2 injection.
- Sustainable cements can help the concrete manufacturing industry decarbonize but there are questions about their long-term performance. Examining pore structure can help predict how they stand up over time.
- Oceans have been losing oxygen in response to climate change. Using Earth System Models, observations and simulations, researchers can predict how oxygen minimum zones will respond to future pollution, climate change and natural variability.
- Tropical cyclone intensity and frequency are impacted by large-scale events and changes. Researchers use modeling to determine how climate drives changes in tropical cyclones.
- Hydrogen plays a crucial part of the transition to net-zero, but hydrogen in the atmosphere can increase greenhouse gases. Knowing how much hydrogen leakage can occur before its climate benefits are negated is crucial to scale up hydrogen use responsibly.
- Wetlands are one of the largest natural sources of methane to the atmosphere. Research explored the responsible biochemical mechanisms and provided insights for mitigating wetlands emissions.
- Land use changes designed to store more carbon could have beneficial or detrimental impacts on biodiversity. Research explores the connection between the two.
- To understand the effectiveness of economic incentives for land-use change across the globe, researchers are using statistical models to analyze economic data on a national and global scale.
- The latest climate models from CMI researchers and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) account for the impacts of extreme weather on land carbon uptake. Therefore, these models provide more accurate assessments of the future of the land carbon sink and humanity’s remaining carbon emissions budget.
- Researchers examined the impacts of drought on carbon uptake and storage in Panamanian rainforests and the long-term effects of drought and fire in the Amazon.
2022’s 21st Annual Meeting marked its return to London after four years. CMI and bp enjoyed being together in person for the first time since the COVID pandemic imposed two years of virtual-only meetings. It also was the first fully hybrid meeting, where all sessions were both in-person and online. All attendees could participate in the lively discussions, with participants spanning the globe from China to California, Princeton and London.
Ivanka Mamic, bp’s senior vice president for sustainability and relationship manager for CMI, opened the meeting by remarking, “What a privilege it is to hear about all the work being done for the entire energy transition and to engage in respectful conversations about research and policy. These conversations will help bp stay action-oriented and remain focused on our sustainability goals.”
In an introductory overview of CMI, Stephen Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the director of CMI, stated that while commitments to a net-zero transition were gaining ground in more and more places, the planet continued to sound alarms.
In 2022, “Climate science showed surprisingly alarming information about the nearness of a couple tipping points …. while unprecedented extreme weather made climate denial even more untenable,” said Pacala.
Research discussed during the annual meeting focused on a wide variety of subjects including infrastructure for hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, policies to achieve net-zero in representative countries, and an exploration of land-based climate solutions that can help solve both climate and biodiversity problems. The research highlights section presented CMI research on extreme weather, interactions between cooling from cloud formation and reforestation or afforestation, carbon dioxide storage in basalt formations, carbon capture materials and methane emissions from wetlands. Lord Adair Turner captivated the dinner audience by discussing technological possibilities and barriers along the path to net-zero.
In addition, Pacala announced the recipients of two awards named in honor of Robert H. Socolow, emeritus professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering at Princeton and CMI co-director from 2000 – 2019.
Best Paper Awards 2022
Since 2010, the CMI Best Paper Award for Postdoctoral Fellows has been presented annually to one or two CMI-affiliated postdoctoral research associate(s) or research scholar(s) selected for their contribution to an important CMI paper. In late 2019, CMI created a similar award honoring a CMIaffiliated doctoral student for their contributions to an important CMI paper.
Former Princeton postdoctoral researcher Yujin Zeng received the Robert H. Socolow Best Paper Award for Postdoctoral Fellows for his paper, “Possible Anthropogenic Enhancement of Precipitation in the Sahel-Sudan Savanna by Remote Agricultural Irrigation,” published in Geophysical Research Letters in 2022. Zeng is now a research scientist at NASA.
Former Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate student Tom Postma received the Robert H. Socolow Best Paper Award for Graduate Students for his paper, “Field-Scale Modeling of CO2 Mineral Trapping in Reactive Rocks: A Vertically Integrated Approach,” published in Water Resources Research in 2022. Postma is now a carbon capture and storage specialist at bp.
CMI members continue to work with a wide variety of outside collaborators, including researchers in three other bp-university partnerships: the Center for the Environment at Harvard University; the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University; the Thermal Engineering Department and the Tsinghua-bp Clean Energy Research and Education Center at Tsinghua University; and governmental and nongovernmental organizations including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
CMI also continued its initiative, launched in 2021, with University of California Santa Barbara and the Environmental Defense Fund on using econometrics to understand how the outcome of policy incentives are affected by economic, institutional, political, and cultural differences. The analysis is expected to be completed by 2024. An update of the research can be found in this report.
Awards and Appointments
In 2022, CMI scholars received numerous honors and appointments, including: Jesse Jenkins, who received the 2022 Engineering News-Record 2022 Top 25 Newsmakers Award for public research impact; Jonathan Levine, who was appointed faculty chair of Princeton’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department and who was recognized as 2022’s Distinguished Ecologist Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin; and Elena Shevliakova, who received the silver medal in the area of scientific/engineering achievement from the US Department of Commerce for scientific leadership in leading, drafting, coordinating and communicating the findings of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.