MIT News - Climate change http://news.mit.edu/topic/mitclimate-change-rss.xml MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Thu, 24 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 MIT engineers develop a new way to remove carbon dioxide from air http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-engineers-develop-new-way-remove-carbon-dioxide-air-1025 The process could work on the gas at any concentrations, from power plant emissions to open air. Thu, 24 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 David Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-engineers-develop-new-way-remove-carbon-dioxide-air-1025 <p>A new way of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of air could provide a significant tool in the battle against climate change. The new system can work on the gas at virtually any concentration level, even down to the roughly 400 parts per million currently found in the atmosphere.</p> <p>Most methods of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of gas require higher concentrations, such as those found in the flue emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants. A few variations have been developed that can work with the low concentrations found in air, but the new method is significantly less energy-intensive and expensive, the researchers say.</p> <p>The technique, based on passing air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates, is described in a new paper in the journal <em>Energy and Environmental Science</em>, by MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian, who developed the work during his PhD, and T. Alan Hatton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>The device is essentially a large, specialized battery that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air (or other gas stream) passing over its electrodes as it is being charged up, and then releases the gas as it is being discharged. In operation, the device would simply alternate between charging and discharging, with fresh air or feed gas being blown through the system during the charging cycle, and then the pure, concentrated carbon dioxide being blown out during the discharging.</p> <p>As the battery charges, an electrochemical reaction takes place at the surface of each of a stack of electrodes. These are coated with a compound called polyanthraquinone, which is composited with carbon nanotubes. The electrodes have a natural affinity for carbon dioxide and readily react with its molecules in the airstream or feed gas, even when it is present at very low concentrations. The reverse reaction takes place when the battery is discharged — during which the device can provide part of the power needed for the whole system — and in the process ejects a stream of pure carbon dioxide. The whole system operates at room temperature and normal air pressure.</p> <p>“The greatest advantage of this technology over most other carbon capture or carbon absorbing technologies is the binary nature of the adsorbent’s affinity to carbon dioxide,” explains Voskian. In other words, the electrode material, by its nature, “has either a high affinity or no affinity whatsoever,” depending on the battery’s state of charging or discharging. Other reactions used for carbon capture require intermediate chemical processing steps or the input of significant energy such as heat, or pressure differences.</p> <p>“This binary affinity allows capture of carbon dioxide from any concentration, including 400 parts per million, and allows its release into any carrier stream, including 100 percent CO<sub>2</sub>,” Voskian says. That is, as any gas flows through the stack of these flat electrochemical cells, during the release step the captured carbon dioxide will be carried along with it. For example, if the desired end-product is pure carbon dioxide to be used in the carbonation of beverages, then a stream of the pure gas can be blown through the plates. The captured gas is then released from the plates and joins the stream.</p> <p>In some soft-drink bottling plants, fossil fuel is burned to generate the carbon dioxide needed to give the drinks their fizz. Similarly, some farmers burn natural gas to produce carbon dioxide to feed their plants in greenhouses. The new system could eliminate that need for fossil fuels in these applications, and in the process actually be taking the greenhouse gas right out of the air, Voskian says. Alternatively, the pure carbon dioxide stream could be compressed and injected underground for long-term disposal, or even made into fuel through a series of chemical and electrochemical processes.</p> <p>The process this system uses for capturing and releasing carbon dioxide “is revolutionary” he says. “All of this is at ambient conditions — there’s no need for thermal, pressure, or chemical input. It’s just these very thin sheets, with both surfaces active, that can be stacked in a box and connected to a source of electricity.”</p> <p>“In my laboratories, we have been striving to develop new technologies to tackle a range of environmental issues that avoid the need for thermal energy sources, changes in system pressure, or addition of chemicals to complete the separation and release cycles,” Hatton says. “This carbon dioxide capture technology is a clear demonstration of the power of electrochemical approaches that require only small swings in voltage to drive the separations.”​</p> <p>In a working plant — for example, in a power plant where exhaust gas is being produced continuously — two sets of such stacks of the electrochemical cells could be set up side by side to operate in parallel, with flue gas being directed first at one set for carbon capture, then diverted to the second set while the first set goes into its discharge cycle. By alternating back and forth, the system could always be both capturing and discharging the gas. In the lab, the team has proven the system can withstand at least 7,000 charging-discharging cycles, with a 30 percent loss in efficiency over that time. The researchers estimate that they can readily improve that to 20,000 to 50,000 cycles.</p> <p>The electrodes themselves can be manufactured by standard chemical processing methods. While today this is done in a laboratory setting, it can be adapted so that ultimately they could be made in large quantities through a roll-to-roll manufacturing process similar to a newspaper printing press, Voskian says. “We have developed very cost-effective techniques,” he says, estimating that it could be produced for something like tens of dollars per square meter of electrode.</p> <p>Compared to other existing carbon capture technologies, this system is quite energy efficient, using about one gigajoule of energy per ton of carbon dioxide captured, consistently. Other existing methods have energy consumption which vary between 1 to 10 gigajoules per ton, depending on the inlet carbon dioxide concentration, Voskian says.</p> <p>The researchers have set up a company called Verdox to commercialize the process, and hope to develop a pilot-scale plant within the next few years, he says. And the system is very easy to scale up, he says: “If you want more capacity, you just need to make more electrodes.”</p> <p>This work was supported by an MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund grant and by Eni S.p.A.</p> In this diagram of the new system, air entering from top right passes to one of two chambers (the gray rectangular structures) containing battery electrodes that attract the carbon dioxide. Then the airflow is switched to the other chamber, while the accumulated carbon dioxide in the first chamber is flushed into a separate storage tank (at right). These alternating flows allow for continuous operation of the two-step process.Image courtesy of the researchersResearch, Chemical engineering, School of Engineering, Emissions, Carbon nanotubes, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Climate change, Carbon dioxide, Sustainability, Carbon, Greenhouse gases Enhanced nuclear energy online class aims to inform and inspire http://news.mit.edu/2019/enhanced-nuclear-energy-mooc-aims-to-inform-inspire-1024 Revamped version of MITx MOOC includes new modules on nuclear security, nuclear proliferation, and quantum engineering. Thu, 24 Oct 2019 14:30:01 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering http://news.mit.edu/2019/enhanced-nuclear-energy-mooc-aims-to-inform-inspire-1024 <p>More than 3,000 users hailing from 137 countries signed up for the MIT Department of Nuclear Energy's debut massive open online course (MOOC), Nuclear Energy: Science, Systems and Society, which debuted last year on <em>MITx. </em>Now, after roaring success, the course will be <a href="https://www.edx.org/course/nuclear-energy-science-systems-and-society" target="_blank">offered again</a> in spring 2020, with key upgrades.</p> <p>“We had hoped there was an appetite in the general public for information about nuclear energy and technology,” says Jacopo Buongiorno, the TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and one of the course instructors. “We were fully confirmed by this first offering.”</p> <p>Unfolding over nine weeks, the MOOC provides a primer on nuclear energy and radiation and the wide-ranging applications of nuclear technology in medicine, security, energy, and research. It aims not just to educate, but to capture the interest of a distance-learning audience not necessarily well acquainted with physics and mathematics.</p> <p>“The MOOC builds on a tradition in our department of a first-year seminar that exposes students to a broad overview of the field,” says another instructor, Anne White, professor and head, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. “We set ourselves the challenge of translating the experience of being MIT first-years, who jump into something they know nothing about, and come out with excitement for the foundations of the field and its frontiers.”</p> <p>Before setting out to tackle this problem, the creative team — which also includes Michael Short, the Class of ’42 Career Development Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, and John Parsons, senior lecturer in the Finance Group at MIT Sloan School of Management — carefully reviewed existing online nuclear science offerings.</p> <p>“When we looked at MOOCs out in the world, a lot of them are wonderful, but highly technical,” says White. “We had a different vision of what MIT could accomplish, and that was reaching a big audience of virtual first-years.”</p> <p>For last year’s launch, the MOOC was structured around three modules. The first, taught by Short, introduced nuclear science at the atomic level. “We focused on the basics — the nucleus and particles, and the technologies that naturally emerge out of the study of the discipline,” says Buongiorno. This included a close look at ionizing radiation and how to measure it, with an invitation for online users to build a simple Geiger counter to measure radiation in their own backyards.</p> <p>The second module, led by Buongiorno and Parsons, delved into how nuclear reactors function, what makes nuclear energy attractive, issues of safety and waste, and questions of nuclear power plant economics and policy.</p> <p>The third module, taught by White, discussed magnetic fusion energy research, with a look at pioneering work at MIT and elsewhere dealing with high-magnetic-field fusion. “We lay the foundation first for fission power, and see a lot of enthusiasm about decarbonizing the grid in the short term,” says White. “We then present fusion power and MIT’s SPARC experiment, which really captures students’ imagination with its potential as a future energy source.”</p> <p>Translating key elements of nuclear science and technology syllabi from the MIT classroom setting to prerecorded video segments, slides, and online assessments for the MOOC proved a significant effort for instructors.</p> <p>“Much of the material was drawn from classes we collectively taught, and it took nearly a year to develop this curriculum and make sure it was the right content, at the right level,” says Buongiorno. “It was a huge challenge to make this intelligible and attractive to a much broader audience than usual, people without a science background, or who might not be on the same page around energy.” It was, he adds, “more difficult than a typical class I teach.”</p> <p>The MOOC included opportunities for students to interact with each other and the instructors at key junctures, through the means of online write-in forums. Buongiorno and his colleagues had hoped to duplicate online the vibrant interactions of residential classrooms, and even offer office hours, but it proved infeasible. “Because of the geographic distribution of participants, it made no sense; half of the students would be excluded because the event would be taking place in the middle of the night.”</p> <p>The team, not content to rest on its laurels, is adding elements for the MOOC’s second run: R. Scott Kemp, the MIT Class of ’43 Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, will teach a new module on nuclear security and nuclear proliferation, and Paola Cappellaro, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, will offer a module on quantum engineering.</p> <p>In addition to this expansion, White envisions an eventual residential version of the course, where first-years could take the MOOC online and attend seminars on campus to receive MIT credit. “Our goal as a department is not just educating majors in nuclear science and engineering, but creating classes appealing to students outside the major,” she says. “It’s in the pipeline.”</p> <p>Given rising concern about climate change, and the emergence of new technologies in fission and fusion, the timing of this MOOC seems propitious to its founding team.</p> <p>“We’d like to have an impact with the course on the greater debate about the use of nuclear energy as part of the solution for climate change,” says Buongiorno. “The public in this debate needs science-based input and facts about different technologies, which is one of our major objectives.” Adds White, “We believe the course will appeal to folks working in government, policy, industry, as well as to those who are simply curious about what’s happening at the frontiers of our field.”</p> “We’d like to have an impact with the course on the greater debate about the use of nuclear energy as part of the solution for climate change,” says Professor Jacopo Buongiorno.Nuclear science and engineering, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, Classes and programs, Education, teaching, academics, Design, Energy, Environment, Nuclear power and reactors, EdX, Physics, Fusion, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), Climate change, MITx Antarctic ice cliffs may not contribute to sea-level rise as much as predicted http://news.mit.edu/2019/antarctic-ice-cliffs-not-contribute-sea-level-rise-1021 Study finds even the tallest ice cliffs should support their own weight rather than collapsing catastrophically. Mon, 21 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/antarctic-ice-cliffs-not-contribute-sea-level-rise-1021 <p>Antarctica’s ice sheet spans close to twice the area of the contiguous United States, and its land boundary is buttressed by massive, floating ice shelves extending hundreds of miles out over the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean. When these ice shelves collapse into the ocean, they expose towering cliffs of ice along Antarctica’s edge.</p> <p>Scientists have assumed that ice cliffs taller than 90 meters (about the height of the Statue of Liberty) would rapidly collapse under their own weight, contributing to more than 6 feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century — enough to completely flood Boston and other coastal cities. But now MIT researchers have found that this particular prediction may be overestimated.</p> <p>In a paper published today in <em>Geophysical Research Letters</em>, the team reports that in order for a 90-meter ice cliff to collapse entirely, the ice shelves supporting the cliff would have to break apart &nbsp;extremely quickly, within a matter of hours — a rate of ice loss that has not been observed in the modern record.</p> <p>“Ice shelves are about a kilometer thick, and some are the size of Texas,” says MIT graduate student Fiona Clerc. “To get into catastrophic failures of really tall ice cliffs, you would have to remove these ice shelves within hours, which seems unlikely no matter what the climate-change scenario.”</p> <p>If a supporting ice shelf were to melt away over a longer period of days or weeks, rather than hours, the researchers found that the remaining ice cliff wouldn’t suddenly crack and collapse under its own weight, but instead would slowly flow out, like a mountain of cold honey that’s been released from a dam.</p> <p>“The current worst-case scenario of sea-level rise from Antarctica is based on the idea that cliffs higher than 90 meters would fail catastrophically,” Brent Minchew, assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “We’re saying that scenario, based on cliff failure, is probably not going to play out. That’s something of a silver lining. That said, we have to be careful about breathing a sigh of relief. There are plenty of other ways to get rapid sea-level rise.”</p> <p>Clerc is the lead author of the new paper, along with Minchew, and Mark Behn of Boston College.</p> <p><strong>Silly putty-like behavior</strong></p> <p>In a warming climate, as Antarctica’s ice shelves collapse into the ocean, they expose towering cliffs of grounded ice, or ice over land. Without the buttressing support of ice shelves, scientists have assumed that the continent’s very tall ice cliffs would collapse, calving into the ocean, to expose even taller cliffs further inland, which would themselves fail and collapse, initiating a runaway ice-sheet retreat. &nbsp;</p> <p>Today, there are no ice cliffs on Earth that are taller than 90 meters, and scientists assumed this is because cliffs any taller than that would be unable to support their own weight.</p> <p>Clerc, Minchew, and Behn took on this assumption, wondering whether and under what conditions ice cliffs 90 meters and taller would physically collapse. To answer this, they developed a simple simulation of a rectangular block of ice to represent an idealized ice sheet (ice over land) supported initially by an equally tall ice shelf (ice over water). They ran the simulation forward by shrinking the ice shelf at different rates and seeing how the exposed ice cliff responds over time.</p> <p>In their simulation, they set the mechanical properties, or behavior of ice, according to Maxwell’s model for viscoelasticity, which describes the way a material can transition from an elastic, rubbery response, to a viscous, honey-like behavior depending on whether it is quickly or slowly loaded. A classic example of viscoelasticity is silly putty: If you leave a ball of silly putty on a table, it slowly slumps into a puddle, like a viscous liquid; if you quickly pull it apart, it tears like an elastic solid.</p> <p>As it turns out, ice is also a viscoelastic material, and the researchers incorporated Maxwell viscoelasticity into their simulation. They varied the rate at which the buttressing ice shelf was removed, and predicted whether the ice cliff would fracture and collapse like an elastic material or flow like a viscous liquid.</p> <p>They model the effects of various starting heights, or thicknesses of ice, from 0 to 1,000 meters, along with various timescales of ice shelf collapse. In the end, they found that when a 90-meter cliff is exposed, it will quickly collapse in brittle chunks only if the supporting ice shelf has been removed quickly, over a period of hours. In fact, they found that this behavior holds true for cliffs as tall as 500 meters. If ice shelves are removed over longer periods of days or weeks, ice cliffs as tall as 500 meters will not collapse under their own weight, but instead will slowly slough away, like cold honey.</p> <p><strong>A realistic picture</strong></p> <p>The results suggest that the Earth’s tallest ice cliffs are unlikely to collapse catastrophically and trigger a runaway ice sheet retreat. That’s because the fastest rate at which ice shelves are disappearing, at least as documented in the modern record, is on the order of weeks, not hours, as scientists observed in 2002, when they captured satellite imagery of the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf — a chunk of ice as large as Rhode Island that broke away from Antarctica, shattering into thousands of icebergs over the span of two weeks.</p> <p>“When Larsen B collapsed, that was quite an extreme event that occurred over two weeks, and that is a tiny ice shelf compared to the ones that we would be particularly worried about,” Clerc says. “So our work shows that cliff failure is probably not the mechanism by which we would get a lot of sea level rise in the near future.”</p> <p>This research is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.</p> The Getz Ice Shelf in West Antarctica.Image: NASA/Jeremy HarbeckClimate, Climate change, EAPS, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Environment, Fluid dynamics, Global Warming, Research, School of Science, National Science Foundation (NSF) Funding for sustainable concrete cemented for five more years http://news.mit.edu/2019/renewed-funding-sustainable-concrete-1004 The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub will continue to study the environmental impacts of concrete and the hazard resilience of the built environment. Fri, 04 Oct 2019 13:45:01 -0400 Andrew Logan | Concrete Sustainability Hub http://news.mit.edu/2019/renewed-funding-sustainable-concrete-1004 <p>The <a href="https://cshub.mit.edu/">MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub</a> (CSHub), an interdisciplinary team of researchers dedicated to concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics, has renewed its relationship with its industry partners for another five years.</p> <p>Founded in 2009, CSHub has spent a decade over two five-year phases collaborating with the <a href="https://www.cement.org/">Portland Cement Association</a> (PCA) and the <a href="https://rmc-foundation.org/">Ready Mixed Concrete Research &amp; Education Foundation</a> (RMC) to achieve durable and sustainable buildings and infrastructure in ever-more-demanding environments. Over its next five-year phase, CSHub will receive $10 million of additional funding from its partners to continue its research efforts.</p> <p>“Taking CSHub’s work to the next level will not only help us achieve our goal of making concrete more sustainable, but will also continue to strengthen our communities by providing designers, owners, and policymakers with the best information and tools available to make the best choices for their construction projects,” says Julia Garbini, the executive director of RMC.</p> <p>According to Michael Ireland, PCA president and CEO, CSHub’s past research has also allowed the industry to investigate the unique properties of concrete and cement. “For 10 years and counting, the MIT CSHub has helped the cement and concrete industry to identify and study the myriad benefits of its products,” he says.</p> <p>Concrete, the world’s most-used building material, is made by mixing cement with abundant aggregate materials like sand and gravel. The result is an extremely strong and stiff material that can be produced nearly anywhere from readily available ingredients using relatively inexperienced labor. Concrete also offers numerous properties such as durability, formability, and thermal mass that can reduce energy consumption.</p> <p>“On a per-unit-weight basis, concrete is a low environmental impact material,” says Jeremy Gregory, CSHub’s executive director. “It’s essential to our built environment due to its durability, strength, and affordability. As a consequence, it’s the most-used building material in the world and hence, there is a significant opportunity to look at how we balance both its role in sustainable development and lower its environmental impact.”</p> <p>To do this, CSHub has taken a bottom-up approach, studying concrete from its nanoscale to its application in pavements and buildings, all the way to its role in urban environments and broader economic systems.</p> <p>“Classical concrete science and structural engineering often use top-down approaches,” says CSHub Faculty Director and MIT Professor Franz-Josef Ulm. “You identify weaknesses at a large scale, go to a smaller scale, make a change, and then observe the response. It is different when you go from the bottom-up — you have all of the possibilities in front of you.”</p> <p>Over the past decade, CSHub researchers have used this bottom-up approach to develop tools that measure the costs, environmental impacts, and hazard resilience of infrastructure and construction projects.</p> <p>In 2018, they developed the <a href="https://cshub.mit.edu/bemp-dashboard">Break-Even Mitigation Percentage</a> dashboard to provide developers with data on the costs of hazard mitigation. The dashboard shows the return on investment for hazard-resistant construction. In some communities, researchers found that that return can come as early as two years.</p> <p>Their investigation into the life cycle of buildings has also led to the creation of the <a href="http://cshub.mit.edu/baia_summary">Building Attribute to Impact Algorithm (BAIA)</a>, which informs designers of which aspects of a building will have the strongest impact on its life cycle cost and environmental impact.</p> <p>Researchers have applied these same life cycle perspectives to pavements. <a href="https://cshub.mit.edu/news/topic-summary-network-asset-management">A case study</a> conducted with North Carolina’s Department of Transportation highlighted actions that could reduce spending on pavements by tens of millions of dollars while meeting or exceeding performance and emissions targets.</p> <p>Recent CSHub materials science research has also informed the discovery of novel solutions to longstanding durability issues in concrete. In particular, researchers identified new explanations for two major causes of damage in concrete — freeze-thaw cycles and alkali-silica reaction.</p> <p>“Whenever you touch old problems, there are perceptions that they are very difficult to change,” says Ulm. “However, here we applied a bottom-up approach to an old problem and found solutions that have not been looked at before.”</p> <p>In the next phase of collaboration, CSHub will expand its scope to investigate concrete’s role in solving economic, environmental, and social challenges.</p> <p>“We have done a lot of work in the past two phases on the technical aspects of concrete,” says Gregory. “What we are trying to do in this next phase is to conduct research that will engage the broader public by leveraging crowdsourced data, artificial intelligence, and the latest tools of data science.”</p> <p>One Phase III project is already in development. Using their past work on pavements, CSHub researchers have created <a href="https://apps.apple.com/us/app/carbin/id1451444581">Carbin</a>, an app that uses a smartphone to record pavement quality from within a moving vehicle. Through crowdsourcing, the app has recorded data on over 130,000 miles of roads across the world. The data will eventually support decisions on infrastructure maintenance at a far lower cost than that of traditional technologies, like laser scanning.</p> <p>“With the CSHub now entering its third phase, we are excited about the opportunities this close industry-academia collaboration brings to MIT, the concrete industry, and society at large,” says Markus Buehler, Jerry McAfee Professor in Engineering and MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering head. “Applying cutting-edge fundamental research to problems in industry has the potential for large-scale impact.”</p> Concrete, the world’s most-used building material, is made by mixing cement with abundant aggregate materials like sand and gravel. The result is an extremely strong and stiff material.Concrete Sustainability Hub, Civil and environmental engineering, School of Engineering, Sustainability, Climate change, Greenhouse gases, Industry, Funding Deploying drones to prepare for climate change http://news.mit.edu/2019/norhan-bayomi-drones-climate-change-1004 PhD student Norhan Bayomi uses drones to investigate how building construction impacts communities’ resilience to rising temperatures. Fri, 04 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Daysia Tolentino | MIT News correspondent http://news.mit.edu/2019/norhan-bayomi-drones-climate-change-1004 <p>While doing field research for her graduate thesis in her hometown of Cairo, Norhan Magdy Bayomi observed firsthand the impact of climate change on her local community.</p> <p>The residents of the low-income neighborhood she was studying were living in small, poorly insulated apartments that were ill-equipped for dealing with the region’s rising temperatures. Sharing cramped quarters — with families in studios less than 500 square feet — and generally lacking air conditioning or even fans, many people avoided staying in their homes altogether on the hottest days.</p> <p>It was a powerful illustration of one of the most terrible aspects of climate change: Those who are facing its most extreme impacts also tend to have the fewest resources for adapting.</p> <p>This understanding has guided Bayomi’s research as a PhD student in the Department of Architecture’s Building Technology Program. Currently in her third year of the program, she has mainly looked at countries in the developing world, studying how low-income communities there adapt to changing heat patterns and <a href="https://mena-cc.com/global_heatwaves" target="_blank">documenting</a> global heatwaves and populations’ adaptive capacity to heat. A key focus of her research is how building construction and neighborhoods’ design affect residents’ vulnerability to hotter temperatures.</p> <p>She uses drones with infrared cameras to document the surface temperatures of urban buildings, including structures with a variety of designs and building materials, and outdoor conditions in the urban canyons between buildings.</p> <p>“When you look at technologies like drones, they are not really designed or commonly used to tackle problems like this. We’re trying to incorporate this kind of technology to understand what kind of adaptation strategies are suitable for addressing climate change, especially for underserved populations,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Eyes in the sky</strong></p> <p>Bayomi is currently developing a computational tool to model heat risk in urban areas that incorporates building performance, available urban resources for adaptation, and population adaptive capacity into its data.</p> <p>“Most of the tools that are available right now are mostly using statistical data about the population, the income, and the temperature. I’m trying to incorporate how the building affects indoor conditions, what resources are available to urban residents, and how they adapt to heat exposure — for instance, if they have a cooling space they could go to, or if there is a problem with the power supplies and they don’t have access to ceiling fans,” she says. “I’m trying to add these details to the equation to see how they would affect risk in the future.”</p> <p>She recently began <a href="https://vimeo.com/363833084?ref=em-share">looking at similar changes</a> in communities in the Bronx, New York, in order to see how building construction, population adaptation, and the effects of climate change differ based on region. Bayomi says that her advisor, Professor John Fernández, motivated her to think about how she could apply different technologies into her field of research.</p> <p>Bayomi’s interest in drones and urban development isn’t limited to thermal mapping. As a participant in the School of Architecture and Planning’s DesignX entrepreneurship program, she and her team founded Airworks, a company that uses aerial data collected by the drones to provide developers with automated site plans and building models. Bayomi worked on thermal imaging for the company, and she hopes to continue this work after she finishes her studies.</p> <p>Bayomi is also working with Fernández’s Urban Metabolism Group on an aerial thermography project in collaboration with Tarek Rakha PhD ’15, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech. The project is developing a cyber-physical platform to calibrate building energy models, using drones equipped with infrared sensors that autonomously detect heat transfer anomalies and envelope material conditions. Bayomi’s group is currently working on a drone that will be able to capture these data and process them in real-time.</p> <p><strong>Second home</strong></p> <p>Bayomi says the personal connections that she has developed at MIT, both within her program and across the Institute, have profoundly shaped her graduate experience.</p> <p>“MIT is a place where I felt home and welcome. Even as an Arabic muslim woman, I always felt home,” she says. “My relationship with my advisor was one of the main unique things that kept me centered and focused, as I was blessed with an advisor who understands and respects my ideas and gives me freedom to explore new areas.”</p> <p>She also appreciates the Building Technology program’s “unique family vibe,” with its multiple academic and nonacademic events including lunch seminars and social events.</p> <p>When she’s not working on climate technologies, Bayomi enjoys playing and producing music. She has played the guitar for 20 years now and was part of a band during her undergraduate years. Music serves an important role in Bayomi’s life and is a crucial creative outlet for her. She currently produces rock-influenced trance music, a genre categorized by melodic, electronic sounds. She released her first single under the moniker Nourey last year and is working on an upcoming track. She likes incorporating guitar into her songs, an element not typically heard in trance tunes.</p> <p>“'I’m trying to do&nbsp; something using guitars with ambient influences in trance music, which is not very common,” she says.</p> <p>Bayomi has been a member of the MIT Egyptian Students Association since she arrived at MIT in 2015, and now serves as vice president. The club works to connect Egyptian students at MIT and students in Egypt, to encourage prospective students to apply and provide guidance based on the members’ own experiences.</p> <p>“We currently have an amazing mix of students in engineering, Sloan [School of Management], Media Lab, and architecture, including graduate and undergraduate members. Also, with this club we try to create a little piece of home here at MIT for those who feel homesick and disconnected due to culture challenges,” she says.</p> <p>In 2017 she participated in MIT’s Vacation Week for Massachusetts Public Schools at the MIT Museum, and in 2018 she participated in the Climate Changed ideas competition, where her team’s <a href="https://youtu.be/H1VUV2kretw" target="_blank">entry</a> was selected as one of the top three finalists.</p> <p>“I am keen to participate whenever possible in these kind of activities, which enhance my academic experience here,” she says. “MIT is a rich place for such events.”</p> Norhan BayomiImage: Jake BelcherGraduate, postdoctoral, Students, Profile, Architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Drones, Climate change, Africa, Middle East, Music Experts urge “full speed ahead” on climate action http://news.mit.edu/2019/first-climate-symposium-gobal-warming-1003 Panelists at MIT climate change symposium describe the state of knowledge in climate science and stress the urgent need for action. Thu, 03 Oct 2019 17:10:12 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/first-climate-symposium-gobal-warming-1003 <p>In the first of <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/symposia">six symposia</a> planned at MIT this academic year on the subject of climate change, panels of specialists on the science of global climate described the state of knowledge on the subject today. They also discussed the areas where more research is needed to pin down exactly how severely and quickly climate change’s effects may occur, and what kinds of actions are urgently needed to address the enormous disruptions climate change will bring.</p> <p>Keynote speaker Susan Solomon, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies and Chemistry, gave an overview of the state of climate science today, explaining that the vastness of the timescales involved “is one of the things that makes this problem so fascinating.” However, she added, it also presents a real challenge in communicating the urgency of the issue, because carbon dioxide emissions being produced now can persist in the air for centuries, with their effects building over time.</p> <p>Even if the world were to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at today’s level, the temperature would continue to rise, and sea level would continue to rise even more, she said. Anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of the expected temperature increase from a given amount of carbon dioxide “is in the pipeline,” she said, because it takes time for the changed atmosphere and oceans to reach a new state of equilibrium: “The temperature stabilizes after a few hundred years, but the sea level just keeps going and going.”</p> <p>She said “it’s sobering to take a look at the 25 warmest years that have been recorded, and realize that if you’re 32, you’ve been alive for all of them. We, this generation of people, are living on the warmest planet that has ever been measured in the environmental record.” And that increase is something we’re stuck with, she said. “Even if we go cold turkey” and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, “temperatures go almost constant for 1,000 years. The cumulative carbon dioxide that’s been emitted is what controls it.”</p> <p>The symposium, which drew a capacity crowd to MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, was chaired by Kerry Emanuel, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science, and featured two panels of leading climate scientists who described the state of present knowledge about the effects and extent of climate change, remaining uncertainties and how to address them, and how the physical effects of warming may vary under different policy approaches.</p> <p>MIT President L. Rafael Reif, in <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2019/climate-symposium-president-reif-1002">introducing</a> the first of the six planned symposia, said, “I believe that, as a society, we must find ways to invest aggressively in advancing climate science and in making climate mitigation and adaptation technologies dramatically less expensive: inexpensive enough to win widespread political support, to be affordable for every society, and to deploy on a planetary scale.”</p> <p>Reif added that one way to foster that would be through a tax on carbon, which “will keep pushing prices [of renewables] down and make noncarbon alternatives more attractive. That is clearly true. Less clear, however, is whether the carbon-cost hammer is enough to drive the nail of global societal change.” Continued progress with noncarbon or low-carbon alternatives is also essential, he said.</p> <p>While the picture of human-induced global climate change is well-established overall, in one of the panel discussions Ray Pierrehumbert, a professor of physics at Oxford University, described some the remaining sources of uncertainty. The greatest source of uncertainty, he said, lies in some of the complex feedback effects that may occur, especially involving clouds.</p> <p>Clouds reflect sunlight and therefore provide some cooling, but also are insulating and so help keep the surface warm. Their dynamics are highly complex, “involving interactions between things at the scale of millimeters up to thousands of kilometers.” As a result, “one reason we don’t know how bad it’s going to get is because of clouds,” Pierrehumbert said.</p> <p>But that uncertainty is no cause for complacency. “It’s extremely unlikely that there is some mystical effect that would make things better” than present projections, he said. Rather, “it’s quite possible things would be worse.”</p> <p>Tapio Schneider, a professor of environmental science at Caltech, added that the uncertainties about clouds include how they are affected by air pollution, which provides nucleation centers for water droplets. These interactions are complicated to model, but “it seems that some of these aerosol effects are stronger than expected.” That may mean that overall warming could be greater than expected, he said.</p> <p>Paul O’Gorman, an MIT professor of atmospheric science, said that it’s important to look at how the effects of a warming atmosphere will vary depending on local conditions. “Some countries will see larger monsoons,” he said, for example in India, where rainfall could actually double in some regions because of changes in atmospheric circulation patterns. “There are a lot of outstanding questions” in the details of these changes, and the answers could be crucial for regional planning.</p> <p>Pierrehumbert added that while nations have made commitments to try to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, that is a somewhat arbitrary cap. “Even if we don’t think we can halt warming at two degrees, we need to go full speed ahead” on curbing emissions. “Things will be horrible at two degrees, but much more horrible at four degrees.”</p> <p>Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, chaired the second panel discussion and said this series of symposia is intended as a way “to both educate and engage the MIT community” in the issue of climate change and “how we dial it up” in efforts to combat the problem.</p> <p>Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Wilson Center, described the impact of climate change on military facilities and overall military readiness. “It’s a threat multiplier,” she said. “It will amplify and aggravate in different ways our national security challenges,” she said.</p> <p>For example, the opening of the Arctic ocean because of melting sea ice is creating a whole new area of conflicting interests, where both Russia and China have been making moves to control the region’s potential resources, from shipping lanes to petroleum reserves.</p> <p>Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, described his work in providing corporations with detailed information about the specific local impacts they can expect at their facilities as a result of climate change. Climate change may be a multiplier of risks in that context as well, he added, citing regional conflicts and outmigration resulting from droughts and other effects.</p> <p>John Reilly, co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, also stressed that regardless of any remaining uncertainties in the details of climate change’s effects, “it doesn’t mean we should wait until the science is resolved. Actually, we need the opposite effect.” If there is a whole range of possible outcomes, it’s important to take very seriously “the really extreme and catastrophic effects.” Among the range of possible outcomes indicated by climate models, without concerted action, climate change “could make huge parts of the planet uninhabitable. Even if that probability is very small, that can dominate the entire cost-benefit calculation,” he said.</p> Susan Solomon, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies and Chemistry at MIT, delivered the symposium's keynote address.Image: Jake BelcherMIT Energy Initiative, Climate, Climate change, Special events and guest speakers, Global Warming, Policy, Faculty, President L. Rafael Reif, Administration, ESI, Sustainability President Reif speaks at MIT Climate Symposium http://news.mit.edu/2019/climate-symposium-president-reif-1002 Wed, 02 Oct 2019 13:27:14 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/climate-symposium-president-reif-1002 <p><em>President L. Rafael Reif delivered the below introductory remarks at today’s “Progress in Climate Science” symposium.</em></p> <p>Good afternoon!&nbsp; I am delighted to be here with all of you.</p> <p>At MIT, persuading people to leave their labs and their classrooms to attend a daytime event is notoriously difficult. Attracting a crowd to fill Kresge Auditorium can feel almost impossible! So, the full house we have this afternoon is deeply significant. It is a sobering mark of the urgency and importance of the subject matter and an inspiring sign of the breadth, depth, and passionate commitment of MIT’s climate action community.</p> <p>Also: A warm hello to everyone joining us via livestream! It is wonderful and fitting that the knowledge and ideas from this session are being shared around the world.</p> <p>This is the first in a series of six symposia.&nbsp; For the tremendous effort it took over many months to create this outstanding series, I want to express my thanks and admiration to the Climate Action Symposia Organizing Committee – and especially to its chair, Professor Paul Joskow. The challenges of dealing with climate change will take all of our collective talents and the best work of countless MIT minds and hands, so I hope we can maintain this terrific level of interest and attendance for all six in the series!</p> <p>These six symposia will help us take stock of all that the people of MIT have accomplished through MIT’s Climate Action Plan, and they will inform and inspire our plans going forward. In this work, I am grateful to Vice President for Research Maria Zuber for her leadership in creating the plan four years ago, in tracking our progress ever since, and in raising our sights for the future.</p> <p>I would also like to express my profound admiration for today’s keynote speaker, Professor Susan Solomon. Susan has an incomparable record of producing superb science on subjects from the depletion of the ozone layer to global warming: superb science that formed the springboard for policies that have literally changed the world. We were fortunate in 2012 when she joined our faculty. We are certainly fortunate to have her with us today. And, we could not ask for a more powerful and inspiring voice in our drive to increase fundamental knowledge and to accelerate progress towards a sustainable human society.</p> <p>Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that this is a serious moment in the life of the MIT community. It is a moment for engaging intensely with each other on many urgent questions, including how we should raise funds for the work of the Institute and what principles should guide us. It is a time for serious debate – and for serious listening.</p> <p>In this era of growing fortunes and shrinking federal funds, it is clear that as a community, we need to consider many questions. We need to understand the changing nature of the donor population. We need to decide how to weigh the political, cultural and economic impacts of donors’ behavior – and much more.</p> <p>Questions like these are certainly relevant to how we fund MIT’s work on energy and the environment, the work of the people in this room.</p> <p>As members of MIT’s climate action community, we need to have serious conversations with one another about the best way to move forward. Our capacity for respectful argument has always been a signature strength of MIT. So I hope you will begin those conversations with each other in the days ahead, especially with the people who disagree with you.</p> <p>Considering those who will speak today, and looking out at all of you, I am conscious that this is a room full of climate experts – and that, as a former electrical engineer, I am not one of them. So I will offer just a few comments based on my observations and conversations here, in Washington, and in philanthropic circles, as I have been striving to build support for the work of climate science and solutions at MIT.</p> <p>Last June, our MIT Commencement speaker was the prominent philanthropist and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg. On the day of his remarks, he announced a remarkable personal commitment: $500 million to launch a new national climate initiative, which he calls “Beyond Carbon.”</p> <p>He described an ambitious agenda of political action: taking necessary steps to close coal plants, to block the creation of new gas plants, to support the leadership of state and local politicians, to create incentives like a carbon tax and, in his words, to take the climate challenge “directly to the people.”</p> <p>As he explained to our MIT audience, in his view (and I quote), “At least for the foreseeable future, winning the battle against climate change will depend less on scientific advancement and more on political activism.” And just ten days ago, former US Vice President and climate action pioneer Al Gore published a piece in the New York Times. He made a similar argument about the need for political action, because, in his words, “We have the technology we need.”</p> <p>I am a big admirer of both Mayor Bloomberg and Vice President Gore. I am profoundly grateful for their early leadership and relentless activism. I appreciate their faith in the kind of technologies that have already been developed – some of them invented and advanced on this campus. I agree that unless and until society demands a change in policy, priorities, and behaviors, technology alone can’t save us. And I share their view that it is absolutely vital to build popular political support for climate action.</p> <p>But with the greatest respect, I would like to propose an additional perspective, because I am convinced that we also need to do a great many other important things, at the same time.</p> <ul> <li>We need to dramatically improve our ability to predict the localized impacts of climate change and to design solutions that allow coastal cities and other vulnerable areas to adapt to and survive them.</li> <li>We need to make solar cells and wind turbines more efficient and to produce them with less reliance on rare or costly materials.</li> <li>And, we need even better grid-scale storage options to handle intermittency.</li> <li>We need to find ways to expand the nation’s transmission infrastructure to support the efficient deployment of solar and wind.</li> <li>We need to make car batteries and carbon-free hydrogen cheaper and more efficient.</li> <li>We need better mass transit – and not just here in Boston!</li> <li>We need smaller, safer, more modern and less costly nuclear plants to supplement intermittent renewable sources.</li> <li>And, we need to address not only electricity and transportation, but also agriculture, manufacturing, buildings, and much more.</li> </ul> <p>In short, I am convinced that building broad and deep popular support for climate action would be much, much easier, and much more likely to succeed, if we could offer to society much more fine-grained scientific models and much less costly technological solutions. To break the impasse, I believe that, as a society, we must find ways to invest aggressively in advancing climate science and in making climate mitigation and adaptation technologies dramatically less expensive: inexpensive enough to win widespread political support, to be affordable for every society, and to deploy on a planetary scale.</p> <p>Many climate activists argue that the best path lies in political will. They note, for example, that the cost of renewables has been dropping for years and that once we put a tax on carbon, market incentives will keep pushing prices down and make non-carbon alternatives more attractive. That is clearly true. Less clear, however, is whether the carbon-cost hammer is enough to drive the nail of global societal change.&nbsp;</p> <p>In my view, it is crucial to understand that while passing a carbon tax would surely spur the development of cheaper low- and zero-carbon energy, developing cheaper low- and zero-carbon energy sources would make it much easier to pass a carbon tax! So, we need to do both, as fast as we can!</p> <p>Ordinarily, funding at the necessary scale would come with government leadership. Certainly, when we developed our Climate Action Plan in 2015, we expected to encounter reliable, long-term federal support.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the current political environment, I believe the answer, until government leadership becomes available, is private philanthropy – a conclusion that brings us back to the questions for our community that I highlighted at the start. I believe that those of us committed to this cause need to come together to seek out new ways to support the advanced science and technology that will enable political action to succeed on the path to a sustainable future for us all.</p> <p>I look forward to joining you in this urgent work. Thank you.</p> Community, Faculty, Staff, Students, Climate change, Alternative energy, Energy, Greenhouse gases, President L. Rafael Reif Greener and fairer: Balancing pollution, energy prices, and household income http://news.mit.edu/2019/balancing-pollution-energy-prices-household-income-0925 New research looks at how environmental taxes can work for everyone, in Spain and beyond. Wed, 25 Sep 2019 12:00:02 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/balancing-pollution-energy-prices-household-income-0925 <p>Governments that impose taxes on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions can benefit from a cleaner, more climate-friendly environment and a revenue stream that can be tapped to lower other taxes and create jobs. But environmental taxes may also exact an excessive financial burden on low-income households, which spend a much greater fraction of their budgets than richer households do on heating oil, natural gas, and electricity. This concern has limited the use of green taxes in Spain, where emissions are taxed at levels far below average for the European Union, which seeks to lower emissions across the continent to fulfill its 2015 Paris Agreement climate pledge.</p> <p>Now a new <a href="https://www.iaee.org/en/publications/eeeparticle.aspx?id=283&amp;id=283">study</a> by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, the University of Oldenburg in Germany, and the Basque Center for Climate Change in Spain shows that low-income households in Spain can actually benefit from environmental taxes if revenues are redistributed to all taxpayers. Using a computational model to assess the environmental and economic impacts of a green tax reform policy in which revenues are recycled in equal amounts to households in annual lump-sum payments, the researchers found that the policy significantly reduces emissions without imposing economic hardship on any segment of the population. The study appears in the journal <em>Economics of Energy and Environmental Policy.</em></p> <p>“There may be a tradeoff between efficiency and equity in climate policy design,” says <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/garc%C3%ADa-muros-xaquin">Xaquin Garcia-Muros</a>, a co-author of the study and postdoctoral associate at the MIT Joint Program. Noting the perfect can be the enemy of the good, as indicated by the <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/20/what-frances-yellow-vest-protests-reveal-about-the-future-of-climate-action/">November 2018 Yellow Vest protests</a> against fuel tax hikes in France, he adds, “Governments that seek to introduce environmental policies need to show they can cut emissions equitably in order for the public to support them. Otherwise, climate mitigation measures will be rejected by public opinion, and attempts to tackle climate change will be unsuccessful.”</p> <p>The proposed policy includes a tax on carbon dioxide (CO<sub>2</sub>) of 40 euros per metric ton in all sectors (except transportation) not covered by the EU emissions trading system, tax increases on fossil fuels to match the EU average of 1.5 percent of GDP, and economy-wide taxes on air pollutants — nitrogen oxides, (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO<sub>2</sub>) emissions at 1,000 euros/metric ton. In addition, it provides annual lump-sum rebates to private households based on household income.</p> <p>Combining a “computable general equilibrium” model of the Spanish economy with a “micro-simulation” sub-model that characterizes households of different income levels, the researchers determined the tax reform policy’s impact on pollution levels, energy prices, and household net income. They found that the policy would significantly reduce emissions of CO<sub>2</sub> (10 percent), NOx (13 percent) and SO<sub>2</sub> (20 percent); produce an estimated 7.3 billion euros in annual revenues; and enable annual lump-sum rebates of 400 euros. Most importantly, the rebates would offset the cost of the green taxes for the bottom half of income levels, with the poorest households receiving an average annual net benefit of 203 euros and the richest paying a net cost of 599 euros.</p> <p>“We expect similar results in other southern European and public transit-oriented countries,” says Garcia-Muros. “But while results will differ for each country, all can benefit by ensuring that green tax policies accommodate economic inequality.” An earlier MIT Joint Program <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/carbon-taxes-could-make-significant-dent-climate-change-0406">study</a> showed how this principle can be applied in the design of carbon pricing policies in the United States.</p> Traffic in Madrid, SpainJoint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Climate change, Greenhouse gases, Emissions, Environment, Energy, Economics, Policy, Carbon dioxide, Research, Sustainability Malden Works for Waterfront Equity and Resilience awarded Norman B. Leventhal City Prize http://news.mit.edu/2019/malden-works-waterfront-equity-resilience-wins-norman-leventhal-city-prize-0924 Prize supports powerful collaboration among diverse constituencies in Malden, Massachusetts. Tue, 24 Sep 2019 14:05:02 -0400 School of Architecture and Planning http://news.mit.edu/2019/malden-works-waterfront-equity-resilience-wins-norman-leventhal-city-prize-0924 <p>Malden, Massachusetts, is a city of neighborhoods, with a patchwork of public open spaces such as parks and historic squares. With a proposal that extends beyond these neighborhood spaces to activate an industrial area along the Malden River,<strong> </strong>Malden Works for Waterfront Equity and Resilience, an urban coalition, has been named the winner of the first Norman B. Leventhal City Prize.</p> <p>The $100,000 triennial prize was established by MIT’s Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) to catalyze innovative, interdisciplinary urban design and planning approaches worldwide to improve both the environment and the quality of life for residents.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>The 2019 prize sought proposals that foregrounded “equitable resilience,” the triennial research theme of LCAU. “Equitable resilience challenges global resilience thinking, addressing urban inequities that result from climate change preparations and impacts,” says Alan Berger, co-director of LCAU. “I’m excited to see the Malden Works team’s ideas put into practice.”</p> <p>Malden Works has proposed a transformation of the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) site on the Malden River into a civic waterfront space. The project team brings together community leaders, environmental advocates, government officials, and urban design practitioners to collaborate on the planning, design, and realization of the project.</p> <p>The team will work with the DPW to study and redesign the site and building operations to foster climate change preparedness, improved stormwater management, and the integration of safe public access. Running through a historically heavy-industrial zone, the Malden River has never been considered part of Malden’s neighborhoods; redesigning a portion of the river for the public presents an opportunity to demonstrate a new process for envisioning an equitable and resilient future in Malden.</p> <p>With its focus on the only publicly owned parcel along Malden’s riverfront, the winning proposal resists waterfront gentrification while introducing essential climate resiliency improvements in combination with existing industrial uses and open space. The study will address a knowledge gap in resiliency planning and implementation around waterfront industrial uses, which pose a unique set of flood vulnerabilities and risks.</p> <p>This project will “explore the interplay between the river as a community asset and the risk it poses due to flooding,” says jury member Jo da Silva. “It is an intervention where measurable impact is achievable.”</p> <p>Both the physical transformation of the project site and the planning process will serve as precedents for realizing the community’s larger Malden River Greenway — an accessible pathway along the river for public recreation and enjoyment. They will also serve as a model for the equitable and resilient transformation of similar urbanized waterways in metro Boston and beyond.</p> <p>“This project could start a much bigger regeneration project with very significant sustainable benefits for the Malden community at large,” says jury member Nick Earle.</p> <p>“The Malden Works proposal was an impressive link between design, environmental health, and community engagement,” says jury member Carolyn Kousky. “There are many light industrial waterfronts around the country that have been underexamined by resilience work. The model proposed by Malden Works has the potential to scale in broad ways.”</p> <p>The prize required proposed projects to have an interdisciplinary team — MIT faculty or senior research staff working in collaboration with a government agency, nonprofit, or civic leadership organization — exploring urban design solutions in service of social and environmental change.</p> <p>The Malden Works project is led by Kathleen Vandiver of the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences, which is supported by an NIEHS Core Center Grant. The team includes Marie Law Adams of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning; Malden’s Mayor Gary Christenson; Malden resident Marcia Manong; Amber Christoffersen of the Mystic River Watershed Association; Evan Spetrini MCP '18, a DUSP alumnus and member of the Malden Redevelopment Authority; and Karen Buck of Friends of the Malden River.</p> <p>The prize jury also identified two finalists: Lawrence Vale from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning proposed combining affordable housing with green space development and flood control in New Orleans, Louisiana. “[This idea is] an example of the sort of complex, interagency coordination that, while complicated and risky, could lead to a valuable and innovative outcome that could be shared and scaled,” says jury member Dan Tangherlini.</p> <p>Mary Anne Ocampo, a lecturer in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, was also recommended as a finalist for a proposal suggesting improvements for low-income residents vulnerable to climate change and socioeconomic inequities within the National Capital Region of the Philippines. Jury members were impressed by Ocampo’s “longstanding commitment and passion for working with communities in the Philippines,” and commended her proposal for “its interdisciplinarity and multisectoral involvement, as well as [its] considered application of technology and design.” Further details on both finalists proposals may be found on the <a href="http://leventhalcityprize.mit.edu/">Leventhal City Prize website</a>.</p> <p>The jury for the first Norman B. Leventhal City Prize included Sarah Herda of the Graham Foundation; Nick Earle of Eseye; Jose Castillo of a | 911; Dan Tangherlini of Emerson Collective; Carolyn Kousky of the University of Pennsylvania; and Jo da Silva of Arup.</p> <p>Since its establishment in 2013 within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, LCAU has sought to define the field of advanced urbanism, integrating research on urban design with processes of urbanization and urban culture, to meet the contemporary challenges facing the world’s cities.</p> <p>Drawing on MIT’s deep history in urban design and planning, architecture, and transportation, LCAU coordinates multidisciplinary, multifaceted approaches to advance the understanding of cities and propose new forms and systems for urban communities. Support for LCAU was provided by the Muriel and Norman B. Leventhal Family Foundation and the Sherry and Alan Leventhal Family Foundation.</p> The Malden Works team gathered in the Malden, Massachusetts, Department of Public Works garage during a recent site tour: (left to right) Marcia Manong, Karen Buck, Evan Spetrini, Gary Christenson, Amber Christoffersen, Kathleen Vandiver, and Marie Law Adams.Photo: Jonah SusskindSchool of Architecture and Planning, Urban studies and planning, Awards, honors and fellowships, Environment, Climate change, Cambridge, Boston and region, Sustainability, Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS) J-WAFS announces 2019 Solutions Grants supporting agriculture and clean water http://news.mit.edu/2019/j-wafs-solutions-grants-hlb-greening-citrus-disease-clean-water-nepal-0917 Projects address access to clean water in Nepal via wearable E. coli test kits, improving the resilience of commercial citrus groves, and more. Tue, 17 Sep 2019 12:00:01 -0400 Andi Sutton | Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab http://news.mit.edu/2019/j-wafs-solutions-grants-hlb-greening-citrus-disease-clean-water-nepal-0917 <p>The development of new technologies often starts with funded university research. Venture capital firms are eager to back well-tested products or services that are ready to enter the startup phase. However, funding that bridges the gap between these two stages can be hard to come by. The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food System Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT aims to fill this gap with their J-WAFS Solutions grant program. This program provides critical funding to students and faculty at MIT who have promising bench-scale technologies that can be applied to water and food systems challenges, but are not yet market-ready. By supporting the essential steps in any startup journey — customer discovery, market testing, prototyping, design, and more — as well as mentorship from industry experts throughout the life of the grant, this grant program helps to speed the development of new products and services that have the potential to increase the safety, resilience, and accessibility of the world’s water and food supplies.</p> <p>J-WAFS Solutions grants provide one year of financial support to MIT principal investigators with promising early-stage technologies, as well as mentorship from industry experts and experienced entrepreneurs throughout the grant. With additional networking and guidance provided by MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, project teams are supported as they advance their technologies toward commercialization. Since the start of the program in 2015, J-WAFS Solutions grants have already been instrumental in the launch of two MIT startups — <a href="https://www.viaseparations.com/">Via Separations</a> and <a href="http://www.xibus.systems/">Xibus Systems</a> — as well as an open-source technology to support clean water access for the rural and urban poor in India.</p> <p>John H. Lienhard V, director of J-WAFS and Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Mechanical Engineering at MIT, describes the role of the J-WAFS Solutions program this way: “The combined effects of unsustainable human consumption patterns and the climate crisis threaten the world’s water and food supplies. These challenges are already present, and the risks were made plain in several recent, high-profile international news reports. Innovation in the water and food sectors can certainly help, and it is urgently needed. Through the J-WAFS Solutions program, we seek to identify nascent technologies with the greatest potential to transform local or even global food and water systems, and then to speed their transfer to market. We aim to leverage MIT’s entrepreneurial spirit to ensure that the water and food needs of our global human community can be met sustainably, now and far into the future.”</p> <p>Two projects funded by the J-WAFS Solutions program in 2019 are applying this entrepreneurial approach to sensors that support clean water and resilience in the agriculture industry. Three projects, all in the agriculture sector and funded by previous grants, are continuing this year, which together comprise a portfolio of exciting MIT technologies that are helping to resolve water and food challenges across the world.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Simplifying water quality testing in Nepal and beyond </strong></p> <p>In 2018, the J-WAFS Solutions program supported a collaboration between the MIT-Nepal Initiative, led by professor of history Jeffrey Ravel, MIT D-Lab lecturer Susan Murcott, and the Nepalese non-governmental organization <a href="http://enpho.org/">Environment and Public Health Organization</a> (ENPHO). The project sought to refine the design of a wearable water test kit developed by Susan Murcott that provided simple, accessible ways to test the presence of <em>E. coli</em> in drinking water, even in the most remote settings. In that first year of J-WAFS funding, the research team worked with their Nepali partners, ENPHO, and their social business partner in Nepal, EcoConcern, to finalize the design of their product, called the ECC Vial, which, with the materials that they’ve now sourced, can be sold for less than $1 in Nepal — a significantly lower price than any other water-testing product on the market.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>This technology is urgently needed by communities in Nepal, where many drinking water supplies are contaminated by <em>E. coli.</em> Standard testing practices are expensive, require significant laboratory infrastructure, or are just plain inaccessible to the many people exposed to unsafe drinking water. In fact, children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable, and more than 40,000 children in Nepal alone die every year as a result of drinking contaminated water. The ECC Vial is intended to be the next-generation easy-to-use, portable, low-cost method for <em>E. coli</em> detection in water samples. It is particularly designed for simplicity and is appropriate for use in remote and low-resource settings.</p> <p>The 2019 renewal grant for the project “<a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2018/manufacturing-and-marketing-e-coli-test-kits-promote-safely-managed-drinking">Manufacturing and Marketing EC-Kits in Nepal</a>” will support the team in working with the same Nepali partners to optimize the manufacturing process for the ECC Vials and refine the marketing strategy in order to ensure that the technology that is sold to customers is reliable and that the business model for local purveyors is viable now and into the future. Once the product enters the market this year, the team plans to begin distribution in Bangladesh, and will assess market opportunities in India, Pakistan, Peru, and Ghana, where there is a comparable need for a simple and affordable and <em>E.coli</em> indicator testing product for use by government agencies, private water vendors, bottled water firms, international nonprofit organizations and low-income populations without access to safe water. Based on consumer demand in Nepal and beyond, this solution has the potential to reach more than 3 million people during just its first two years on the market.</p> <p><strong>Supporting the resilience of the citrus industry </strong></p> <p>Citrus plants are very high-value crops and nutrient-dense foods. They are an important part of diets for people in developing countries with micronutrient deficiencies, as well as for people in developed economies who suffer from obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Citrus fruits have become staples across seasons, cultures, and geographies, yet the large-scale citrus farms in the United States that support much of our domestic citrus consumption are challenged by citrus greening disease. Also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), it is an uncurable disease caused by bacteria transmitted by a small insect, the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial infection causes trees to wither and fruit to develop an unpleasantly bitter taste, rendering the tree’s fruit inedible. If left undetected, HLB can very quickly spread throughout large citrus groves. Since there is no treatment, infected trees must be removed to prevent further spreading. The disease poses an immediate threat to the $3.3 billion-per-year worldwide citrus industry. One of the reasons HLB is so troubling is that there doesn’t yet exist an accessible and affordable early-detection strategy. Once the observable symptoms of the disease have shown up in one part of a citrus grove, it is likely many more trees are already infected.</p> <p>Taking on this challenge is a research team at MIT led by Karen Gleason, the Alexander and I. Michael Kasser (1960) Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. A 2019 J-WAFS Solutions grant for the project&nbsp;“<a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/early-detection-huanglongbing-hlb-citrus-greening-disease">Early detection of Huanglongbing (HLB) Citrus Greening Disease</a>” is supporting the development of a new technology for early detection of HLB infection in citrus trees. The team’s strategy is to deploy a series of low-cost, high-sensitivity sensors that can be used on-site, and which are attuned to volatile organic compounds emitted by citrus trees that change in concentration during early-stage HLB infection when trees do not yet exhibit visible symptoms. Using the data gathered via these sensors, an algorithm developed by the team provides a high-accuracy prediction system for the presence of the disease so that farmers and farm managers can make informed decisions about tree removal in order to protect the remaining trees in their citrus groves. Their aim is to detect HLB disease in months, rather than the years it now takes for the infection to be found.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Currently funded J-WAFS Solutions technologies seeking to revolutionize agriculture practices</strong></p> <p>Three other J-WAFS Solutions projects are continuing through the 2019-20 academic year. From a tractor-pulled reactor unit that can turn agricultural wastes on rural farms into nutrient-rich fertilizer, to a polymer-based additive for agriculture sprays that dramatically reduces runoff <a href="https://www.bbc.com/reel/playlist/follow-the-food?utm_source=MIT+Energy+Initiative&amp;utm_campaign=9c18c2c8af-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_07_11_01_27_COPY_02&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_eb3c6d9c51-9c18c2c8af-66414689&amp;mc_cid=9c18c2c8af&amp;mc_eid=1b49a6835d">recently featured by the BBC</a>, to an affordable soil sensor that aims to make precision farming strategies available to smallholder farmers in India, these J-WAFS-funded projects are each aiming to transform the sustainability of small- and large-scale farming practices.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The J-WAFS Solutions program is implemented in collaboration with <a href="http://communityjameel.org">Community Jameel</a> — the global philanthropic organization founded by MIT alumnus Mohammed Jameel — and is administered by J-WAFS in partnership with the <a href="https://deshpande.mit.edu/">MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation</a>.</p> <p>Fady Jameel, president, international of Community Jameel, says: “Access to clean water, and better management of water resources, can boost countries’ economic growth and can contribute greatly to poverty reduction. We always aim through J-WAFS to support the development and deployment of technologies, policies, and programs which will contribute to help humankind adapt to a rapidly changing planet and combat worldwide water scarcity and food supply.”</p> Left: A water sample undergoing testing using the J-WAFS-funded water quality test kit soon to be deployed throughout Nepal. Right: Citrus trees infected with citrus greening disease are highly contagious and can wipe out whole orange groves. A J-WAFS-funded sensor could help farmers detect the disease much earlier. Image: Murcott/Ravel research teamDeshpande Center, Food, Water, Agriculture, Climate change, Sustainability, Global Warming, Environment, Developing countries, Chemical engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Grants, Funding, School of Engineering, History, J-WAFS New approach suggests path to emissions-free cement http://news.mit.edu/2019/carbon-dioxide-emissions-free-cement-0916 MIT researchers find a way to eliminate carbon emissions from cement production — a major global source of greenhouse gases. Mon, 16 Sep 2019 14:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/carbon-dioxide-emissions-free-cement-0916 <p>It’s well known that the production of cement — the world’s leading construction material — is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 8 percent of all such releases. If cement production were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter.</p> <p>A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a new way of manufacturing the material that could eliminate these emissions altogether, and could even make some other useful products in the process.</p> <p>The findings are being reported today in the journal <em>PNAS</em> in <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/09/10/1821673116" target="_blank">a paper</a> by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, with postdoc Leah Ellis, graduate student Andres Badel, and others.</p> <p>“About 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide is released for every kilogram of cement made today,” Chiang says. That adds up to 3 to 4 gigatons (billions of tons) of cement, and of carbon dioxide emissions, produced annually today, and that amount is projected to grow. The number of buildings worldwide is expected to double by 2060, which is equivalent to “building one new New York City every 30 days,” he says. And the commodity is now very cheap to produce: It costs only about 13 cents per kilogram, which he says makes it cheaper than bottled water.</p> <p>So it’s a real challenge to find ways of reducing the material’s carbon emissions without making it too expensive. Chiang and his team have spent the last year searching for alternative approaches, and hit on the idea of using an electrochemical process to replace the current fossil-fuel-dependent system.</p> <p>Ordinary Portland cement, the most widely used standard variety, is made by grinding up limestone and then cooking it with sand and clay at high heat, which is produced by burning coal. The process produces carbon dioxide in two different ways: from the burning of the coal, and from gases released from the limestone during the heating. Each of these produces roughly equal contributions to the total emissions. The new process would eliminate or drastically reduce both sources, Chiang says. Though they have demonstrated the basic electrochemical process in the lab, the process will require more work to scale up to industrial scale.</p> <p>First of all, the new approach could eliminate the use of fossil fuels for the heating process, substituting electricity generated from clean, renewable sources. “In many geographies renewable electricity is the lowest-cost electricity we have today, and its cost is still dropping,” Chiang says. In addition, the new process produces the same cement product. The team realized that trying to gain acceptance for a new type of cement — something that many research groups have pursued in different ways — would be an uphill battle, considering how widely used the material is around the world and how reluctant builders can be to try new, relatively untested materials.</p> <p>The new process centers on the use of an electrolyzer, something that many people have encountered as part of high school chemistry classes, where a battery is hooked up to two electrodes in a glass of water, producing bubbles of oxygen from one electrode and bubbles of hydrogen from the other as the electricity splits the water molecules into their constituent atoms. Importantly, the electrolyzer’s oxygen-evolving electrode produces acid, while the hydrogen-evolving electrode produces a base.</p> <p>In the new process, the pulverized limestone is dissolved in the acid at one electrode and high-purity carbon dioxide is released, while calcium hydroxide, generally known as lime, precipitates out as a solid at the other. The calcium hydroxide can then be processed in another step to produce the cement, which is mostly calcium silicate.</p> <p>The carbon dioxide, in the form of a pure, concentrated stream, can then be easily sequestered, harnessed to produce value-added products such as a liquid fuel to replace gasoline, or used for applications such as oil recovery or even in carbonated beverages and dry ice. The result is that no carbon dioxide is released to the environment from the entire process, Chiang says. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emitted from conventional cement plants is highly contaminated with nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and other material that make it impractical to “scrub” to make the carbon dioxide usable.</p> <p>Calculations show that the hydrogen and oxygen also emitted in the process could be recombined, for example in a fuel cell, or burned to produce enough energy to fuel the whole rest of the process, Ellis says, producing nothing but water vapor.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/mit.edu.newsoffice/files/images/green-cement.gif" style="width: 500px; height: 348px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO<sub>3</sub>) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)<sub>2</sub>), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.</span></em></p> <p>In their laboratory demonstration, the team carried out the key electrochemical steps required, producing lime from the calcium carbonate, but on a small scale. The process looks a bit like shaking a snow-globe, as it produces a flurry of suspended white particles inside the glass container as the lime precipitates out of the solution.</p> <p>While the technology is simple and could, in principle, be easily scaled up, a typical cement plant today produces about 700,000 tons of the material per year. “How do you penetrate an industry like that and get a foot in the door?” asks Ellis, the paper’s lead author. One approach, she says, is to try to replace just one part of the process at a time, rather than the whole system at once, and “in a stepwise fashion” gradually add other parts.</p> <p>The initial proposed system the team came up with is “not because we necessarily think we have the exact strategy” for the best possible approach, Chiang says, “but to get people in the electrochemical sector to start thinking more about this,” and come up with new ideas. “It’s an important first step, but not yet a fully developed solution.”</p> <p>The research was partly supported by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.</p> In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.Image: Felice FrankelCement, Research, School of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, Civil and environmental engineering, Energy, Emissions, Sustainability, Cities, Concrete, Climate change, Greenhouse gases, Manufacturing Reaching climate solutions through negotiation http://news.mit.edu/2019/global-warming-simplanet-0906 At “SimPlanet” event, students test-drive new computer simulation to reveal outcomes of different policy decisions. Fri, 06 Sep 2019 12:32:13 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/global-warming-simplanet-0906 <p>Evaluating the many possible strategies for curbing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the destructive effects of a warming planet is a daunting and contentious task. This week, about 50 MIT students got a chance to try out new software that can visually demonstrate how different policy choices could affect the global outcome.</p> <p>At Tuesday’s “SimPlanet” event at the MIT Media Lab, students had a chance to beta-test a new interactive energy and climate policy simulation model, <a href="http://en-roads.org/" target="_blank">En-ROADS</a>, developed jointly by the <a href="https://mitsloan.mit.edu/sustainability/">MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative</a> and <a href="http://climateinteractive.org/" target="_blank">Climate Interactive</a>, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.&nbsp; Sponsored by MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative, the students worked in teams representing each of eight different interest groups — including developed and developing nations, environmental activists, and industries that make and use energy — using the model to explore the impacts of dozens of possible policies and how hard to push for each.</p> <p>Then John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management and a lead developer of the simulation, entered each group’s policies into the En-ROADS dashboard, instantly showing how those policies would affect energy use and greenhouse gas emissions between now and the year 2100, and what the expected change in global temperatures, sea level, and other impacts would be.</p> <p>The nations of the world, through the 2015 <a href="https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a>, committed to holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C. As shown by the En-ROADS display, without any new policies, the expected increase by the end of the century would be roughly twice that limit, at approximately 4.1 C.</p> <p>As the group discovered during the four-hour interactive event, cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to achieve the goal is difficult. But it is achievable — even without any unproven technological breakthroughs.</p> <p>That encouraging bottom line was not at all apparent as the role-play began. Each team was provided a confidential briefing memo outlining the priorities of their constituency. The delegations represented the developed nations, rapidly emerging nations (including China, India, and Brazil), developing nations, conventional energy companies (coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear), clean tech (renewable energy companies), industry and commerce, agriculture and forestry, and climate activists. Conflict quickly emerged as the interests of some groups were directly contrary to those of others — for example, developing versus developed nations, or clean tech versus conventional energy — so in many cases the policies proposed by one group were promptly reversed by another, revealing the complexity of negotiating to find common ground.</p> <p>The outcome? Less global warming, but not by much: 3.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, far short of the reduction needed and enough to cause significant harm, including extreme weather, declining crop yield, and sea level rise.</p> <p>To dramatize the reality of such changes, volunteers dragged a large blue sheet over the heads of the participants, providing a visceral feel for being caught under the rising waters. Then Sterman showed images of various coastal cities, revealing how they would be affected by the rising seas and what would happen if these cities were then hit by the storm surge from hurricanes and typhoons such as Dorian. In many cases, such as Miami and Shanghai, entire cities would be inundated.</p> <p>“The participants saw, for themselves, that it is in their own interests to reach a stronger agreement,” Sterman says. He encouraged members of each group to get up, walk around, and negotiate with the other groups to arrive at a stronger proposal. Adding a touch of realism to the simulation, during an ice-cream break, members of the team representing climate activists and indigenous peoples formed a human chain to block access to the ice cream servers until members of other teams agreed to implement a price on carbon — a policy that the simulation showed to be one of the most effective drivers of emissions reductions.</p> <p>Throughout the session, Sterman, playing the role of the UN Secretary General, provided background information on climate change and its consequences, and on the pros and cons of the many policy options under consideration, including incentives for new technology, subsidies or taxes on different forms of energy, and policies to encourage efficiency and other changes in energy systems, buildings, transportation, and land use.</p> <p>The En-ROADS simulation, Sterman explained, is an updated and far more detailed version of one that he has used for several years. Both models have been used by members of Congress and their staffs, national representatives at the actual UN climate negotiations, and political and business leaders around the world, including then-Secretary of State John Kerry and, during a visit at MIT, the Dalai Lama. Participants in SimPlanet used the same model as was used in these briefings.</p> <p>By the end of the session, participants tried many different proposals, learning which worked best — and which could withstand attempts by other interest groups to roll them back. They discovered that there’s no single policy that can achieve the goal, but the group finally arrived at a set of policies that held the expected warming to just 1.9 C. And they did so using policies that are well within the bounds of what are considered to be technically achievable and economically affordable. “There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot,” Sterman commented.</p> <p>“Climate change is no longer a science problem,” he declared. “It’s not an engineering problem — we have the technologies we need and they are improving rapidly. It’s not even an economic problem — the costs of action are far lower than the costs of inaction, and many policies generate cobenefits that create jobs and improve public health.” Rather, he said, tackling climate change is a social and political problem that requires personal and political actions to implement the policies needed to cut emissions in time.</p> <p>“<a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0202877" target="_blank">Research shows</a> that showing people research doesn’t work” Sterman says. “Interactive simulations such as SimPlanet enable people to learn for themselves, not only building their knowledge of the issue, but motivating them to take action, personally, professionally, and as citizens working for change.”</p> Professor John Sterman displays maps showing the consequences of sea-level rise on various coastal cities, as part of the “SimPlanet” event at MIT.Images: Melanie Gonick, MITSloan School of Management, Environment, Climate change, Climate, Policy, Government, International relations, Sustainability, Developing countries, Economics, Special events and speakers, Students, Emissions, Behavioral economics Cleaning up hydrogen peroxide production http://news.mit.edu/2019/solugen-hydrogen-peroxide-0905 Solugen’s engineered enzymes offer a biologically-inspired method for producing the chemical. Thu, 05 Sep 2019 13:31:42 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/solugen-hydrogen-peroxide-0905 <p>The large factories that have historically manufactured all of the world’s hydrogen peroxide have new, microscopic competitors: altered protein molecules called enzymes.</p> <p>Certain enzymes, which quicken the pace of chemical reactions, have long been known to work with hydrogen peroxide in various biological systems. But translating that knowledge into a biological-based way to create hydrogen peroxide has proven difficult — until recently.</p> <p>For the past few years, the startup Solugen, which was co-founded by an MIT alumnus, has been producing hydrogen peroxide by combining genetically modified enzymes with organic compounds like plant sugars. The reaction creates bio-based hydrogen peroxide as well as organic acids, and the company says this method is cheaper, safer, and less toxic than traditional processes.</p> <p>Solugen currently has two pilot facilities in Texas that produce more than 10 tons of hydrogen peroxide per month, with a much larger site opening next summer. The technology has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of an extremely common chemical used for a host of consumer and industrial applications.</p> <p>Science companies like Solugen are often started by researchers who have spent years studying a specific problem. Their success often hinges on securing government grants or corporate partnerships. But Solugen has a much more colorful history.</p> <p>The company can attribute its success to research into pancreatic cancer, a Facebook group of float spa enthusiasts, a fruitful splurge at Home Depot, and the emergence of several fields that make Solugen’s solution possible.</p> <p><strong>Getting by with help from Facebook friends</strong></p> <p>Solugen co-founder Gaurab Chakrabarti was in medical school studying pancreatic cancer in 2015 when he discovered an enzyme in cancer cells that could function in extremely high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.</p> <p>The enzyme required another expensive chemical to be useful in reactions, so Chakrabarti partnered with Sean Hunt SM ’13 PhD ’16, whom he’d befriended while attending medical school with Hunt’ wife. Hunt was studying more traditional chemical processing methods for his PhD when Chakrabarti showed him the enzyme.</p> <p>“My background is not in biotech, so I’m kind of the recovering biotech skeptic,” Hunt says. “I learned about enzymes in school, and everyone knew how active and selective they were, but they were just so unstable and hard to manufacture.”</p> <p>Using computational protein design methods, Hunt and Chakrabarti were able to genetically modify the enzyme to make it produce hydrogen peroxide at room temperature when combined with cheap organic compounds like sugar.</p> <p>Soon after, the founders were finalists in the 2016 MIT $100K pitch competition, earning $10,000. But they still weren’t sure the technology was worth pursuing.</p> <p>Then they were contacted by a Facebook group of float spa enthusiasts. Float spas suspend people in salty waters while shutting out all noise and light to help them achieve sensory deprivation. Hydrogen peroxide is used to keep float spa waters clean.</p> <p>“There’s about 400 float spas in the U.S., and they’re all on one Facebook group, and one owner saw our MIT $100K pitch video and shared it to the Facebook group,” Hunt explains. “That’s really what made us continue Solugen that summer. Because we were contacted by these float spa owners saying, ‘This is how much we pay for peroxide. If you guys can make it, we’ll buy it.’”</p> <p>Emboldened, the founders rented cheap lab space in Dallas and sent one of their early enzyme designs to a protein manufacturer in China. Then Hunt spent $7,000 at Home Depot to create a pilot reactor he describes as “this little PVC bubble column.”</p> <p>Running out of money, the founders bought 55 gallon drums of sugar and ran them through the reactor with their enzyme, watching triumphantly as organic acids and hydrogen peroxide came out the other end. The founders began selling all the peroxide they could produce, sometimes sleeping on the floor to keep the reactor running through the night. By December of 2016, they were making $10,000 a month selling pails of peroxide to the float spa community.</p> <p>The company used its PVC bubble reactor until the summer of 2017, when they built a fully automated reactor capable of producing 10 times more hydrogen peroxide. That’s when they moved into the oil and gas industry.</p> <p><strong>A big, toxic problem</strong></p> <p>As companies pump oil and gas out of the ground, they generate large amounts of contaminated salt water that needs to be treated or disposed of. Billions of gallons of such water are produced each month in the U.S. alone. Hydrogen peroxide can be used in the treatment process, but Hunt says the traditional methods for creating hydrogen peroxide leave a large carbon footprint associated with the constant venting of the working solution.</p> <p>“What I really love about this is it’s a true environmental crisis that I think we’re making a big difference on,” Hunt says, noting other chemicals used to treat wastewater are extremely toxic.</p> <p>Solugen’s current production facilities ship concentrated forms of hydrogen peroxide, but the founders plan on building “minimills” next to oil and gas plants that don’t require concentration and dilution to further reduce costs and improve sustainability.</p> <p>“When we were building these things out, we realized that because we’re doing all this chemistry with enzymes where it’s room temperature, in water, and low pressure, it’s very safe, and as a result we can build these small plants,” Hunt says. “That’s really exciting for us. … For instance, you can sell hydrogen peroxide for $2 a gallon. It costs $1.50 a gallon just to ship it to the customer. The freight is almost the price of the chemical. And in some instances, it’s more than the chemical itself.”</p> <p>Solugen’s solution is also intriguing because it couldn’t have existed until recently. To make its proprietary enzymes, the company says it’s leveraging new methods for computational protein design and genetic engineering. It also relies on an industry of protein contract manufacturers that can produce large amounts of the enzymes less expensively than what would have been possible even five years ago.</p> <p>Looking forward, Hunt says Solugen’s infrastructure could be used to co-produce hundreds of different organic acids by changing the enzymes and compounds being mixed. One of the co-products he’s most excited about is acetic acid, which is used to make vinegar. Acetic acid is also used in the production of important materials like polyester fiber and plastic.</p> <p>“Hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid are fundamental building blocks for our economy,” Hunt says. “We see Solugen as a platform [for other solutions]. In the long term, that’s what really excites us.”</p> <p><em>This story has been revised to more accurately depict traditional hydrogen peroxide production processes</em>.</p> Solugen's proprietary process for producing hydrogen peroxide uses modified enzymes and inexpensive compounds like sugar. It is currently being used in two pilot facilities that create more than 10 tons of the chemical every day.Image courtesy of SolugenInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, School of Engineering, Chemical engeering, Proteins, Emissions, Climate change, Safety, Pollution, Computational biology, Alumni/ae, Sustainability Letter regarding the first of six climate change symposia http://news.mit.edu/2019/letter-regarding-first-climate-change-symposia-0904 Wed, 04 Sep 2019 16:18:14 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/letter-regarding-first-climate-change-symposia-0904 <p><em>The following letter was sent to the MIT community by president L. Rafael Reif.</em></p> <p>To the members of the MIT community,</p> <p>In keeping with MIT’s broad and intensive efforts outlined in our <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/climateaction">Plan for Action on Climate Change</a>, last spring I wrote to let the community know that, this academic year, we will host six symposia focused on climate change and its urgent global challenges.</p> <p><em>The symposia topics, times and locations appear at the end of this short note, and future details will be available at <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/symposia">climatesymposia.mit.edu</a>.</em></p> <p>Featuring leading experts from MIT and elsewhere, the six symposia will explore the frontier of climate science and policy, highlight innovative efforts to decarbonize everything from electricity to transportation and consider how research universities can best accelerate progress.</p> <p>The challenge of dramatically stepping up the pace of decarbonization while making sure this transition is sustainable and equitable across society will take all of our collective talents – and the best work of countless MIT minds and hands. We are eager for the symposia to help galvanize our community and plant the seeds for future research, policy and innovation in climate solutions. To that end, I hope many of you will make time to attend.​</p> <p>I write now to invite you to the first symposium in the series. So we can estimate attendance, please <a href="https://www.eventbrite.com/e/climate-action-symposia-series-progress-in-climate-science-tickets-69347260523">register here</a>.</p> <p><strong>Progress in Climate Science</strong><br /> Wednesday, October 2<br /> 1:00–4:00 pm<br /> Kresge Auditorium (<a href="https://whereis.mit.edu/?go=W16">Building W16</a>)</p> <p>Thanks to the leadership of Professor Kerry Emanuel, himself an expert on the science of climate change, this first symposium will include two panels – one on Frontiers in Climate Science, one on Climate Risks – and will begin with keynote remarks from a pioneering climate researcher and eminent member of the MIT faculty, Professor Susan Solomon. It will be my honor to provide the opening remarks.</p> <p>I look forward to seeing many of you on October 2.</p> <p>Sincerely,</p> <p>L. Rafael Reif</p> Community, Faculty, Staff, Climate change, Students, Alternative energy, Energy, Greenhouse gases, Special events and guest speakers, President L. Rafael Reif Health, wealth, and cities http://news.mit.edu/2019/mariana-arcaya-professor-0828 MIT associate professor of urban studies Mariana Arcaya examines health disparities within metro areas. Tue, 27 Aug 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/mariana-arcaya-professor-0828 <p>Cities have wealth disparities: Picture fancy downtown condos and trendy shopping areas in contrast to, say, streets with rundown housing and boarded-up shops. Cities also have health disparities: People who live in well-off parts of metro areas are less exposed to many of the pollutants, risks, and stresses that lead to long-term health problems.</p> <p>The health issues are easier to overlook, partly because they are less visible. We don’t necessarily see the factors that create health inequities, such as particulates from freeway pollution that settle in low-income neighborhoods, the lead pipes causing cognitive problems in people who drink from them, the added stress of being poor, or the lack of access to health care that exacerbates other problems for low-income people.</p> <p>Still, the health gap in cities is real and demands significant scholarly attention. Enter Mariana Arcaya, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). Arcaya is a specialist in urban health issues, with a broad research portfolio.</p> <p>Arcaya has studied the health effects of efforts such as the federal Moving to Opportunity program, which relocated families within metropolitan areas (with mixed health effects). She has also examined issues as diverse as the health impact of foreclosure, the considerable prevalence of posttraumatic stress among New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and even the impact of public transportation on health.</p> <p>“The human body is so sensitive to environmental and social conditions,” Arcaya notes. “The neighborhoods people live in help determine what we’re exposed to.”</p> <p>Arcaya has also found that families in Moving to Opportunity program were less likely to move if they already had a sick child. Thus low-income families were, to an extent, trapped by health problems in economically deprived neighborhoods, which themselvs can harm health.</p> <p>But if Arcaya’s research interests are complex, the moral foundations of her work are simple.</p> <p>“We should be aiming for cities that are supportive of human health for everyone, rich or poor, and of any race or ethnicity,” says Arcaya.</p> <p>“All kids should be born into a society where everyone has a fair shot of growing up healthy,” she continues. “When you’re saddled from the beginning with avoidable health problems caused by where you live, those can limit your potential, and that’s unfair.”</p> <p>That ethical vision has long motived her work, since her days as a school student. Now, for her research and teaching, she has just been awarded tenure at MIT.</p> <p>“What I’m doing is what I always thought I wanted to be doing,” Arcaya says. “I’m interested in how inequality in place-based opportunity follows people throughout their lives and sets people on different paths, in part by affecting their health.”</p> <p>Arcaya, who grew up just outside of New York City, has long had a keen interest in environmental issues — “I ran for president of my middle school on basically an environmental platform,” she says, laughing — and in college at Duke University she majored in environmental science and policy. There, she learned about the health problems that environmental degradation can cause — but not necessarily about what to do in response. So she earned an MCP at MIT, from DUSP, focusing on city planning and health.</p> <p>“A lot of the health problems I was studying stemmed from the built environment, and the way we disregarded the value of the natural environment,” Arcaya says. “I came to MIT to focus on the equity implications of trying to enact change: How do you intervene in a positive way?”</p> <p>After completing her MIT master’s thesis, Arcaya then earned a PhD at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which helped build her public health knowledge and sharpen her scholarly tool kit. At this point — having studied the environment, cities, and health — Arcaya went on the academic job market, while starting a family. She joined the MIT faculty in 2015.</p> <p>“I gave my job talk eight months pregnant, took advantage of parental leave after the birth of my second child, and bring my kids to work if they’re sent home from daycare sick,” Arcaya says. “Lots of working parents deal with everything from pregnancy discrimination to a lack of paid parental leave, which is simply wrong. I’ve only been able to do my job because I’ve had the benefit of an incredibly supportive environment and great policies.”</p> <p>Arcaya has been engaged in multiple ambitious projects during her time at the Institute. Over the last couple of years, she has also intensified her interest in setting up long-term study programs that aim to reveal new, in-depth information about cities and health.</p> <p>One of these, the Healthy Neighborhoods Study, is an in-depth quantitative and qualitative look at nine neighborhoods in Boston, taking what Arcaya calls “a resident-centered approach” to identifying public health problems.</p> <p>Another is a long-term study of mothers in New Orleans recovering from Hurricane Katrina, extending some of Arcaya’s earlier work about posttraumatic stress. In this project as well, Arcaya and her research partners are collecting information about the life tradeoffs Katrina survivors have made, to understand what Arcaya calls the “realistic complexity” of the issue.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Disasters have always been a part of life, but the severity and number are expected to go up,” Arcaya says. “What are we going to do about that? How can we expect individuals to respond, and how can we adapt?”</p> <p>And as income and wealth inequality rises in the U.S., Arcaya has also become an advocate urging urban planners and scholars to develop studies that will further explore the inequities of urban conditions.</p> <p>“We have become increasingly unequal socioeconomically in this country, which compounds some of the new and worsensing environmental threats we face,” Arcaya says. “That needs to factor into our research on neighborhods and health. Good planning may be one of the most effective public health tools we have.”</p> “The human body is so sensitive to environmental and social conditions,” says Mariana Arcaya. “We should be aiming for cities that are supportive of human health for everyone.” Image: Bryce VickmarkSchool of Architecture and Planning, Urban studies and planning, Cities, Health, Health care, Poverty, Pollution, Climate change, Natural disasters, Social justice What’s the best way to cut vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions? http://news.mit.edu/2019/lightweight-vehicle-electric-emissions-0826 Study finds that in some locations, lightweight gas-powered cars could have a bigger emissions-reducing impact than electric ones. Mon, 26 Aug 2019 09:45:43 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/lightweight-vehicle-electric-emissions-0826 <p>Policies to encourage reductions in greenhouse gas emissions tend to stress the need to switch as many vehicles as possible to electric power. But a new study by MIT and the Ford Motor Company finds that depending on the location, in some cases an equivalent or even bigger reduction in emissions could be achieved by switching to lightweight conventional (gas-powered) vehicles instead — at least in the near term.</p> <p>The study looked at a variety of factors that can affect the relative performance of these vehicles, including the role of low temperatures in reducing battery performance, regional differences in average number of miles driven annually, and the different mix of generating sources in different parts of the U.S. The results are being published today in the journal <em>Environmental Science &amp; Technology, </em>in a paper by MIT Principal Research Scientist Randolph Kirchain, recent graduate Di Wu PhD ’18, graduate student Fengdi Guo, and three researchers from Ford.</p> <p>The study combined a variety of datasets to examine the relative impact of different vehicle choices down to a county-by-county level across the nation. It showed that while electric vehicles provide the greatest impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions for most of the country, especially on both coasts and in the south, significant parts of the Midwest had the opposite result, with lightweight gasoline-powered vehicles achieving a greater reduction.</p> <p>The biggest factor leading to that conclusion was the mix of generating sources going into the grid in different regions, Kirchain says. That mix is “cleaner” on both the East and West coasts, with higher usage of renewable energy sources and relatively low-emissions natural gas, while in the upper Midwest there is still a much higher proportion of coal-burning power plants. That means that even though electric vehicles produce no greenhouse emissions while they are being driven, the process of recharging the car’s batteries results in significant emissions.</p> <p>In those locations, buying a lightweight car, defined as one whose structure is built largely from aluminum or specialized lightweight steel, would actually result in fewer emissions than buying a comparable electric car, the study found.</p> <p>The research was made possible by Ford’s collection of vehicle-performance data from about 30,000 cars, over a total of about 300 million miles of driving. They come from conventional midsize conventional gasoline cars, and the researchers used standard modeling techniques to calculate the performance of equivalent vehicles that were either hybrid-electric, battery-electric, or lightweight versions of conventional cars.</p> <p>&nbsp;“We tried to add as much spatial resolution as possible, compared to other studies in the literature, to try to get a sense of the combined effects” of the various factors of temperature, the grid, and driving conditions, Kirchain explains. That combination of data showed, among other things, that “some of the areas with more carbon-heavy grids also happen to be colder, and somewhat more rural,” he says. “All three of those things can tilt emissions in a negative way for electric vehicles” in terms of their impact on reducing emissions. The combined effects are strongest in parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, where lightweight cars would have a significant advantage over EVs in reducing emissions, the study showed.</p> <p>The impact of cold weather on battery performance, he says, “is something that is discussed in the EV literature, but not as much in the popular discussions of the topic.” Conversely, gasoline-powered vehicles suffer an efficiency penalty in urban driving, but they have lower emissions in regions that are more rural and spread out.</p> <p>The data on car performance the team had to work with thanks to their collaboration with Ford researchers “was unique,” Kirchain says. “In the past, a ‘large’ study of this type would be a few dozen vehicles,” and those would mainly come from people who volunteered to share their data and therefore were more likely to be concerned about environmental impact. The extensive Ford data, by contrast, provide “a broader cross-section of drivers and driving conditions.”</p> <p>Kirchain stresses that the intent of this study is not in any way to minimize the importance of switching over ground transportation to electric power in order to curb greenhouse emissions. “We’re not trying to undermine the fact that electrification is the long-term solution — and the short-term solution for most of the country,” he says. But over the next few decades, which is considered a critical period in determining the planet’s climate outcomes, it’s important to know what measures will actually be most effective in reducing carbon emissions in order to set policies and incentives that will produce the best outcomes, he says.</p> <p>The relative advantage of lightweight vehicles compared to electric ones, according to their modeling, “goes down over time, as the grid improves,” he says. “But it doesn’t go away completely until you get to close to 2050 or so.”</p> <p>Lightweight aluminum is now used in the Ford F-150 pickup truck, and in the all-electric Tesla sedans. Currently, there are no high-volume lightweight gasoline-powered midsize cars on the market in the U.S., but they could be built if incentives similar to those used to encourage the production of electric cars were in place, Kirchain suggests.</p> <p>Right now, he says, the U.S. has “a patchwork of regulations and incentives that are providing extra incentives for electrification.” But there are certain parts of the country, he says, where it would make more sense to provide incentives “for any option that provides sufficient fuel savings, not just for electrification,” he says.</p> <p>“At least for the north central part of the country, policymakers should consider a more nuanced approach,” he adds.</p> <p>“This is a significant advance,” says Heather MacLean, professor of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto, who was not associated with this work. This study, she says, “illustrates the importance of the regional disaggregation in the analysis, and that if it were absent results would be incorrect. This is an unequivocal call for regional policies that use the latest research to build rational agendas, rather than prescribing overarching global solutions.”</p> <p>This study “demonstrates the complexity in elucidating the electrification benefits for lightweighted vehicles,” says Gregory Keoleian, director of the Center for Sustainable Systems&nbsp; at the University of Michigan, who was not connected to this study. He adds that “The contributions of regional effects such as climate, grid carbon intensities and driving characteristics were carefully mapped to inform carbon reduction strategy for the auto sector.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The research team included Robert De Kleine, Hyung Chul Kim, and Timothy Wallington of the Research and Innovation Center of Ford Motor Company, in Dearborn, Michigan.</p> A new study finds that depending on the location, in some cases an equivalent or even bigger reduction in emissions could be achieved by switching to lightweight conventional (gas-powered) vehicles instead of electric power vehicles.Image: MIT NewsEmissions, Research, Climate change, Efficiency, Energy, Industry, Sustainability, Transportation, Materials Science and Engineering, Automobiles, School of Engineering Study: Climate change could pose danger for Muslim pilgrimage http://news.mit.edu/2019/climate-muslim-hajj-0822 When the Hajj comes in summertime, in some years it may not be safe for participants to remain outdoors. Thu, 22 Aug 2019 11:21:14 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/climate-muslim-hajj-0822 <p>For the world’s estimated 1.8 billion Muslims — roughly one-quarter of the world population — making a pilgrimage to Mecca is considered a religious duty that must be performed at least once in a lifetime, if health and finances permit. The ritual, known as the Hajj, includes about five days of activities, of which 20 to 30 hours involve being outside in the open air.</p> <p>According to a new study by researchers at MIT and in California, because of climate change there is an increasing risk that in coming years, conditions of heat and humidity in the areas of Saudi Arabia where the Hajj takes place could worsen, to the point that people face “extreme danger” from harmful health effects.</p> <p>In a paper in the journal <em>Geophysical Review Letters</em>, MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Elfatih Eltahir and two others report the new findings, which show risks to Hajj participants could already be serious this year and next year, as well as when the Hajj, whose timing varies, again takes place in the hottest summer months, which will be from 2047 to 2052 and from 2079 to 2086. This will happen even if substantial measures are taken to limit the impact of climate change, the study finds, and without those measures, the dangers would be even greater. Planning for countermeasures or restrictions on participation in the pilgrimage may thus be needed.</p> <p>The timing of the Hajj varies from one year to the next, Eltahir explains, because it is based on the lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar. Each year the Hajj occurs about 11 days earlier, so there are only certain spans of years when it takes place during the hottest summer months. Those are the times that could become dangerous for participants, says Eltahir, who is the Breene M. Kerr Professor at MIT. “When it comes in the summer in Saudi Arabia, conditions become harsh, and a significant fraction of these activities are outdoors,” he says.</p> <p>There have already been signs of this risk becoming real. Although the details of the events are scant, there have been deadly stampedes during the Hajj in recent decades: one in 1990 that killed 1,462 people, and one in 2015 that left 769 dead and 934 injured. Eltahir says that both of these years coincided with peaks in the combined temperature and humidity in the region, as measured by the “wet bulb temperature,” and the stress of elevated temperatures may have contributed to the deadly events.</p> <p>“If you have crowding in a location,” Eltahir says, “the harsher the weather conditions are, the more likely it is that crowding would lead to incidents” such as those.</p> <p>Wet bulb temperature (abbreviated as TW), which is measured by attaching a wet cloth to the bulb of a thermometer, is a direct indicator of how effectively perspiration can cool off the body. The higher the humidity, the lower the absolute temperature that can trigger health problems. At anything above a wet bulb temperature of about 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the body can no longer cool itself efficiently, and such temperatures are classified as a “danger” by the U.S. National Weather Service. A TW above about 85 F is classified as “extreme danger,” at which heat stroke, which can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles and can even lead to death, is “highly likely” after prolonged exposure.</p> <p>Climate simulations carried out by Eltahir and his co-investigators, using both “business as usual” scenarios and scenarios that include significant countermeasures against climate change, show that the likelihood of exceeding these thresholds for extended periods will increase steadily over the course of this century with the countermeasures, and very severely so without them.</p> <p>Because evaporation is so crucial to maintaining a safe body temperature, the level of humidity in the air is key. Even an actual temperature of just 90 F, if the humidity rises to 95 percent, is enough to reach the deadly 85 degree TW threshold for “extreme danger.” At a lower humidity of 45 percent, the 85 TW threshold would not be reached until the actual temperature climbed to 104 F or more. (At very high humidity, the wet bulb temperature equals the actual temperature).</p> <p>Climate change will significantly increase the number of days each summer where wet bulb temperatures in the region will exceed the “extreme danger” limit. Even with mitigation measures in place, Eltahir says, “it will still be severe. There will still be problems, but not as bad” as would occur without those measures.</p> <p>The Hajj is “a very strong part of the culture” in Muslim communities, Eltahir says, so preparing for these potentially unsafe conditions will be important for officials in Saudi Arabia. A variety of protective measures have been in place in recent years, including nozzles that provide a mist of water in some of the outdoor locations to provide some cooling for participants, and widening some of the locations to reduce overcrowding. In the most potentially risky years ahead, Eltahir says, it may become necessary to severely limit the number of participants allowed to take part in the ritual. This new research “should help in informing policy choices, including climate change mitigation policies as well as adaptation plans,” he says.</p> <p>The research team included Suchul Kang, an MIT postdoc, and Jeremy Pal, a professor of civil engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The work was supported by a seed grant from the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative.</p> Muslim pilgrims gathered to perform Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.Research, Climate change, Religion, Health, Global Warming, Middle East, Climate, Civil and environmental engineering, School of Engineering Shift to renewable electricity a win-win at statewide level http://news.mit.edu/2019/shift-renewable-electricity-win-win-statewide-level-0814 MIT research finds health savings from cleaner air exceed policy costs. Wed, 14 Aug 2019 11:10:01 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/shift-renewable-electricity-win-win-statewide-level-0814 <p>Amid rollbacks of the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations at the federal level, several U.S. states, cities, and towns have resolved to take matters into their own hands and implement policies to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One popular approach, now in effect in 29 states and the District of Columbia, is to set Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require electricity suppliers to source a designated percentage of electricity from available renewable-power generating technologies.</p> <p>Boosting levels of renewable electric power not only helps mitigate global climate change, but also reduces local air pollution. Quantifying the extent to which this approach improves air quality could help legislators better assess the pros and cons of implementing policies such as RPS. Toward that end, a research team at MIT has developed a new modeling framework that combines economic and air-pollution models to assess the projected subnational impacts of RPS and carbon pricing on air quality and human health, as well as on the economy and on climate change. In a <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab31d9" target="_blank">study</a> focused on the U.S. Rust Belt, their assessment showed that the financial benefits associated with air quality improvements from these policies would more than pay for the cost of implementing them. The results appear in the journal <em>Environmental Research Letters.</em></p> <p>“This research helps us better understand how clean-energy policies now under consideration at the subnational level might impact local air quality and economic growth,” says the study’s <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/dimanchev-emil" target="_blank">lead author Emil Dimanchev</a>, a senior research associate at MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, former research assistant at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and a 2018 graduate of the MIT Technology and Policy Program.</p> <p>Burning fossil fuels for energy generation results in air pollution in the form of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Exposure to PM2.5 can lead to adverse health effects that include lung cancer, stroke, and heart attacks. But avoiding those health effects — and the medical bills, lost income, and reduced productivity that comes with them — through the adoption of cleaner energy sources translates into significant cost savings, known as health co-benefits.</p> <p>Applying their modeling framework, the MIT researchers estimated that existing RPS in the nation’s Rust Belt region generate a health co-benefit of $94 per ton of carbon dioxide (CO<sub>2</sub>) reduced in 2030, or 8 cents for each kilowatt hour (kWh) of renewable energy deployed in 2015 dollars. Their central estimate is 34 percent larger than total policy costs. The team also determined that carbon pricing delivers a health co-benefit of&nbsp;$211 per ton of CO<sub>2</sub> reduced in 2030, 63 percent greater than the health co-benefit of reducing the same amount of CO<sub>2</sub> through an RPS approach.</p> <p>In an extension to their published work focused on the state of Ohio, the researchers evaluated the health effects and economy-wide costs of Ohio’s RPS using economic and atmospheric chemistry modeling. According to their best estimates, an average of 50 premature deaths per year will be avoided as a result of Ohio’s RPS in 2030. This translates to an economic benefit of $470 million per year, or 3 cents per kWh of renewable generation supported by the RPS. With costs of the RPS estimated at $300, that translates to an annual net health benefit of $170 million in 2030.</p> <p>When the Ohio state legislature took up Ohio House Bill No. 6, which proposed to repeal the state’s RPS, Dimanchev shared these results on the Senate floor.</p> <p>“According to our calculations, the magnitude of the air quality benefits resulting from Ohio’s RPS is substantial and exceeds its economic costs,” he argued. “While the state legislature ultimately weakened the RPS, our research concludes that this will worsen the health of Ohio residents.”</p> <p>The MIT research team’s results for the Rust Belt are consistent with previous studies, which found that the health co-benefits of climate policy (including RPS and other instruments) tend to exceed policy costs.</p> <p>“This work shows that there are real, immediate benefits to people’s health in states that take the lead on clean energy,” says MIT Associate Professor <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/selin-noelle" target="_blank">Noelle Selin</a>, who led the study and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Institute for Data, Systems and Society. “Policymakers should take these impacts into account as they consider modifying these standards.”</p> <p>The study was supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air, Climate and Energy Centers Program.</p> A wind turbine on the coast of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio Photo: Sam Bobko/FlickrJoint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, EAPS, IDSS, School of Science, School of Engineering, MIT Energy Initiative, Climate change, Economics, Emissions, Environment, Global Warming, Greenhouse gases, Health, Pollution, Research, Sustainability, Policy, Government 3Q: Jeremy Gregory on measuring the benefits of hazard resilience http://news.mit.edu/2019/jeremy-gregory-measuring-benefits-hazard-resilience-0807 MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub scientist explains how rating systems akin to LEED for resilient construction can make communities more hazard-resistant. Wed, 07 Aug 2019 12:30:01 -0400 Andrew Logan | Concrete Sustainability Hub http://news.mit.edu/2019/jeremy-gregory-measuring-benefits-hazard-resilience-0807 <p><em>According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the combined cost of natural disasters in the United States was $91 billion in 2018. The year before, natural disasters inflicted even greater damage — $306.2 billion. Traditionally, investment in mitigating these damages has gone toward disaster response. While important, disaster response is only one part of disaster mitigation. By putting more resources into disaster readiness, communities can reduce the time it takes to recover from a disaster while decreasing loss of life and damage costs. Experts refer to this preemptive approach as resilience.</em></p> <p><em>Resilience entails a variety of actions. In the case of individual buildings, it can be as straightforward as increasing the nail size in roof panels, using thicker windows, and increasing the resistance of roof shingles. On a broader scale, it involves predicting vulnerabilities in a community and preparing for surge pricing and other economic consequences associated with disasters.</em></p> <p><em>MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub Executive Director Jeremy Gregory weighs in on why resilience hasn’t been widely adopted in the United States and what can be done to change that.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What is resilience in the context of disaster mitigation?<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Resilience is how one responds to a change, usually that is in the context of some type of disaster — whether it’s natural or manmade. There are three components of resilience: How significant is the damage due to the disaster? How long does it take to recover? What is the level of recovery after a certain amount of time?</p> <p>It’s important to invest in resilience since we can mitigate significant expenses and loss of life due to disasters before they occur. So, if we build more resilient in the first place, then we don’t end up spending as much on the response to a disaster and communities can more quickly become operational again.</p> <p>Generally, building construction is not particularly resilient. That’s primarily because the incentives aren’t aligned for creating resilient construction. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which handles disaster response, invests significantly more in post-disaster mitigation efforts than it does in pre-disaster mitigation efforts — the funds are an order of magnitude greater for the former. Part of that could be that we’re relying on an agency that’s primarily focused on emergency response to help us prepare for avoiding an emergency response. But primarily, that’s because when buildings are purchased, we don’t have information on the resiliency of the building.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What is needed to make resilience more widely adopted?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Essentially, we need a robust approach for quantifying the benefits of resilience for a diverse range of contexts. For a lot of buildings, the construction decisions are not made in consultation with the ultimate owner of the building. A developer has to make decisions based on what they think the owner will value. And right now, owners don’t communicate that they value resilience. I think a big part of that is that they don’t have enough quantitative information about why one building is more resilient than another.</p> <p>So, for example, when it comes to the fuel economy of our automobiles, we now have a consistent way to measure that fuel economy and communicate fuel consumption costs over the life cycle of the vehicle. Or similarly, we have a way of measuring the energy consumption of appliances that we buy and quantifying those costs throughout the product life. We currently don’t have a robust system for quantifying the resilience of a building and how that will translate into costs associated with repairs due to hazards over the lifetime of the building.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Is building resilient expensive?<strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Building resilient does not have to be significantly more expensive than conventional construction. Our research has shown that more resilient construction can cost less than 10 percent more than conventional construction. But those increased initial costs are offset by lower expenses associated with hazard repairs over the lifetime of the building. So, in some of the cases we looked at in residential construction, the payback periods for the more hazard-resistant construction were five years or less in areas prone to hurricane damage. Our other research on the break-even mitigation percentage has shown that, in some of the most hurricane-prone areas, you can spend up to nearly 20 percent more on the initial investment of the building and break even on your expenses over a 30-year period, including from the damages due to hazards, compared to a conventional building that will sustain more damage.</p> <p>It’s important for owners to know how significant these costs are and what the life-cycle benefits are for more hazard-resistant construction<strong>. </strong>Once developers know that homeowners value that information, that will create more market demand for hazard-resistant construction and ultimately lead to the development of safer and more resilient communities.</p> <p>A similar shift has occurred in the demand for green buildings, and that’s primarily due to rating systems like LEED [<span class="ILfuVd"><span class="e24Kjd">Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]</span></span>: developers now construct buildings with green rating systems because they know there is a market premium for those buildings, since owners value them. We need to create a similar kind of demand for resilient construction.</p> <p>There are several resilient rating systems already in place. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, for example, has developed the <a href="https://fortifiedhome.org/">Fortified</a> rating system, which informs homeowners and builders about hazard risks and ranks building designs according to certain levels of protection. The U.S. Resiliency Council’s <a href="http://usrc.org/building-rating-system">Building Rating System</a> is another model that offers four rating levels and currently focuses primarily on earthquakes. Additionally, there is the <a href="https://www.usgbc.org/articles/reli-rating-system-improves-project-resiliency">REli</a> rating by the U.S. Green Building Council — the same organization that runs the LEED ratings. These are all good efforts to communicate resilient construction, but there are also opportunities to incorporate more quantitative estimates of resilience into the rating systems.</p> <p>The rise of these kinds of resilience rating systems is particularly timely since the annual cost of hazard-induced damage is expected to increase over the next century due to climate change and development in hazard-prone areas. But with new standards for quantifying resilience, we can motivate hazard-resistant construction that protects communities and mitigates the consequences of climate change.</p> An aerial photograph of a home built to FEMA standards in the aftermath of Hurricane KatrinaPhoto: John Fleck/Wikimedia CommonsConcrete Sustainability Hub, Civil and environmental engineering, School of Engineering, Sustainability, Hurricanes, Natural disasters, Climate change, Urban studies and planning, Architecture Following the current: MIT examines water consumption sustainability http://news.mit.edu/2019/following-current-mit-examines-water-consumption-amidst-climate-crisis-0805 The Institute aims to update its water management practices to prepare for droughts, sea level rise, and other risks posed by the climate crisis. Mon, 05 Aug 2019 16:00:01 -0400 Archana Apte | Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab http://news.mit.edu/2019/following-current-mit-examines-water-consumption-amidst-climate-crisis-0805 <p>At the 2019 MIT Commencement address, Michael Bloomberg highlighted the climate crisis as “the challenge of our time.” Climate change is expected to worsen drought and cause Boston, Massachusetts, <a href="https://www.wbur.org/news/2018/03/16/boston-sea-level-rise-vims-projection">sea level to rise by 1.5 feet by 2050</a>. While numerous MIT students and researchers are working to ensure access to clean and sustainable sources of drinking water well into the future, MIT is also responding to the urgency of the climate crisis with a close examination of campus sustainability practices, including a recent focus on its own water consumption.</p> <p>A working group on campus water use, led by the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) and Department of Facilities, is supported by the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) and includes representatives of numerous other groups, offices, students, and campus leaders. While the MITOS initiative is focusing on campus water management, MIT student clubs are raising local consciousness around drinking-water issues via research and outreach activities. Through all of these efforts, members of the community aim to help MIT change its water usage practices and become a model for sustainable water use at the university level.</p> <p><strong>The water subcommittee: providing water leadership to promote institutional change</strong></p> <p>Gathering campus stakeholders to develop sustainability recommendations is a practiced strategy for the Office of Sustainability. MITOS working groups have previously analyzed environmental issues such as energy use, storm water management, and the sustainability of MIT’s food system, another initiative in which J-WAFS has played a role. The current working group addressing campus water use practices is managed by Steven Lanou, sustainability project manager at MITOS. “Work done in the late 1990s reduced campus water use by an estimated 60 percent,” he explains. “And now, we need to look strategically again at all of our systems” to improve water management in the face of future climate uncertainty.</p> <p>Beginning in fall 2018, MITOS met with local stakeholders, including the Cambridge Water Department, the MIT Department of Facilities, and the MIT Water Club, to explore how water is used and managed on campus.</p> <p>The water subcommittee falls underneath the Sustainability Leadership Steering Committee, which was created by, and reports to, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer, upon which Professor John H. Lienhard, director of J-WAFS and Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Mechanical Engineering, also sits. The steering committee is charged by the provost and the executive vice president and treasurer of MIT to recommend strategies for campus leadership on sustainability issues. The water subcommittee will bring concrete suggestions for water usage changes to the MIT administration and work to implement them across campus. Professor Lienhard has “been key in helping us shape what a water stewardship program might look like,” according to Lanou.</p> <p>Other J-WAFS staff are also involved in the subcommittee, as well as leaders from the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), Department of Facilities, MIT Dining, the MIT Investment Management Company, and the Water Club. Based on a thorough review of data related to MIT’s water use, the subcommittee has started to identify the most strategic areas for intervention, and is gearing up now to get additional input this fall and begin to develop recommendations for how MIT can reduce water consumption, mitigate its overall climate impact, and adapt to an uncertain future.</p> <p>Water has been a focus of discussion and planning for sustainable campus practices for several years already. A MITOS stormwater and land management working group devoted to priority-setting for campus sustainability, which convened in the 2014 academic year, identified MIT’s water footprint as one of several key areas for discussion and intervention. Following the release of the stormwater and land management working group recommendations in 2016, MITOS teamed up with the Office of Campus Planning, the Department of Facilities, and the Office of Environment, Health and Safety to explore stormwater management solutions that improve the health of Cambridge, Massachusetts waterways and ecosystems. Among the outcomes was a draft stormwater management and landscape ecology plan that is focused on enhancing the productivity of the campus’ built and ecological systems in order to capture, absorb, reuse, and treat stormwater. This effort has informed the implementation of advanced stormwater management infrastructure on campus, including the recently completed North Corridor improvements in conjunction with the construction of the MIT.nano building.</p> <p>In addition, MITOS is leading a research effort with the MIT Center for Global Change Science and Department of Facilities to understand campus risks to flooding during current and future climate conditions. The team is evaluating probabilities and flood depths to a range of scenarios, including intense, short-duration rainfall over campus; 24-hour rainfall over campus/Cambridge from tropical storms or nor’easters; sea-level rise and coastal storm surge of the Charles River; and up-river rainfall that raises the level of the Charles River. To understand MIT’s water consumption and key areas for intervention, this year’s water subcommittee is informed by data gathered by Lanou on the water consumption across campus — in buildings, labs, and landscaping processes&nbsp;— as well as the consumption of water by the MIT community.</p> <p>An additional dimension of water stewardship to be considered by the subcommittee is the role and impact of bottled-water purchases on campus. The subcommittee has begun to look at data on annual bottled-water consumption to help understand the current trends. Understanding the impacts of single-use disposable bottles on campus is important. “I see so much bottled water consumption on campus,” notes John Lienhard. “It’s costly, energy-intensive, and adds plastic to the environment.” Only <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full">9 percent of all plastics manufactured</a> since 2015 has been recycled, and <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/07/26/million-plastic-bottles-minute-91-not-recycled/#26b590e9292c">12 billion metric tons of plastic</a> will end up in landfills by 2050. Mark Hayes, director of MIT Dining and another subcommittee member, has participated in student-led bottled-water reduction efforts on two college campuses, and he hopes to help MIT better understand and address the issue here. Hayes would like to see MIT consider “expanding water refilling stations, exploring the impact and reduction [of] plastic recycling, and increasing campus education on these efforts.” Taking on the challenge of changing campus water consumption habits, and decreasing the associated waste, will hopefully position MIT as a leader in these kinds of sustainability efforts and encourage other campuses to adopt similar policies.</p> <p><strong>Students taking action</strong></p> <p>Student groups are also using education around bottled water alternatives to encourage behavior change. Andrew Bouma, a PhD student in John Lienhard’s lab, is investigating local attitudes toward bottled water. His interest in this issue began upon meeting several students who drank mostly bottled water. “It frustrated me that people had this perception that the tap water wasn’t safe,” Bouma explains, “even though Cambridge and Boston have really great water.” He became involved with the MIT Water Club and ran a blind taste test at the 2019 MIT Water Night to evaluate perceptions of tap water, bottled water, and recycled wastewater.</p> <p>Bouma explained that bottled-water drinkers often cite superior flavor as a motivating factor; however, only four or five of the 70-80 participants correctly identified the different sources, suggesting that the flavor argument holds little water. Many participants also held reservations about water safety. Bouma hopes that the taste test can address these barriers more effectively than sharing statistics. “When people can hold a cup of water in their hands and see it and taste it, it makes people confront their presumptions in a different way,” he explains.</p> <p><strong>A broader impact</strong></p> <p>The MIT Water Club, including Bouma, repeated the taste test at the Cambridge River Arts Festival in June to examine public perceptions of public and bottled water. Fewer than 5 percent of the 242 respondents identified all four water sources, approximately the same outcome as would be expected from random guessing. Many participants held concerns about the safety of public water, which the Water Club tried to combat with information about water treatment and testing procedures. Bouma hopes to continue addressing water consumption issues as co-president of the Water Club.</p> <p>Other student groups are encouraging behavior change around water consumption as well. The MIT Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the GSC Sustainability Subcommittee, with support from the Department of Facilities, funded five water-bottle refilling stations across campus in 2015. These efforts underscore the commitment of MIT students to promoting sustainable water consumption on campus.</p> <p><strong>A unique “MIT spin” on campus water sustainability </strong></p> <p>Lanou hopes that MIT will bring its technical strength to bear on water issues by using campus as a living laboratory to test water technologies. For example, Kripa Varanasi, professor of mechanical engineering and a J-WAFS-funded principal investigator, is piloting <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/new-system-recovers-fresh-water-power-plants-0608">a water capture project</a> at MIT’s Central Utility Plant that uses electricity to condense fog into liquid water for collection. Varanasi’s lab is able to test the technology in real-world conditions and improve the plant’s water efficiency at the same time. “It's a great example of MIT being willing to use its facilities to test campus research,” explains Lanou. These technological advancements — many of which are supported by J-WAFS — could support water resilience at MIT and elsewhere.</p> <p>As the climate crisis brings water scarcity issues to the forefront, understanding and modeling water-use practices will become increasingly critical. With the water subcommittee working to bring recommendations for campus water use to the administration, and MIT students engaging with the broader Cambridge community on bottled water issues, the MIT community is poised to rise to the challenge.</p> The MIT Water Club conducted a water taste test and outreach event at the Cambridge Arts River Festival.Photo: Patricia StathatouWater, Sustainability, Climate change, J-WAFS, Campus, Cambridge, Boston and region, Community, Recycling, Pollution Lowering emissions without breaking the bank http://news.mit.edu/2019/lowering-india-emissions-without-breaking-bank-0731 New research provides a look at how India could meet its climate targets while maintaining economic growth Wed, 31 Jul 2019 14:20:01 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/lowering-india-emissions-without-breaking-bank-0731 <p>India’s economy is booming, driving up electric power consumption to unprecedented levels. The nation’s installed electricity capacity, which increased fivefold in the past three decades, is expected to triple over the next 20 years. At the same time, India has committed to limiting its carbon dioxide emissions growth; its Paris Agreement climate pledge is to decrease its carbon dioxide emissions intensity of GDP (CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions per unit of GDP) by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and to boost carbon-free power to about 40 percent of installed capacity in 2030.</p> <p>Can India reach its climate targets without adversely impacting its rate of economic growth — now estimated at 7 percent annually — and what policy strategy would be most effective in achieving that goal?</p> <p>To address these questions, researchers from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change developed an economy-wide model of India with energy-sector detail, and applied it to simulate the achievement of each component of the nation’s Paris pledge. Representing the emissions intensity target with an economy-wide carbon price and the installed capacity target with a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), they assessed the economic implications of three policy scenarios — carbon pricing, an RPS, and a combination of carbon pricing with an RPS. <a href="https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S201000781950009X" target="_blank">Their findings</a> appear in the journal <em>Climate Change Economics. </em></p> <p>As a starting point, the researchers determined that imposing an economy-wide emissions reduction policy alone to meet the target emissions intensity, simulated through a carbon price, would result in the lowest cost to India’s economy. This approach would lead to emissions reductions not only in the electric power sector but throughout the economy. By contrast, they found that an RPS, which would enforce a minimum level of currently more expensive carbon-free electricity, would have the highest per-ton cost — more than 10 times higher than the economy-wide CO<sub>2</sub> intensity policy.</p> <p>“In our modeling framework, allowing emissions reduction across all sectors of the economy through an economy-wide carbon price ensures that the least-cost pathways for reducing emissions are observed,” says <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/singh-arun">Arun Singh</a>, lead author of the study. “This is constrained when electricity sector-specific targets are introduced. If renewable electricity costs are higher than the average cost of electricity, a higher share of renewables in the electricity mix makes electricity costlier, and the impacts of higher electricity prices reverberate across the economy.” A former research assistant at the MIT joint program and graduate student at the MIT Institute for Data, Systems and Society’s Technology and Policy Program, Singh now serves as an energy specialist consultant at the World Bank.</p> <p>Combining an economy-wide carbon price with an RPS would, however, bring the price per ton of CO<sub>2</sub> down from $23.38/tCO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;(in 2011 U.S. dollars) under a standalone carbon-pricing policy to a far more politically viable $6.17/tCO<sub>2</sub> when an RPS is added. If wind and solar costs decline significantly, the cost to the economy would decrease considerably; at the lowest wind and solar cost levels simulated, the model projects that economic losses under a carbon price with RPS would be only slightly higher than those under a standalone carbon price. Thus, declining wind and solar costs could enable India to set more ambitious climate policies in future years without significantly impeding economic growth.</p> <p>“Globally, it has been politically impossible to introduce CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;prices high enough to mitigate climate change in line with the Paris Agreement goals,” says <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/karplus-valerie">Valerie Karplus</a>, co-author and assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “Combining pricing approaches with technology-specific policies may be important in India, as they have elsewhere, for the politics to work.”</p> <p>Developed by Singh in collaboration with his master’s thesis advisors at MIT (Karplus, and MIT Joint Program Principal Research Scientist&nbsp;<a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/winchester-niven">Niven Winchester</a>, who also co-authored the study), the economy-wide model of India enables researchers to gauge the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of different technology and policy choices designed to transition the country to a low-carbon energy system.</p> <p>“The study provides important insights about the costs of different policies, which are relevant to nations that have pledged emission targets under the Paris Agreement but have not yet developed polices to meet those targets,” says Winchester, who is also a senior fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.</p> <p>The study was supported by the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the MIT Joint Program.</p> Haloe Energie solar photovoltaic plant in Andhra Pradesh, India Photo: Penn StateJoint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Sloan School of Management, MITEI, School of Engineering, Tata Center, Climate, India, Carbon, Alternative energy, Climate change, Development, Economics, Global Warming, Greenhouse gases, Renewable energy, Research, Department of Energy (DoE) Health effects of China’s climate policy extend across Pacific http://news.mit.edu/2019/health-effects-china-climate-policy-extend-across-pacific-0729 Improved air quality in China could prevent nearly 2,000 premature deaths in the U.S. Mon, 29 Jul 2019 16:00:01 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/health-effects-china-climate-policy-extend-across-pacific-0729 <p>Improved air quality can be a major bonus of climate mitigation policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By cutting air pollution levels in the country where emissions are produced, such policies can avoid significant numbers of premature deaths. But other nations downwind from the host country may also benefit.</p> <p>A <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab26ca">new MIT study</a> in the journal <em>Environmental Research Letters</em> shows that if the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, China, fulfills its climate pledge to peak carbon dioxide emissions in 2030, the positive effects would extend all the way to the United States, where improved air quality would result in nearly 2,000 fewer premature deaths. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The study estimates China’s climate policy air quality and health co-benefits resulting from reduced atmospheric concentrations of ozone, as well as co-benefits from reduced ozone and particulate air pollution (PM2.5) in three downwind and populous countries: South Korea, Japan, and the United States. As ozone and PM2.5 &nbsp;give a well-rounded picture of air quality and can be transported over long distances, accounting for both pollutants enables a more accurate projection of associated health co-benefits in the country of origin and those downwind. &nbsp;</p> <p>Using a modeling framework that couples an energy-economic model with an atmospheric chemistry model, and assuming a climate policy consistent with China’s pledge to peak CO<sub>2</sub> emissions in 2030, the researchers found that atmospheric ozone concentrations in China would fall by 1.6 parts per billion in 2030 compared to a no-policy scenario, and thus avoid 54,300 premature deaths — nearly 60 percent of those resulting from PM2.5. Total avoided premature deaths in South Korea and Japan are 1,200 and 3,500, respectively, primarily due to PM2.5; for the U.S. total, 1,900 premature deaths, ozone is the main contributor, due to its longer lifetime in the atmosphere.</p> <p>Total avoided deaths in these countries amount to about 4 percent of those in China. The researchers also found that a more stringent climate policy would lead to even more avoided premature deaths in the three downwind countries, as well as in China.</p> <p>The study breaks new ground in showing that co-benefits of climate policy from reducing ozone-related premature deaths in China are comparable to those from PM2.5, and that co-benefits from reduced ozone and PM2.5 levels are not insignificant beyond China’s borders.</p> <p>“The results show that climate policy in China can influence air quality even as far away as the U.S.,” says <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/selin-noelle">Noelle Eckley Selin</a>, an associate professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), who co-led the study. “This shows that policy action on climate is indeed in everyone’s interest, in the near term as well as in the longer term.”</p> <p>The other co-leader of the study is <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/karplus-valerie">Valerie Karplus</a>, the assistant professor of global economics and management in MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Both co-leaders are faculty affiliates of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Their co-authors include former EAPS graduate student and lead author Mingwei Li, former Joint Program research scientist Da Zhang, and former MIT postdoc Chiao-Ting Li.&nbsp;</p> Polluted air over Beijing, ChinaPhoto: Patrick He/FlickrEAPS, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, School of Science, IDSS, School of Engineering, China, Climate change, Developing countries, Economics, Emissions, Environment, Global Warming, Greenhouse gases, Health, International initiatives, Pollution, Research, Sustainability, Earth and atmospheric sciences Removing carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust http://news.mit.edu/2019/removing-co2-from-power-plant-exhaust-0729 MIT researchers are developing a battery that could both capture carbon dioxide in power plant exhaust and convert it to a solid ready for safe disposal. Mon, 29 Jul 2019 13:30:01 -0400 Nancy W. Stauffer | MIT Energy Initiative http://news.mit.edu/2019/removing-co2-from-power-plant-exhaust-0729 <div> <p>Reducing carbon dioxide (CO<sub>2</sub>) emissions from power plants is widely considered an essential component of any climate change mitigation plan. Many research efforts focus on developing and deploying carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) systems to keep CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions from power plants out of the atmosphere. But separating the captured CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;and converting it back into a gas that can be stored can consume up to 25 percent of a plant’s power-generating capacity. In addition, the CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;gas is generally injected into underground geological formations for long-term storage — a disposal method whose safety and reliability remain unproven.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>A better approach would be to convert the captured CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;into useful products such as value-added fuels or chemicals. To that end, attention has focused on electrochemical processes — in this case, a process in which chemical reactions release electrical energy, as in the discharge of a battery. The ideal medium in which to conduct electrochemical conversion of CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;would appear to be water. Water can provide the protons (positively charged particles) needed to make fuels such as methane. But running such “aqueous” (water-based) systems requires large energy inputs, and only a small fraction of the products formed are typically those of interest.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><a class="Hyperlink SCXW146141016 BCX0" href="http://energy.mit.edu/profile/betar-gallant/" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Betar Gallant</a>, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and her group at MIT have therefore been focusing on non-aqueous (water-free) electrochemical reactions — in particular, those that occur inside lithium-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;batteries.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Research into lithium-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;batteries&nbsp;is&nbsp;in its very early stages, according to Gallant, but interest in them is growing because CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;is used up in the chemical reactions that occur on one of the electrodes as the battery is being discharged. However, CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;isn’t very reactive. Researchers have tried to speed things up by using different electrolytes and electrode materials. Despite such efforts, the need to use expensive metal catalysts to elicit electrochemical activity has persisted.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Given the lack of progress, Gallant wanted to try something different. “We were interested in trying to bring a new chemistry to bear on the problem,” she says. And enlisting the help of the sorbent molecules that so effectively capture CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;in CCS seemed like a promising way to go.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Rethinking amine&nbsp;</strong></p> </div> <div> <p>The sorbent molecule used in CCS is an amine, a derivative of ammonia. In CCS, exhaust is bubbled through an amine-containing solution, and the amine chemically binds the CO<sub>2</sub>, removing it from the exhaust gases. The CO<sub>2</sub> — now in liquid form — is then separated from the amine and converted back to a gas for disposal.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In CCS, those last steps require high temperatures, which are attained using some of the electrical output of the power plant. Gallant wondered whether her team could instead use electrochemical reactions to separate the CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;from the amine — and then continue the reaction to make a solid, CO<sub>2</sub>-containing product. If so, the disposal process would be simpler than it is for gaseous CO<sub>2</sub>. The CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;would be more densely packed, so it would take up less space, and it couldn’t escape, so it would be safer. Better still, additional electrical energy could be extracted from the device as it discharges and forms the solid material. “The vision was to put a battery-like device into the power plant waste stream to sequester the captured CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;in a stable solid, while harvesting the energy released in the process,” says Gallant.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Research on CCS technology has generated a good understanding of the carbon-capture process that takes place inside a CCS system. When CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;is added to an amine solution, molecules of the two species spontaneously combine to form an “adduct,” a new chemical species in which the original molecules remain largely intact. In this case, the adduct forms when a carbon atom in a CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;molecule chemically bonds with a nitrogen atom in an amine molecule. As they combine, the CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;molecule is reconfigured: It changes from its original, highly stable, linear form to a “bent” shape with a negative charge — a highly reactive form that’s ready for further reaction.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In her scheme, Gallant proposed using electrochemistry to break apart the CO<sub>2</sub>-amine adduct — right at the carbon-nitrogen bond. Cleaving the adduct at that bond would separate the two pieces: the amine in its original, unreacted state, ready to capture more CO<sub>2</sub>, and the bent, chemically reactive form of CO<sub>2</sub>, which might then react with the electrons and positively charged lithium ions that flow during battery discharge. The outcome of that reaction could be the formation of lithium carbonate (Li<sub>2</sub>CO<sub>3</sub>), which would deposit on the carbon electrode.&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> At the same time, the reactions on the carbon electrode should promote the flow of electrons during battery discharge — even without a metal catalyst. “The discharge of the battery would occur spontaneously,” Gallant says. “And we’d break the adduct in a way that allows us to renew our CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;absorber while taking CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;to a stable, solid form.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>A process of discovery</strong>&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In 2016, Gallant and mechanical engineering doctoral student Aliza Khurram began to explore that idea.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Their first challenge was to develop a novel electrolyte. A lithium-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;battery consists of two electrodes — an anode made of lithium and a cathode made of carbon — and an electrolyte, a solution that helps carry charged particles back and forth between the electrodes as the battery is charged and discharged. For their system, they needed an electrolyte made of amine plus captured CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;dissolved in a solvent — and it needed to promote chemical reactions on the carbon cathode as the battery discharged.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>They started by testing possible solvents. They mixed their CO<sub>2</sub>-absorbing amine with a series of solvents frequently used in batteries and then bubbled CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;through the resulting solution to see if CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;could be dissolved at high concentrations in this unconventional chemical environment. None of the amine-solvent solutions exhibited observable changes when the CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;was introduced, suggesting that they might all be viable solvent candidates.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>However, for any electrochemical device to work, the electrolyte must be spiked with a salt to provide positively charged ions. Because it’s a lithium battery, the researchers started by adding a lithium-based salt — and the experimental results changed dramatically. With most of the solvent candidates, adding the salt instantly caused the mixture either to form solid precipitates or to become highly viscous — outcomes that ruled them out as viable solvents. The sole exception was the solvent dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO. Even when the lithium salt was present, the DMSO could dissolve the amine and CO<sub>2</sub>.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>“We found that — fortuitously — the lithium-based salt was important in enabling the reaction to proceed,” says Gallant. “There’s something about the positively charged lithium ion that chemically coordinates with the amine-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;adduct, and together those species make the electrochemically reactive species.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p><strong>Exploring battery behavior during discharge</strong>&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>To examine the discharge behavior of their system, the researchers set up an electrochemical cell consisting of a lithium anode, a carbon cathode, and their special electrolyte — for simplicity, already loaded with CO<sub>2</sub>. They then tracked discharge behavior at the carbon cathode.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>As they had hoped, their special electrolyte actually promoted discharge reaction in the test cell. “With the amine incorporated into the DMSO-based electrolyte along with the lithium salt and the CO<sub>2</sub>, we see very high capacities and significant discharge voltages — almost three volts,” says Gallant. Based on those results, they concluded that their system functions as a lithium-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;battery with capacities and discharge voltages competitive with those of state-of-the-art lithium-gas batteries.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>The next step was to confirm that the reactions were indeed separating the amine from the CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;and further continuing the reaction to make CO<sub>2</sub>-derived products. To find out, the researchers used a variety of tools to examine the products that formed on the carbon cathode.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In one test, they produced images of the post-reaction cathode surface using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Immediately evident were spherical formations with a characteristic size of 500 nanometers, regularly distributed on the surface of the cathode. According to Gallant, the observed spherical structure of the discharge product was similar to the shape of Li<sub>2</sub>CO<sub>3</sub>&nbsp;observed in other lithium-based batteries. Those spheres were not evident in SEM images of the “pristine” carbon cathode taken before the reactions occurred.&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Other analyses confirmed that the solid deposited on the cathode was Li<sub>2</sub>CO<sub>3</sub>. It included only CO<sub>2</sub>-derived materials; no amine molecules or products derived from them were present. Taken together, those data provide strong evidence that the electrochemical reduction of the CO<sub>2</sub>-loaded amine occurs through the selective cleavage of the carbon-nitrogen bond.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>“The amine can be thought of as effectively switching on the reactivity of the CO<sub>2</sub>,” says Gallant. “That’s exciting because the amine commonly used in CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;capture can then perform two critical functions. It can serve as the absorber, spontaneously retrieving CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;from combustion gases and incorporating it into the electrolyte solution. And it can activate the CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;for further reactions that wouldn’t be possible if the amine were not there.”&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>Future directions</strong>&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Gallant stresses that the work to date represents just a proof-of-concept study. “There’s a lot of fundamental science still to understand,” she says, before the researchers can optimize their system.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>She and her team are continuing to investigate the chemical reactions that take place in the electrolyte as well as the chemical makeup of the adduct that forms — the “reactant state” on which the subsequent electrochemistry is performed. They are also examining the detailed role of the salt composition.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In addition, there are practical concerns to consider as they think about device design. One persistent problem is that the solid deposit quickly clogs up the carbon cathode, so further chemical reactions can’t occur. In one configuration they’re investigating — a rechargeable battery design — the cathode is uncovered during each discharge-charge cycle. Reactions during discharge deposit the solid Li<sub>2</sub>CO<sub>3</sub>, and reactions during charging lift it off, putting the lithium ions and CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;back into the electrolyte, ready to react and generate more electricity. However, the captured CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;is then back in its original gaseous form in the electrolyte. Sealing the battery would lock that CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;inside, away from the atmosphere — but only so much CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;can be stored in a given battery, so the overall impact of using batteries to capture CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions would be limited in this scenario.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>The second configuration the researchers are investigating — a discharge-only setup — addresses that problem by never allowing the gaseous CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;to re-form. “We’re mechanical engineers, so what we’re really keen on doing is developing an industrial process where you can somehow mechanically or chemically harvest the solid as it forms,” Gallant says. “Imagine if by mechanical vibration you could gently remove the solid from the cathode, keeping it clear for sustained reaction.” Placed within an exhaust stream, such a system could continuously remove CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions, generating electricity and perhaps producing valuable solid materials at the same time.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>Gallant and her team are now working on both configurations of their system. “We don’t know which is better for applications yet,” she says. While she believes that practical lithium-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;batteries are still years away, she’s excited by the early results, which suggest that developing novel electrolytes to pre-activate CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;could lead to alternative CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;reaction pathways. And she and her group are already working on some.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>One goal is to replace the lithium with a metal that’s less costly and more earth-abundant, such as sodium or calcium. With&nbsp;<a class="Hyperlink SCXW146141016 BCX0" href="http://energy.mit.edu/funding/" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">seed funding</a>&nbsp;from the MIT Energy Initiative, the team has already begun looking at a system based on calcium, a material that’s not yet well-developed for battery applications. If the calcium-CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;setup works as they predict, the solid that forms would be calcium carbonate — a type of rock now widely used in the construction industry.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>In the meantime, Gallant and her colleagues are pleased that they have found what appears to be a new class of reactions for capturing and sequestering CO<sub>2</sub>. “CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;conversion has been widely studied over many decades,” she says, “so we’re excited to think we may have found something that’s different and provides us with a new window for exploring this topic.”&nbsp;</p> </div> <div> <p>This research was supported by startup funding from the&nbsp;<a href="http://meche.mit.edu/">MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering</a>.&nbsp;<a class="Hyperlink SCXW146141016 BCX0" href="http://meche.mit.edu/people/staff/mingfuhe@mit.edu" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Mingfu He</a>, a postdoc in mechanical engineering, also contributed to the research. Work on a calcium-based battery is being supported by the MIT Energy Initiative&nbsp;<a href="http://energy.mit.edu/funding/">Seed Fund Program</a>.</p> </div> <div> <p><em>This article appears in the&nbsp;<a href="http://energy.mit.edu/energy-futures/spring-2019/">Spring 2019</a>&nbsp;issue of </em>Energy Futures<em>, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.</em></p> </div> MIT Assistant Professor Betar Gallant (left) and graduate student Aliza Khurram are developing a novel battery that could both capture carbon dioxide in power plant exhaust and convert it to a solid ready for safe disposal. Photo: Stuart DarschMIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Carbon dioxide, Carbon Emissions, Carbon sequestration, Climate change, Research, Batteries, Sustainability, Carbon, Energy, Faculty, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral Pathways to a low-carbon China http://news.mit.edu/2019/pathways-to-low-carbon-china-0708 Study projects a key role for carbon capture and storage. Mon, 08 Jul 2019 15:50:01 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/pathways-to-low-carbon-china-0708 <p>Fulfilling the ultimate goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change — keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, if not 1.5 C — will be impossible without dramatic action from the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China. Toward that end, China began in 2017 developing an emissions trading scheme (ETS), a national carbon dioxide market designed to enable the country to meet its initial Paris pledge with the greatest efficiency and at the lowest possible cost. China’s pledge, or nationally determined contribution (NDC), is to reduce its CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;intensity of gross domestic product (emissions produced per unit of economic activity)&nbsp;by 60 to 65 percent in 2030 relative to 2005, and to peak CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions around 2030.</p> <p>When it’s rolled out, China’s carbon market will initially cover the electric power sector (which currently produces more than 3 billion tons of CO<sub>2</sub>) and likely set CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions intensity targets (e.g., grams of CO<sub>2</sub> per kilowatt hour) to ensure that its short-term NDC is fulfilled. But to help the world achieve the long-term 2 C and 1.5 C Paris goals, China will need to continually decrease these targets over the course of the century.</p> <p>A new study of China’s long-term power generation mix under the nation’s ETS projects that until 2065, renewable energy sources will likely expand to meet these targets; after that, carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be deployed to meet the more stringent targets that follow. Led by researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140988319301598?dgcid=author">study</a> appears in the journal <em>Energy Economics.</em></p> <p>“This research provides insight into the level of carbon prices and mix of generation technologies needed for China to meet different CO<sub>2</sub> intensity targets for the electric power sector,” says <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/morris-jennifer">Jennifer Morris</a>, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the MIT Joint Program. ”We find that coal CCS has the potential to play an important role in the second half of the century, as part of a portfolio that also includes renewables and possibly nuclear power.”</p> <p>To evaluate the impacts of multiple potential ETS pathways — different starting carbon prices and rates of increase — on the deployment of CCS technology, the researchers enhanced the MIT Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (<a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/research/research-tools/human-system-model">EPPA</a>) model to include the joint program’s latest assessments of the costs of low-carbon power generation technologies in China. Among the technologies included in the model are natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, coal with CCS, and natural gas with CCS. Assuming that power generation prices are the same across the country for any given technology, the researchers identify different ETS pathways in which CCS could play a key role in lowering the emissions intensity of China’s power sector, particularly for targets consistent with achieving the long-term 2 C and 1.5 C Paris goals by 2100.</p> <p>The study projects a two-stage transition — first to renewables, and then to coal CCS. The transition from renewables to CCS is driven by two factors. First, at higher levels of penetration, renewables incur increasing costs related to accommodating the intermittency challenges posed by wind and solar. This paves the way for coal CCS. Second, as experience with building and operating CCS technology is gained, CCS costs decrease, allowing the technology to be rapidly deployed at scale after 2065 and replace renewables as the primary power generation technology.</p> <p>The study shows that carbon prices of $35-40 per ton of CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;make CCS technologies coupled with coal-based generation cost-competitive against other modes of generation, and that carbon prices higher than $100 per ton of CO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;allow for a significant expansion of CCS.</p> <p>“Our study is at the aggregate level of the country,” says Sergey Paltsev, deputy director of the joint program. “We recognize that the cost of electricity varies greatly from province to province in China, and hope to include interactions between provinces in our future modeling to provide deeper understanding of regional differences. At the same time, our current results provide useful insights to decision-makers in designing more substantial emissions mitigation pathways.”</p> Coal-fired electric plant, Henan Province, China Photo: V.T. Polywoda/FlickrJoint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, MIT Energy Initiative, Climate change, Alternative energy, Energy, Environment, Economics, Greenhouse gases, Carbon dioxide, Research, Policy, Emissions, China, Technology and society Breaching a “carbon threshold” could lead to mass extinction http://news.mit.edu/2019/carbon-threshold-mass-extinction-0708 Carbon dioxide emissions may trigger a reflex in the carbon cycle, with devastating consequences, study finds. Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:59:59 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/carbon-threshold-mass-extinction-0708 <p>In the brain, when neurons fire off electrical signals to their neighbors, this happens through an “all-or-none” response. The signal only happens once conditions in the cell breach a certain threshold.</p> <p>Now an MIT researcher has observed a similar phenomenon in a completely different system: Earth’s carbon cycle.</p> <p>Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics and co-director of the Lorenz Center in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, has found that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain threshold — whether as the result of a sudden burst or a slow, steady influx — the Earth may respond with a runaway cascade of chemical feedbacks, leading to extreme ocean acidification that dramatically amplifies the effects of the original trigger.</p> <p>This global reflex causes huge changes in the amount of carbon contained in the Earth’s oceans, and geologists can see evidence of these changes in layers of sediments preserved over hundreds of millions of years.</p> <p>Rothman looked through these geologic records and observed that over the last 540 million years, the ocean’s store of carbon changed abruptly, then recovered, dozens of times in a fashion similar to the abrupt nature of a neuron spike. This “excitation” of the carbon cycle occurred most dramatically near the time of four of the five great mass extinctions in Earth’s history.</p> <p>Scientists have attributed various triggers to these events, and they have assumed that the changes in ocean carbon that followed were proportional to the initial trigger — for instance, the smaller the trigger, the smaller the environmental fallout.</p> <p>But Rothman says that’s not the case. It didn’t matter what initially caused the events; for roughly half the disruptions in his database, once they were set in motion, the rate at which carbon increased was essentially the same.&nbsp; Their characteristic rate is likely a property of the carbon cycle itself — not the triggers, because different triggers would operate at different rates.</p> <p>What does this all have to do with our modern-day climate? Today’s oceans are absorbing carbon about an order of magnitude faster than the worst case in the geologic record — the end-Permian extinction. But humans have only been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for hundreds of years, versus the tens of thousands of years or more that it took for volcanic eruptions or other disturbances to trigger the great environmental disruptions of the past. Might the modern increase of carbon be too brief to excite a major disruption?</p> <p>According to Rothman, today we are “at the precipice of excitation,” and if it occurs, the resulting spike — as evidenced through ocean acidification, species die-offs, and more — is likely to be similar to past global catastrophes.</p> <p>“Once we’re over the threshold, how we got there may not matter,” says Rothman, who is publishing his results this week in the <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.</em> “Once you get over it, you’re dealing with how the Earth works, and it goes on its own ride.”</p> <p><strong>A carbon feedback</strong></p> <p>In 2017, Rothman made <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2017/mathematics-predicts-sixth-mass-extinction-0920">a dire prediction</a>: By the end of this century, the planet is likely to reach a critical threshold, based on the rapid rate at which humans are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. When we cross that threshold, we are likely to set in motion a freight train of consequences, potentially culminating in the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.</p> <p>Rothman has since sought to better understand this prediction, and more generally, the way in which the carbon cycle responds once it’s pushed past a critical threshold. In the new paper, he has developed a simple mathematical model to represent the carbon cycle in the Earth’s upper ocean and how it might behave when this threshold is crossed.</p> <p>Scientists know that when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in seawater, it not only makes the oceans more acidic, but it also decreases the concentration of carbonate ions. When the carbonate ion concentration falls below a threshold, shells made of calcium carbonate dissolve. Organisms that make them fare poorly in such harsh conditions.</p> <p>Shells, in addition to protecting marine life, provide a “ballast effect,” weighing organisms down and enabling them to sink to the ocean floor along with detrital organic carbon, effectively removing carbon dioxide from the upper ocean. But in a world of increasing carbon dioxide, fewer calcifying organisms should mean less carbon dioxide is removed.</p> <p>“It’s a positive feedback,” Rothman says. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”</p> <p><strong>“</strong><strong>An inexorable rise</strong><strong>”</strong></p> <p>Rothman captured this positive feedback in his new model, which comprises two differential equations that describe interactions between the various chemical constituents in the upper ocean. He then observed how the model responded as he pumped additional carbon dioxide into the system, at different rates and amounts.</p> <p>He found that no matter the rate at which he added carbon dioxide to an already stable system, the carbon cycle in the upper ocean remained stable. In response to modest perturbations, the carbon cycle would go temporarily out of whack and experience a brief period of mild ocean acidification, but it would always return to its original state rather than oscillating into a new equilibrium.</p> <p>When he introduced carbon dioxide at greater rates, he found that once the levels crossed a critical threshold, the carbon cycle reacted with a cascade of positive feedbacks that magnified the original trigger, causing the entire system to spike, in the form of severe ocean acidification. The system did, eventually, return to equilibrium, after tens of thousands of years in today’s oceans — an indication that, despite a violent reaction, the carbon cycle will resume its steady state.</p> <p>This pattern matches the geological record, Rothman found. The characteristic rate exhibited by half his database results from excitations above, but near, the threshold. Environmental disruptions associated with mass extinction are outliers — they represent excitations well beyond the threshold. At least three of those cases may be related to sustained massive volcanism.</p> <p>“When you go past a threshold, you get a free kick from the system responding by itself,” Rothman explains. “The system is on an inexorable rise. This is what excitability is, and how a neuron works too.”</p> <p>Although carbon is entering the oceans today at an unprecedented rate, it is doing so over a geologically brief time. Rothman’s model predicts that the two effects cancel: Faster rates bring us closer to the threshold, but shorter durations move us away. Insofar as the threshold is concerned, the modern world is in roughly the same place it was during longer periods of massive volcanism.&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, if today’s human-induced emissions cross the threshold and continue beyond it, as Rothman predicts they soon will, the consequences may be just as severe as what the Earth experienced during its previous mass extinctions.</p> <p>“It’s difficult to know how things will end up given what’s happening today,” Rothman says. “But we’re probably close to a critical threshold. Any spike would reach its maximum after about 10,000 years. Hopefully that would give us time to find a solution.”</p> <p>“We already know that our CO<sub>2</sub>-emitting actions will have consequences for many millennia,” says Timothy Lenton, professor of climate change and earth systems science at the University of Exeter. “This study suggests those consequences could be much more dramatic than previously expected. If we push the Earth system too far, then it takes over and determines its own response — past that point there will be little we can do about it.”</p> <p>This research was supported, in part, by NASA and the National Science Foundation.</p> When carbon emissions pass a critical threshold, it can trigger a spike-like reflex in the carbon cycle, in the form of severe ocean acidification that lasts for 10,000 years, according to a new MIT study.Stock imageCarbon, Climate, Climate change, EAPS, Earth and atmospheric science, Emissions, Environment, Geology, Global Warming, Greenhouse gases, Mathematics, Research, School of Science, NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF) An atomic-scale erector set http://news.mit.edu/2019/atomic-scale-erector-set-predicting-building%20damage-0703 To predict building damage, Kostas Keremidis of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub is modeling structures as ensembles of atoms. Wed, 03 Jul 2019 13:30:01 -0400 Andrew Logan http://news.mit.edu/2019/atomic-scale-erector-set-predicting-building%20damage-0703 <p>To design buildings that can withstand the largest of storms, Kostas Keremidis, a PhD candidate at the <a href="http://cshub.mit.edu/">MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub,</a> is using research at the smallest scale — that of the atom.</p> <p>His approach, which derives partially from materials science, models a building as a collection of points that interact through forces like those found at the atomic scale.</p> <p>“When you look at a building, it is actually a series of connections between columns, windows, doors, and so on,” says Keremidis. “Our new framework looks at how different building components connect together to form a building like atoms form a molecule — similar forces hold them together, both at the atomic and building scale.” The framework is called molecular dynamics-based structural modeling.</p> <p>Eventually, Keremidis hopes it will provide developers and builders with a new way to readily predict building damage from disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.</p> <p><strong>Making models</strong></p> <p>But before he can predict building damage, Keremidis must first assemble a model.</p> <p>He begins by taking a building and dividing its respective elements into nodes, or "atoms." This is a standard procedure called "discretization," whereby a building is divided into different points. Then he gives each "atom" different properties according to its material. For example, the weight of each "atom" may depend on if it’s part of a floor, a door, a window, and so on. After modeling them, he defines their bonds.</p> <p>The first type of bond between points in a building model is called an axial bond. These describe how elements deform under a load in the direction of their span — in other words, they model how a column shrinks and then rebounds under a load, like a spring.</p> <p>The second type of connection is that of the angular bonds, which represent how elements like a beam bend in the lateral direction. Keremidis uses these vertical and lateral interactions to model the deformation and breaking of different building elements. Breaking occurs when these bonds deform too much, just like in real structures.</p> <p>To see how one of his buildings will fare under conditions like storms or earthquakes, Keremidis must thoroughly test these assembled atoms and their bonds under numerous simulations.</p> <p>&nbsp;“Once I have my model and my building, I then run around 10,000 simulations,” explains Keremidis. “I can assign 10,000 different loads to one element or building, or I can also assign that element 10,000 different properties.”</p> <p>For him to assess the results of these simulated conditions or properties, Keremidis returns to the bonds. “When they deform during a simulation, these bonds will try to bring the building back to its original position,” he notes. “But they may also get damaged, too. This is how we model damage — we count how many bonds are destroyed and where.”</p> <p><strong>The damage is in the details</strong></p> <p>The model’s innovations actually lie in its damage prediction.</p> <p>Traditionally, engineers have used a method called finite element analysis to model building damage. Like MIT’s approach, it also breaks down a building into component parts. But it is generally a time-consuming technique that is set up around the elasticity of elements. This means that it can model only small deformations in a building, rather than large-scale inelastic deformations, like fracture, that frequently occur under hurricane loads.</p> <p>An added benefit of his molecular dynamics model is that Keremidis can explore “different materials, different structural properties, and different building geometries” by playing with the layout and nature of atoms and their bonds. This means that molecular dynamics can potentially model any element of a building, and more quickly, too.</p> <p>By scaling this approach beyond individual buildings, molecular dynamics could also better inform city, state, and even federal hazard-mitigation efforts.</p> <p>For hazard mitigation, cities currently rely on a model by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called HAZUS. It takes historical weather data and a dozen standard building models to predict the damage that a community might experience during a hazard.</p> <p>While useful, HAZUS is not ideal. It offers around only a dozen standardized building types and provides qualitative, rather than quantitative, results.</p> <p>The MIT model, however, will allow stakeholders to go into finer detail. “With FEMA’s HAZUS, the current level of categorization is too coarse. Instead, we should have 50 or 60 building types,” says Keremidis. “Our model will allow us to collect and model this wider range of buildings types.”</p> <p>Since it measures damage by counting the broken bonds between atoms, a molecular dynamics approach will also more easily quantify the damage that hazards like windstorms or earthquakes can inflict on a community. Such a quantifiable understanding of hazard damage should lead to more accurate estimations of mitigation costs and recovery.</p> <p>According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, wind storms currently cause $28 billion in damage annually. By 2075, they will cause $38 billion, due to climate change and coastal development.</p> <p>With a molecular dynamics approach, developers and government agencies will have one more tool to predict and mitigate these damages.</p> <p>The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub is a team of researchers from several departments across MIT working on concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics. Its research is supported by the Portland Cement Association and the Ready Mixed Concrete Research and Education Foundation.</p> A building modeled with the molecular dynamics-based structural modeling approachImage courtesy of Kostas KeremidisConcrete Sustainability Hub, Civil and environmental engineering, School of Engineering, Sustainability, Concrete, Hurricanes, Climate change, Materials science, Natural disasters Experiments show dramatic increase in solar cell output http://news.mit.edu/2019/increase-solar-cell-output-photon-2-electron-0703 Method for collecting two electrons from each photon could break through theoretical solar-cell efficiency limit. Wed, 03 Jul 2019 12:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/increase-solar-cell-output-photon-2-electron-0703 <p>In any conventional silicon-based solar cell, there is an absolute limit on overall efficiency, based partly on the fact that each photon of light can only knock loose a single electron, even if that photon carried twice the energy needed to do so. But now, researchers have demonstrated a method for getting high-energy photons striking silicon to kick out two electrons instead of one, opening the door for a new kind of solar cell with greater efficiency than was thought possible.</p> <p>While conventional silicon cells have an absolute theoretical maximum efficiency of about 29.1 percent conversion of solar energy, the new approach, developed over the last several years by researchers at MIT and elsewhere, could bust through that limit, potentially adding several percentage points to that maximum output. The results are described today in the journal <em>Nature</em>, in a paper by graduate student Markus Einzinger, professor of chemistry Moungi Bawendi, professor of electrical engineering and computer science Marc Baldo, and eight others at MIT and at Princeton University.</p> <p>The basic concept behind this new technology has been known for decades, and the first demonstration that the principle could work was carried out by some members of this team <a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/340/6130/334.full" target="_blank">six years ago</a>. But actually translating the method into a full, operational silicon solar cell took years of hard work, Baldo says.</p> <p>That initial demonstration “was a good test platform” to show that the idea could work, explains Daniel Congreve PhD ’15, an alumnus now at the Rowland Institute at Harvard, who was the lead author in that prior report and is a co-author of the new paper. Now, with the new results, “we’ve done what we set out to do” in that project, he says.</p> <p>The original study demonstrated the production of two electrons from one photon, but it did so in an organic photovoltaic cell, which is less efficient than a silicon solar cell. It turned out that transferring the two electrons from a top collecting layer made of tetracene into the silicon cell “was not straightforward,” Baldo says. Troy Van Voorhis, a professor of chemistry at MIT who was part of that original team, points out that the concept was first proposed back in the 1970s, and says wryly that turning that idea into a practical device “only took 40 years.”</p> <p>The key to splitting the energy of one photon into two electrons lies in a class of materials that possess “excited states” called excitons, Baldo says: In these excitonic materials, “these packets of energy propagate around like the electrons in a circuit,” but with quite different properties than electrons. “You can use them to change energy — you can cut them in half, you can combine them.” In this case, they were going through a process called singlet exciton fission, which is how the light’s energy gets split into two separate, independently moving packets of energy. The material first absorbs a photon, forming an exciton that rapidly undergoes fission into two excited states, each with half the energy of the original state.</p> <p>But the tricky part was then coupling that energy over into the silicon, a material that is not excitonic. This coupling had never been accomplished before.</p> <p>As an intermediate step, the team tried coupling the energy from the excitonic layer into a material called quantum dots. “They’re still excitonic, but they’re inorganic,” Baldo says. “That worked; it worked like a charm,” he says. By understanding the mechanism taking place in that material, he says, “we had no reason to think that silicon wouldn’t work.”</p> <p>What that work showed, Van Voorhis says, is that the key to these energy transfers lies in the very surface of the material, not in its bulk. “So it was clear that the surface chemistry on silicon was going to be important. That was what was going to determine what kinds of surface states there were.” That focus on the surface chemistry may have been what allowed this team to succeed where others had not, he suggests.</p> <p>The key was in a thin intermediate layer. “It turns out this tiny, tiny strip of material at the interface between these two systems [the silicon solar cell and the tetracene layer with its excitonic properties] ended up defining everything. It’s why other researchers couldn’t get this process to work, and why we finally did.” It was Einzinger “who finally cracked that nut,” he says, by using a layer of a material called hafnium oxynitride.</p> <p>The layer is only a few atoms thick, or just 8 angstroms (ten-billionths of a meter), but it acted as a “nice bridge” for the excited states, Baldo says. That finally made it possible for the single high-energy photons to trigger the release of two electrons inside the silicon cell. That produces a doubling of the amount of energy produced by a given amount of sunlight in the blue and green part of the spectrum. Overall, that could produce an increase in the power produced by the solar cell — from a theoretical maximum of 29.1 percent, up to a maximum of about 35 percent.</p> <p>Actual silicon cells are not yet at their maximum, and neither is the new material, so more development needs to be done, but the crucial step of coupling the two materials efficiently has now been proven. “We still need to optimize the silicon cells for this process,” Baldo says. For one thing, with the new system those cells can be thinner than current versions. Work also needs to be done on stabilizing the materials for durability. Overall, commercial applications are probably still a few years off, the team says.</p> <p>Other approaches to improving the efficiency of solar cells tend to involve adding another kind of cell, such as a perovskite layer, over the silicon. Baldo says “they’re building one cell on top of another. Fundamentally, we’re making one cell — we’re kind of turbocharging the silicon cell. We’re adding more current into the silicon, as opposed to making two cells.”</p> <p>The researchers have measured one special property of hafnium oxynitride that helps it transfer the excitonic energy. “We know that hafnium oxynitride generates additional charge at the interface, which reduces losses by a process called electric field passivation. If we can establish better control over this phenomenon, efficiencies may climb even higher.” Einzinger says. So far, no other material they’ve tested can match its properties.</p> <p>The research was supported as part of the MIT Center for Excitonics, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.</p> Diagram depicts the process of “singlet fission,” which is the first step toward producing two electrons from a single incoming photon of light.Image courtesy of the researchersSchool of Engineering, Alternative energy, Chemistry, Excitonics, Climate change, Energy, MIT Energy Initiative, Research, Solar, Department of Energy (DoE), National Science Foundation (NSF), Research Laboratory of Electronics, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Materials Science and Engineering Featured video: Saving iguanas with science and engineering http://news.mit.edu/2019/featured-video-saving-galapagos-iguanas-with-science-and-engineering-0703 Professor Otto Cordero and colleagues ask: Can microbiome engineering make the Galapagos marine iguana more resilient to climate change? Wed, 03 Jul 2019 11:40:02 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/featured-video-saving-galapagos-iguanas-with-science-and-engineering-0703 <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>All ecosystems around the globe are impacted by the interplay between herbivores and their gut microbes. Strict herbivores such as grazers are dependent on the enzymes produced by their gut microbes to digest the complex plant fibers that constitute their diet. These animals form a symbiotic relationship with their microbes, one that affects ecosystems around the globe because it allows for energy to be transferred from plants to animals.</p> <p>One of the most remarkable examples of this symbiotic relationship is found in the Galapagos islands, where marine iguanas have evolved to graze exclusively on fast-growing algae found on the shores of the archipelago’s island. Unfortunately, specialization comes at a cost: Due to their strict dependency on just one type of algae, these iguanas are highly susceptible to environmental fluctuations that change the type of algae available on the islands. In the past, El Niño events — whose intensity and frequency is exacerbated by climate change — have led to a shift in the algal species, causing up to a 90 percent loss of the iguana population.</p> <p>Associate Professor Otto Cordero of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering recently teamed up with researchers from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and with Professor Itzhak Mizrahi from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. The group hypothesized that the susceptibility of the marine iguanas is caused by a loss of functional diversity in their microbiomes — in other words, that generations of a specialized diet has led to a shift in the iguana gut microbiome, favoring microorganisms that can only digest one type of algae.</p> <p>To test this idea, the team visited the islands and collected samples from various iguana colonies around the archipelago. The group plans to identify the enzymes and the microbes responsible for the algal breakdown, and to study potential microbiome interventions that could expand the iguana diet and enable them to consume other forms of algae. If successful, this would represent a novel strategy for conservation based on microbiome engineering.</p> <p><em>Submitted by: MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering</em> | <em>Video by: Wild Hope Collective </em>|<em> 5 min, 33 sec</em></p> MIT Professor Otto Cordero is researching whether microbiome engineering could make the threatened Galapagos marine iguana more resilient to climate change.Featured video, Ecology, Evolution, Microbes, Animals, Climate change, Microbiology, Civil and environmental engineering, School of Engineering For Catherine Drennan, teaching and research are complementary passions http://news.mit.edu/2019/catherine-drennan-teaching-research-complementary-0626 Professor of biology and chemistry is catalyzing new approaches in research and education to meet the climate challenge. Wed, 26 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Leda Zimmerman | MIT Energy Initiative http://news.mit.edu/2019/catherine-drennan-teaching-research-complementary-0626 <p>Catherine Drennan says nothing in her job thrills her more than the process of discovery. But Drennan, a professor of biology and chemistry, is not referring to her landmark research on protein structures that could play a major role in reducing the world’s waste carbons.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Really the most exciting thing for me is watching my students ask good questions, problem-solve, and then do something spectacular with what they’ve learned,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>For Drennan, research and teaching are complementary passions, both flowing from a deep sense of “moral responsibility.” Everyone, she says, “should do something, based on their skill set, to make some kind of contribution.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan’s own research portfolio attests to this sense of mission. Since her arrival at MIT 20 years ago, she has focused on characterizing and harnessing metal-containing enzymes that catalyze complex chemical reactions, including those that break down carbon compounds.&nbsp;</p> <p>She got her start in the field as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, where she became captivated by vitamin B12. This very large vitamin contains cobalt and is vital for amino acid metabolism, the proper formation of the spinal cord, and prevention of certain kinds of anemia. Bound to proteins in food, B12&nbsp;is released during digestion.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Back then, people were suggesting how B12-dependent enzymatic reactions worked, and I wondered how they could be right if they didn’t know what B12-dependent enzymes looked like,” she recalls. “I realized I needed to figure out how B12&nbsp;is bound to protein to really understand what was going on.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan seized on X-ray crystallography as a way to visualize molecular structures. Using this technique, which involves bouncing X-ray beams off a crystallized sample of a protein of interest, she figured out how vitamin B12&nbsp;is bound to a protein molecule.&nbsp;</p> <p>“No one had previously been successful using this method to obtain a B12-bound protein structure, which turned out to be gorgeous, with a protein fold surrounding a novel configuration of the cofactor,” says Drennan.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Carbon-loving microbes show the way&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>These studies of B12&nbsp;led directly to Drennan’s one-carbon work. “Metallocofactors such as B12&nbsp;are important not just medically, but in environmental processes,” she says. “Many microbes that live on carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or methane — eating carbon waste or transforming carbon — use metal-containing enzymes in their metabolic pathways, and it seemed like a natural extension to investigate them.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of Drennan’s earliest work in this area, dating from the early 2000s, revealed a cluster of iron, nickel, and sulfur atoms at the center of the enzyme carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH). This so-called C-cluster serves hungry microbes, allowing them to “eat” carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.&nbsp;</p> <p>Recent experiments by Drennan analyzing the structure of the C-cluster-containing enzyme CODH showed that in response to oxygen, it can change configurations, with sulfur, iron, and nickel atoms cartwheeling into different positions. Scientists looking for new avenues to reduce greenhouse gases took note of this discovery. CODH, suggested Drennan, might prove an effective tool for converting waste carbon dioxide&nbsp;into a less environmentally destructive compound, such as acetate, which might also be used for industrial purposes.&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan has also been investigating the biochemical pathways by which microbes break down hydrocarbon byproducts of crude oil production, such as toluene, an environmental pollutant.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s really hard chemistry, but we’d like to put together a family of enzymes to work on all kinds of hydrocarbons, which would give us a lot of potential for cleaning up a range of oil spills,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>The threat of climate change has increasingly galvanized Drennan’s research, propelling her toward new targets. A 2017 study she co-authored in&nbsp;<em>Science</em>&nbsp;detailed a previously unknown enzyme pathway in ocean microbes that leads to the production of methane, a formidable greenhouse gas: “I’m worried the ocean will make a lot more methane as the world&nbsp;warms,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan hopes her work may soon help to reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas burden. Commercial firms have begun using the enzyme pathways that she studies, in one instance employing a proprietary microbe to capture carbon dioxide&nbsp;produced during steel production — before it is released into the atmosphere — and convert it into ethanol.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Reengineering microbes so that enzymes take not just a little, but a lot of carbon dioxide&nbsp;out of the environment — this is an area I’m very excited about,” says Drennan.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Creating a meaningful life in the sciences&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>At MIT, she has found an increasingly warm welcome for her efforts to address the climate challenge.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s been a shift in the past decade or so, with more students focused on research that allows us to fuel the planet without destroying it,” she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Drennan’s lab, a postdoc, Mary&nbsp;Andorfer, and a rising junior, Phoebe Li, are currently working to inhibit an enzyme present in an oil-consuming microbe whose unfortunate residence in refinery pipes leads to erosion and spills. “They are really excited about this research from the environmental perspective and even made a video about their microorganism,” says Drennan.&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan delights in this kind of enthusiasm for science. In high school, she thought chemistry was dry and dull, with no relevance to real-world problems. It wasn’t until college that she “saw chemistry as cool.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The deeper she delved into the properties and processes of biological organisms, the more possibilities she found. X-ray crystallography offered a perfect platform for exploration. “Oh, what fun to tell the story about a three-dimensional structure — why it is interesting, what it does based on its form,” says Drennan.&nbsp;</p> <p>The elements that excite Drennan about research in structural biology — capturing stunning images, discerning connections among biological systems, and telling stories — come into play in her teaching. In 2006, she received a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for her educational initiatives that use inventive visual tools to engage undergraduates in chemistry and biology. She is both an HHMI investigator and an HHMI professor, recognition of her parallel accomplishments in research and teaching, as well as a 2015&nbsp;MacVicar&nbsp;Faculty Fellow for her sustained contribution to the education of undergraduates at MIT.&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan attempts to reach MIT students early. She taught introductory chemistry classes from 1999 to 2014, and in fall 2018 taught her first introductory biology class.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I see a lot of undergraduates majoring in computer science, and I want to convince them of the value of these disciplines,” she says. “I tell them they will need chemistry and biology fundamentals to solve important problems someday.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Drennan happily migrates among many disciplines, learning as she goes. It’s a lesson she hopes her students will absorb. “I want them to visualize the world of science and show what they can do,” she says. “Research takes you in different directions, and we need to bring the way we teach more in line with our research.”&nbsp;</p> <p>She has high expectations for her students. “They’ll go out in the world as great teachers and researchers,” Drennan says. “But it’s most important that they be good human beings, taking care of other people, asking what they can do to make the world a better place.”&nbsp;</p> <p><em>This article appears in the&nbsp;<a class="Hyperlink SCXW71076059 BCX0" href="http://energy.mit.edu/energy-futures/spring-2019/" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Spring 2019</a>&nbsp;issue of </em><a href="http://energy.mit.edu/energy-futures/spring-2019/" target="_blank">Energy Futures</a><em>, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.&nbsp;</em></p> “Really the most exciting thing for me is watching my students ask good questions, problem-solve, and then do something spectacular with what they’ve learned,” says Professor Catherine Drennan.Photo: James KegleyBiology, Chemistry, School of Science, Faculty, Climate change, Education, teaching, academics, Research, MIT Energy Initiative, Emissions, Energy, Sustainability How Greentown Labs became the epicenter of clean tech http://news.mit.edu/2019/greentown-labs-0625 The incubator’s winding journey to success helped its startup community grow closer while addressing environmental challenges. Tue, 25 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/greentown-labs-0625 <p>Greentown Labs is the largest clean technology incubator in North America, a fact that’s easy to accept when you walk inside. The massive, open entrance of Greentown’s Somerville, Massachusetts, headquarters gives visitors the impression they’ve entered the office of one of Greater Boston’s most successful tech companies.</p> <p>Beyond the modern entryway are smaller working spaces — some cluttered with startup prototypes, others lined with orderly lab equipment — to enable foundational, company-building experiments.</p> <p>In addition to the space and equipment, Greentown offers startups equity-free legal, information technology, marketing, and sales support, and a coveted network of corporations and industry investors.</p> <p>But what many entrepreneurs say they like most about Greentown is the people.</p> <p>“Greentown offers a lot of different things, but first and foremost among them is a community of entrepreneurs who are striving to solve big challenges in climate, energy, and the environment,” says Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert MBA ’12.</p> <p>Greentown is full of stories of peers bumping into each other in the kitchen only to find they’re struggling with similar problems or, even better, that one of them already grappled with the problem and found a solution.</p> <p>MIT has played a pivotal role in Greentown’s success since its inception. Reichert estimates about 60 percent of all the companies that have come through Greentown have direct ties to MIT.</p> <p>The current version of Greentown looks like the result of some well-funded, grand vision set forth long ago. But Greentown’s rise was every bit as spontaneous — and tenuous — as the early days of any startup.</p> <p><strong>A space for building</strong></p> <p>In 2010, Sorin Grama SM ’07 and Sam White were looking for office space to work on a new chiller design for their startup, Promethean Power Systems, which still develops off-grid refrigeration systems in India. They needed a place to build the big, leaky refrigeration prototypes they’d thought up. It also needed to be close to MIT, where the company founders connected with advisors and interns.</p> <p>Eventually, White found “a dilapidated warehouse” on Charles Street in Cambridge for the right price. What the space lacked in beauty it made up for in size, so the founders decided to use an MIT email list to see if other founders would like to join them. Some founders building an app were first to respond. Their first reaction was to ask White and Grama to clean up a bit, and they were politely shown the door.</p> <p>Without exactly intending to, Grama and White had made their warehouse a builder space. Over the next week, a few more founders came in, including Jason Hanna, the co-founder of building efficiency company Embue; Jeremy Pitts SM ’10, MBA ’10, who was creating more efficient compressor systems for the oil and gas industry as the founder of Oscomp Systems; and Adam Rein MBA ’10 and Ben Glass ’07 SM ’10, whose company Altaeros was building airborne wind turbines. The warehouse looked perfect to them.</p> <p>“What we all had in common was we just needed a space to prototype and build stuff, where we could spill stuff, make noise, and share tools,” Grama says. “Pretty quickly it became a nice band of startups that appreciated the same thing.”</p> <p>The winter of 2010-2011 was a freezing one in the warehouse, made worse by icy cement floors, but the founders couldn’t help but notice the benefits of working together. Any time an intern or investor came to see one company, they were introduced to the others. Founders with expertise in areas like grant writing or funding rounds would give lunchtime presentations to help the others.</p> <p>Rein remembers thinking he was in the perfect environment to succeed despite the sometimes comical dysfunction of the space. One day an official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stopped by to evaluate one of the startups for a grant. The visit went well enough — until she got locked in the bathroom. The founders eventually got her out, but they didn’t think the incident boded for their chances of getting that grant.</p> <p>When the landlord kicked them out of Charles Street, they found a similar space in South Boston, recruiting friends and employees to help strip wires, scrape walls, and paint over the course of a week. Rein recalls his regular duties included ordering toilet paper for the building.</p> <p>The space was also twice as large as the one in Cambridge, so as Greentown’s reputation spread throughout 2011, five startups became 15, then 20.</p> <p>“It really took on a life of its own,” Grama says.</p> <p>Among the curious MIT students who journeyed to Greentown that year was Reichert. Having worked as a chemist for 10 years in spotless, safety-certified labs before coming to MIT, she was shocked to see the condition of Greentown.</p> <p>“The first time I walked in I had two gut reactions,” Reichert says. “The first was I felt this amazing energy and passion, and kind of a buzzing. If you walk into Greentown today you still feel those things. The second was, ‘Oh my god, this place is a death trap.’”</p> <p>After earning her MBA, Reichert initially helped out as a consultant at Greentown. By February of 2013, she joined Greentown to run it full time. It was a critical time for the growing co-op: White and Grama were getting ready to move to India to work on Promethean, and Hanna, who had primarily led Greentown to that point, was expecting the birth of his first child.</p> <p>At the same time, real estate prices in South Boston were skyrocketing, and Greentown was again being forced to move.</p> <p>Reichert, who worked as CEO without a salary for more than a year, remembers those first six months on the job as the most stressful of her life. With no money to put toward a new space, she was able to partner with the City of Somerville to secure some funding and find a new location. Reichert signed a construction contract to renovate the Somerville space before she knew where the money would come from, and began lobbying state and corporate officials for sponsorships.</p> <p>She still remembers the day Greentown was to be evicted from South Boston, with everyone scrambling to clean out the cluttered warehouse and a few determined founders running one last experiment until 7 p.m. before throwing the last of the equipment in a U-Haul truck and beginning the next phase of Greentown’s journey.</p> <p><strong>Growing up</strong></p> <p>Within 15 months of the move to Somerville, Greentown’s 40,000 square feet were completely filled and Reichert began the process of expanding the headquarters.</p> <p>Today, Greentown’s three buildings make up more than 100,000 square feet of prototyping, office, and event space and feature a wet lab, electronics lab, and machine shop.</p> <p>Since its inception, Greentown has supported more than 200 startups that have created around 2,800 jobs, many in the Boston area.</p> <p>The original founders still serve on Greentown’s board of directors, ensuring every dollar Greentown makes goes toward supporting startups.</p> <p>Of the founding companies, only Promethean and Altaeros are still housed in Greentown, although they’re all still operating in some form.</p> <p>“We probably should’ve moved out, but it’s important to work in a place you really enjoy,” Rein says of Altaeros.</p> <p>Grama, meanwhile, has come full circle. After ceding the reigns of Promethean and returning from India, last year he started another company, Transaera, that’s developing efficient, environmentally friendly cooling systems based on research from MIT.</p> <p>This time, it took him a lot less time to find office space.</p> Greentown Labs is the largest clean technology incubator in North America by both square feet and the number of member companies. The open layout of its entrance, shown here, is designed to host events and encourage collaboration.Images: Barry HetheringtonInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Renewable energy, Solar, Wind, Climate change, Energy, Environment and energy, Alternative energy, Cambridge, Boston and region, Alumni/ae PhD students awarded J-WAFS fellowships for water solutions http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-phd-students-awarded-j-wafs-fellowships-water-solutions-0617 J-WAFS announces graduate fellowships for Sahil Shah and Peter Godart, both of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Mon, 17 Jun 2019 13:40:01 -0400 Andi Sutton | Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Systems Lab http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-phd-students-awarded-j-wafs-fellowships-water-solutions-0617 <p>The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) has announced the selection of their third cohort of graduate fellows. Two students will each receive one-semester graduate fellowships as part of J-WAFS’ Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions&nbsp;and J-WAFS&nbsp;Graduate Student Fellowship Programs. An additional student was awarded “honorable mention.” J-WAFS will also support the three students by providing networking, mentorship, and opportunities to showcase their research.&nbsp;</p> <p>The awarded students, Sahil Shah and Peter Godart of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mark Brennan of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, were selected for the quality of their research as well as its relevance to current global water challenges. Each of them demonstrates a long commitment to water issues, both in and outside of an academic setting. Their research projects focus on transforming water access opportunities for people in vulnerable communities where access to fresh water for human consumption or for agriculture can improve human health and livelihoods. From developing a way to use aluminum waste to produce electricity for clean water to making significant improvements to the energy efficiency of desalination systems, these students demonstrate how creativity and ingenuity can push forward transformational water access solutions.</p> <p><strong>2019-20 Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellow for Water Solutions</strong></p> <p>Sahil Shah is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He spent his childhood in Tanzania, received his undergraduate education in Canada, and worked in Houston as an engineering consultant before being drawn to MIT to pursue his interest in mechanical design and hardware. As a PhD student in Professor Amos Winter’s lab, he is now working to decrease the cost of desalination and improve access to drinking water in developing countries.</p> <p>His PhD research focuses on new methods to decrease the cost and energy use of groundwater treatment for drinking water. Currently, he is exploring the use of electrodialysis, which is a membrane-based desalination process. By improving the design of the control mechanisms for this process, as well as by redesigning the devices to achieve higher desalination efficiency, he seeks to decrease the cost of these systems and their energy use. His solutions will be piloted in both on-grid and off-grid applications in India, supported through a collaboration with consumer goods maker Eureka Forbes and infrastructure company Tata Projects.</p> <p><strong>The 2019-20 J-WAFS&nbsp;Graduate Student Fellow</strong></p> <p>Peter Godart is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and also holds BS and MS degrees in mechanical engineering and a BS in electrical engineering from MIT. From 2015 to 17, Godart also held a research scientist position at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he managed the development of water-reactive metal power systems, developed software for JPL’s Mars rovers, and supported rover operations.</p> <p>Godart's current research at MIT focuses on improving global sustainability by using aluminum waste to power desalination and produce energy. Through this work, he aims to provide communities around the world with a means of improving both their waste management practices and their climate change resiliency. He is creating a complete system that can take in scrap aluminum and output potable water, electricity, and high-grade mineral boehmite. This suite of technologies leverages the energy available in aluminum, which is one of the most energy-dense materials to which we have ready access. The process enables recycled aluminum to react with water in order to produce hydrogen gas, which could be used in fuel cells or internal combustion engines to generate electricity, heat, and power for desalination systems.</p> <p><strong>Honorable mention</strong></p> <p>Mark Brennan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). He studies the supply chains behind public programs that provide goods to vulnerable communities, especially in water- and food-insecure areas. His ongoing projects include studying which firms shoulder risk in irrigation supply chains in the Sahel, and how American federal assistance programs are structured to provide relief after disasters.</p> <p>Brennan is currently collaborating with a team of researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT D-Lab, and DUSP on a J-WAFS-funded project that is investigating ways to increase the accessibility of irrigation systems to small rural sub-Saharan African farmers, with a specific focus on Senegal.</p> PhD candidates Sahil Shah (left) and Peter Godart, both of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, have each received fellowships from MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab for 2019-20. Their research explores possible solutions to global and local water supply challenges through new approaches to desalination.Mechanical engineering, Urban studies and planning, Water, Food, Agriculture, Climate change, Sustainability, Global Warming, Developing countries, Design, Africa, India, Awards, honors and fellowships, School of Engineering, J-WAFS, School of Architecture and Planning An escape route for carbon http://news.mit.edu/2019/minerals-store-carbon-0612 Study shows minerals sequester carbon for thousands of years, which may explain oxygen’s abundance in the atmosphere. Wed, 12 Jun 2019 13:00:00 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/minerals-store-carbon-0612 <p>As many of us may recall from grade school science class, the Earth’s carbon cycle goes something like this: As plants take up carbon dioxide and convert it into organic carbon, they release oxygen back into the air. Complex life forms such as ourselves breathe in this oxygen and respire carbon dioxide. When microbes eat away at decaying plants, they also consume the carbon within, which they convert and release back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. And so the cycle continues.</p> <p>The vast majority of the planet’s carbon loops perpetually through this cycle, driven by photosynthesis and respiration. There is, however, a tiny fraction of organic carbon that is continually escaping through a “leak” in the cycle, the cause of which is largely unknown. Scientists do know that, through this leak, some minute amount of carbon is constantly locked away and preserved in the form of rock for hundreds of millions of &nbsp;years.</p> <p>Now, researchers from MIT and elsewhere have found evidence for what may be responsible for carbon’s slow and steady escape route.</p> <p>In a paper published today in the journal <em>Nature</em>, the team reports that organic carbon is leaking out of the carbon cycle mainly due to a mechanism they call “mineral protection.” In this process, carbon, in the form of decomposed bits of plant and phytoplankton material, gloms onto particles of clay and other minerals, for instance at the bottom of a river or ocean, and is preserved in the form of sediments and, ultimately, rock.</p> <p>Mineral protection may also explain why there is oxygen on Earth in the first place: If something causes carbon to leak out of the carbon cycle, this leaves more oxygen to accumulate in the atmosphere.</p> <p>“Fundamentally, this tiny leak is one reason why we exist,” says Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “It’s what allows oxygen to accumulate over geologic time, and it’s why aerobic organisms evolved, and it has everything to do with the history of life on the planet.”</p> <p>Rothman’s co-authors on the paper include Jordon Hemingway, who led the work as a graduate student at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and is now a postdoc at Harvard University, along with Katherine Grant, Sarah Rosengard, Timothy Eglinton, Louis Derry, and Valier Galy.</p> <p><strong>Burning dirt</strong></p> <p>Scientists have entertained two main possibilities for how carbon has been leaking out of the Earth’s carbon cycle. The first has to do with “selectivity,” the idea that some types of organic matter, due to their molecular makeup, may be harder to break down than others. Based on this idea, the carbon that is not consumed, and therefore leaks out, has been “selected” to do so, based on the initial organic matter’s molecular structure.</p> <p>The second possibility involves “accessibility,” the notion that some organic matter leaks out of the carbon cycle because it has been made inaccessible for consumption via some secondary process. Some scientists believe that secondary process could be mineral protection — interactions between organic carbon and clay-based minerals that bind the two together in an inaccessible, unconsumable form.</p> <p>To test which of these mechanisms better explains Earth’s carbon leak, Hemingway analyzed sediment samples collected from around the world, each containing organic matter and minerals from a range of river and coastal environments. If mineral preservation is indeed responsible for locking away and preserving carbon over geologic timescales, Hemingway hypothesized that organic carbon bound with clay minerals should last longer in the environment compared with unbound carbon, resisting degradation by foraging microbes, or even other forces such as extreme heat. &nbsp;</p> <p>The researchers tested this idea by burning each sediment sample and measuring the amount and type of organic carbon that remained as they heated the sample at progressively higher temperatures. They did so using a device that Hemingway developed as part of his PhD thesis.</p> <p>“It’s been hypothesized that organic matter that sticks to mineral surfaces will stick around longer in the environment,” Hemingway says. “But there was never a tool to directly quantify that.”</p> <p><strong>“Beating up a natural process”</strong></p> <p>In the end, they found the organic matter that lasted the longest, and withstood the highest temperatures, was bound to clay minerals. Importantly, in a finding that went against the idea of selectivity, it didn’t matter what the molecular structure of that organic matter was — as long as it was bound to clay, it was preserved.</p> <p>The results point to accessibility, and mineral preservation in particular, as the main mechanism for Earth’s carbon leak. In other words, all around the world, clay minerals are slowly and steadily drawing down tiny amounts of carbon, and storing it away for thousands of years.</p> <p>“It’s this clay-bound protection that seems to be the mechanism, and it seems to be a globally coherent phenomenon,” Hemingways says. “It’s a slow leak happening all the time, everywhere. And when you integrate that over geologic timescales, it becomes a really important sink of carbon.”</p> <p>The researchers believe mineral protection has made it possible for vast reservoirs of carbon to be buried and stored in the Earth, some of which has been pressed and heated into petroleum over millions of years. At the Earth’s geologic pace, this carbon preserved in rocks eventually resurfaces through mountain uplift and gradually erodes, releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere ever so slowly.</p> <p>“What we do today with fossil fuel burning is speeding up this natural process,” Rothman says. “We’re getting it out of the ground and burning it right away, and we’re changing the rate at which the carbon that was leaked out is being returned to the system, by a couple orders of magnitude.”</p> <p>Could mineral preservation somehow be harnessed to sequester even more carbon, in an effort to mitigate fossil-fuel-induced climate change?</p> <p>“If we magically had the ability to take a fraction of organic matter in rivers or oceans and attach it to a mineral to hold onto it for 1,000 years, it could have some advantages,” Rothman says. “That’s not the focus of this study. But the longer soils can lock up organic matter, the slower their return to the atmosphere. You can imagine if you could slow that return process down just a little bit, it could make a big difference over 10 to 100 years.”</p> <p>This research was supported, in part, by NASA and the National Science Foundation.</p> A new study finds clay minerals, such as those at the bottom of rivers and oceans, can bind with bits of decomposing plants and phytoplankton in a natural carbon-storing process.Carbon, EAPS, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Environment, Geology, Research, School of Science, NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF), Climate change MIT class of 2019 witnesses $500 million climate pledge http://news.mit.edu/2019/commencement-bloomberg-0607 Michael Bloomberg announces new Beyond Carbon initiative in his Commencement address. Fri, 07 Jun 2019 16:03:27 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/commencement-bloomberg-0607 <p>In his Commencement address to the MIT graduating Class of 2019, entrepreneur, engineer, and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a landmark pledge to combat climate change: a $500 million investment in a program called Beyond Carbon.</p> <p>Referring to the 50th anniversary this year of humankind’s first landing on the moon — made possible in part through an MIT-developed guidance system — Bloomberg said his new initiative aims for a total shift to clean energy sources “as expeditiously as possible” and amounts to a kind of moonshot for today’s generation. “I hope that you will all become part of it,” he told the MIT audience.</p> <p>“All of you are part of an amazing institution that has proven — time and time again —that human knowledge and achievement is limitless. In fact, this is the place that proved moonshots are worth taking,” he said.</p> <p>Bloomberg added that “I hope you will carry with you MIT’s tradition of taking — and making — moonshots. Be ambitious in every facet of your life. … Because just trying to make the impossible possible can lead to achievements you never dreamed of. And sometimes, you actually do land on the moon.”</p> <p>He delivered his address under a cloudless sky in MIT’s Killian Court, where this week 1,086 undergraduate students and 1,368 graduate students received their degrees, at the Doctoral Ceremony on June 6 and the Commencement exercises on June 7.</p> <p>“The challenge that lies before you — stopping climate change — is unlike any other ever faced by humankind,” Bloomberg said. “The stakes could not be higher.”</p> <p>The new initiative announced today, Bloomberg said, would have four components.</p> <p>“First, we will push states and utilities to phase out every last U.S. coal-fired power plant by 2030 — just 11 years from now.” He stressed that he knows this is possible, because the country is already more than halfway there, with 289 coal plants closed since 2011, when he joined with the Sierra Club for an initiative called Beyond Coal. “A decade ago no one would have believed that we could take on the coal industry and close half of all U.S. plants. But we have,” he said.</p> <p>In places where jobs are being lost, Beyond Carbon intends to support local organizations working to spur economic growth and retrain workers for jobs in growing industries, Bloomberg said.</p> <p>The initiative’s second component is to stop the construction of new gas plants. “By the time they are built, they will already be out of date — because renewable energy will be cheaper,” he said, noting that in many parts of the country this is already the case. “We don’t want to replace one fossil fuel with another. We want to build a clean energy economy — and we will push more states to do that,” he said.</p> <p>Third, he said, “we will support our most powerful allies — governors, mayors, and legislators — in their pursuit of ambitious policies and laws, and we will empower the grassroots army of activists and environmental groups that are currently driving progress state-by-state.”</p> <p>And finally, because climate change is currently a political problem, not a scientific or technological one, Bloomerg said, the initiative will be engaged in elections across the country. “At least for the foreseeable future, winning the battle against climate change will depend less on scientific advancement and more on political activism. … Our message to elected officials will be simple: Face reality on climate change, or face the music on election day,” he said.</p> <p>While many people think of tackling climate change as something that will require personal and financial sacrifice, Bloomberg took the opposite view: “We intend to succeed not by sacrificing things we need, but by investing in things we want: more good jobs, cleaner air and water, cheaper power, more transportation options, and less-congested roads.”</p> <p>Bloomberg said that “I believe we will succeed again — but only if one thing happens and that is: You have to help lead the way by raising your voices, by joining an advocacy group, by knocking on doors, by calling your elected officials, by voting, and getting your friends and family to join you.”</p> <p>Following Bloomberg’s address, Peter Su, president of the MIT Graduate Student Council, gave remarks emphasizing the great variety of people and programs embodied in MIT. He told the graduates that as they go about their new careers, “if we’re all going to truly build a better world, we’ll need that diversity of perspectives, and the willingness and ability to work together across disciplines.”</p> <p>Su urged the graduates to take time to focus not just on the technical and business aspects of their careers or the projects they are working on, but to “consider also the social and ethical implications, and how your fellow human beings, as both individuals and as society, will react and respond.”</p> <p>Trevor McMichael, president of the Class of 2019, also addressed the graduates, urging them to keep in touch with each other as they began their new lives after graduation. “If someone is important to you, do not let them go. Call them. Plan to meet them. Go the extra mile for them. Because if they helped you through this wild journey called MIT, that is a person worth holding onto,” he said.</p> <p>MIT President L. Rafael Reif, in his charge to the graduating class, echoed the importance of taking action to make the world better. “After you depart for your new destinations, I want to ask you to hack the world — until you make the world a little more like MIT: More daring and more passionate. More rigorous, inventive and ambitious. More humble, more respectful, more generous, more kind. And because the people of MIT also like to fix things that are broken, as you strive to hack the world, please try to heal the world, too.”</p> <p>Reif too alluded to the Apollo 11 moon landing and MIT’s role in it. Referring to the alumni present from MIT’s class of 1969, who were sporting the signature red jackets worn by graduates who have celebrated their 50th reunion, he said, “I believe our 1969 graduates might all agree on the most important wisdom we gained from Apollo: It was the sudden, intense understanding of our shared humanity and of the preciousness and fragility of our blue planet. Fifty years later, those lessons feel more urgent than ever. And I believe that, as members of the great global family of MIT, we must do everything in our power to help make a better world.”</p> <p>In that spirit, he said, “So now, go out there. Join the world. Find your calling. Solve the unsolvable. Invent the future. Take the high road. Shoot for the moon!”</p> Michael Bloomberg, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and three-term New York City mayor, addressed the Class of 2019 during MIT’s commencement ceremony on June 7. ““All of you are part of an amazing institution that has proven — time and time again —that human knowledge and achievement is limitless,” he said.Image: Dominick ReuterCommencement, President L. Rafael Reif, Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni/ae, Community, Special events and guest speakers, Climate change, Renewable energy, Alternative energy, Emissions, Politics, Government Michael Bloomberg&#039;s Commencement address http://news.mit.edu/2019/michael-bloomberg-commencement-address-0607 Entrepreneur, philanthropist announces new climate initiative, says climate crisis &quot;is unlike any other ever faced by humankind.&quot; Fri, 07 Jun 2019 13:38:05 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/michael-bloomberg-commencement-address-0607 <p><em>Below is the text of the Commencement address delivered by&nbsp;entrepreneur, philanthropist, and three-term New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg for the Institute's 2019 Commencement held June 7, 2019.</em></p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>As excited as all of you are today, there's a group here that is beaming with pride and that deserves a big round of applause – your parents and your families.</p> <p>You've been very lucky to study at a place that attracts some of the brightest minds in the world. And during your time here, MIT has extended its tradition of groundbreaking research and innovation. Most of you were here when LIGO proved that Einstein was right about gravitational waves, something that I – as a Johns Hopkins engineering graduate – claimed all along.</p> <p>And just this spring, MIT scientists and astronomers helped to capture the first-ever image of a black hole. Those really are incredible accomplishments for MIT.</p> <p>All of you are part of an amazing institution that has proven – time and time again – that human knowledge and achievement is limitless. In fact, this is the place that proved moonshots are worth taking.</p> <p>Fifty years ago next month, the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the moon. It's fair to say the crew never would have gotten there without MIT. I don't just mean that because Buzz Aldrin was class of '63 here, and took Richard Battin's famous astro-dynamics course. As Chairman Millard mentioned, the Apollo 11 literally got there thanks to its navigation and control systems that were designed right here at what is now the Draper Laboratory.</p> <p>Successfully putting a man on the moon required solving so many complex problems. How to physically guide a spacecraft on a half-million-mile journey was arguably the biggest one, and your fellow alums and professors solved it by building a one-cubic-foot computer at the time when computers were giant machines that filled whole rooms.</p> <p>The only reason those MIT engineers even tried to build that computer in the first place was that they had been asked to help do something that people thought was either impossible or unnecessary.</p> <p>Going to the moon was not a popular idea back in the 1960s. And Congress didn't want to pay for it. Imagine that, a Congress that didn't want to invest in science. Go figure – that would never happen today.</p> <p>President Kennedy needed to persuade the taxpayers that a manned mission to the moon was possible and worth doing. So in 1962, he delivered a speech that inspired the country. He said, ‘We choose to go to the moon this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’</p> <p>In that one sentence, Kennedy summed up mankind's inherent need to reach for the stars. He continued by saying, ‘That challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and which we intend to win.’</p> <p>In other words, for the good of the United States, and humanity, it had to be done. And he was right. Neil Armstrong took a great leap for mankind, the U.S. won a major Cold War victory, and a decade of scientific innovation led to an unprecedented era of technological advancement.</p> <p>The inventions that emerged from that moonshot changed the world: satellite television, computer microchips, CAT scan machines, and many other things we now take for granted – even video game joysticks.</p> <p>The world we live in today is fundamentally different, not just because we landed on the moon, but because we tried to get there in the first place. In hindsight, President Kennedy’s call for the original moonshot at exactly the right moment in history was brilliant. And the brightest minds of their generation – many of them MIT graduates – delivered.</p> <p>Today, I believe that we are living in a similar moment. And once again, we'll be counting on MIT graduates – all of you – to lead us.</p> <p>But this time, our most important and pressing mission – your generation's mission – is not only to explore deep space and reach faraway places. It is to save our own planet, the one that we're living on, from climate change. And unlike 1962, the primary challenge before you is not scientific or technological. It is political.</p> <p>The fact is we've already pioneered the technology to tackle climate change. We know how to power buildings using sun and wind. We know how to power vehicles using batteries charged with renewable energy. We know how to power factories and industry using hydrogen and fuel cells. And we know that these innovations don't require us to sacrifice financially or economically. Just the opposite, these investments, on balance, create jobs and save money.</p> <p>Yes, all of those power sources need to be brought to scale – and that will require further scientific innovation which we need you to help lead. But the question isn't how to tackle climate change. We've known how to do that for many years. The question is: why the hell are we moving so slowly?</p> <p>The race we are in is against time, and we are losing. And with each passing year, it becomes clearer just how far behind we've fallen, how fast the situation is deteriorating, and how tragic the results can be.</p> <p>In the past decade alone, we've seen historic hurricanes devastate islands across the Caribbean. We've seen ‘thousand-year floods’ hit the Midwestern and Southern United States multiple times in a decade. We've seen record-breaking wildfires ravage California, and record-breaking typhoons kill thousands in the Philippines.</p> <p>This is a true crisis. If we fail to rise to the occasion, your generation, your children, and grandchildren will pay a terrible price. So scientists know there can be no delay in taking action – and many governments and political leaders around the world are starting to understand that.</p> <p>Yet here in the United States, our federal government is seeking to become the only country in the world to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The only one. Not even North Korea is doing that.</p> <p>Those in Washington who deny the science of climate change are no more based in reality than those who believe the moon landing was faked. And while the moon landing conspiracy theorists are relegated to the paranoid corners of talk radio, climate skeptics occupy the highest positions of power in the United States government.</p> <p>Now, in the administration's defense: climate change, they say, is only a theory. Yeah, like gravity is only a theory.</p> <p>People can ignore gravity at their own risk, at least until they hit the ground. But when they ignore the climate crisis they are not only putting themselves at risk, they are putting all humanity at risk.</p> <p>Instead of challenging Americans to believe in our ability to master the universe, as President Kennedy did, the current administration is pandering to the skeptics who, in the 1960s, looked at the space program and only saw short-term costs, not long-term benefits.</p> <p>President Kennedy's era earned the nickname, ‘The Greatest Generation’ – not only because they persevered through the Great Depression and won the Second World War. They earned it because of determination to rise, to pioneer, to innovate, and to fulfill the promise of American freedom.</p> <p>They dreamed in moonshots. They reached for the stars. And they began to redeem – through the civil rights movement – the failures of the past. They set the standard for leadership and service to our nation's ideals.</p> <p>Now, your generation has the opportunity to join them in the history books. The challenge that lies before you – stopping climate change – is unlike any other ever faced by humankind. The stakes could not be higher.</p> <p>If left unchecked, the climate change crisis threatens to destroy oceanic life that feeds so many people on this planet. It threatens to breed war by spreading drought and hunger. It threatens to sink coastal communities, devastate farms and businesses, and spread disease.</p> <p>Now, some people say we should leave it in God's hands. But most religious leaders, I’m happy to say, disagree. After all, where in the Bible, or the Torah, or the Koran, or any other book about faith or philosophy does it teach that we should do things that make floods and fires and plagues more severe? I must have missed that day in religion class.</p> <p>Today, most Americans in both parties accept that human activity is driving the climate crisis and they want government to take action. Over the past few months, there has been a healthy debate – mostly within the Democratic Party – over what those actions should be. And that's great.</p> <p>In the years ahead, we need to build consensus around comprehensive and ambitious federal policies that the next Congress should pass. But everyone who is concerned about the climate crisis should also be able to agree on two realities.</p> <p>The first one is given opposition in the Senate and White House, there is virtually no chance of passing such policies before 2021. And the second reality is we can't wait to act. We can't put this mission off any longer. Mother Nature does not wait on the election calendar – and neither can we.</p> <p>Our foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has been working for years to rally cities, states, and businesses to lead on this issue – and we've had real success. Just not enough.</p> <p>So today, I'm happy to announce that, with our foundation, I am committing $500 million to the launch of a new national climate initiative, and I hope that you will all become part of it. We are calling it Beyond Carbon. The last one was Beyond Coal, this is Beyond Carbon because we have greater goals.</p> <p>And our goal is to move the U.S. toward a 100 percent clean energy economy as expeditiously as possible, and begin that process right now. We intend to succeed not by sacrificing things we need, but by investing in things we want: more good jobs, cleaner air and water, cheaper power, more transportation options, and less congested roads.</p> <p>To do it, we will defeat in the courts the EPA's attempts to rollback regulations that reduce carbon pollution and protect our air and water. But most of our battles will take place outside of Washington. We are going to take the fight to the cities and states – and directly to the people. And the fight will take place on four main fronts.</p> <p>First, we will push states and utilities to phase out every last U.S. coal-fired power plant by 2030 – just 11 years from now. Politicians keep making promises about climate change mitigation by the year 2050 – hypocritically, after they're long gone and no one can hold them accountable. Meanwhile, the science keeps moving the possible inflection point of irreversible global warming closer and closer. We have to set goals for the near-term – and we have to hold our elected officials accountable for meeting them.</p> <p>We know that closing every last U.S. coal-fired power plant over the next 11 years is achievable because we're already more than half-way there. Through a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Sierra Club, we've shut down 289 coal-fired power plants since 2011, and that includes 51 that we have retired since the 2016 presidential election despite all the bluster from the White House. As a matter of fact, since Trump got elected the rate of closure has gone up.</p> <p>Second, we will work to stop the construction of new gas plants. By the time they are built, they will already be out of date – because renewable energy will be cheaper. Cities like Los Angeles are already stopping new gas plant construction in favor of renewable energy, and states like New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, and California are working to convert their electrical systems to 100 percent clean energy.</p> <p>We don't want to replace one fossil fuel with another. We want to build a clean energy economy – and we will push more states to do that.</p> <p>Third, we will support our most powerful allies – governors, mayors, and legislators – in their pursuit of ambitious policies and laws, and we will empower the grassroots army of activists and environmental groups that are currently driving progress state-by-state.</p> <p>Together, we will push for new incentives and mandates that increase renewable power, pollution-free buildings, waste-free industry, access to mass transit, and sales of electric vehicles, which are now turning the combustion engine – and all of its pollution – into a relic of the industrial revolution.</p> <p>Fourth, and finally, we will get deeply involved in elections across the country, because climate change is now first and foremost a political problem, not a scientific quandary, or even a technological puzzle.</p> <p>Now, I know that as scientists and engineers, politics can be a dirty word. I'm an engineer – I get it. But I'm also a realist so I have three words for you: get over it.</p> <p>At least for the foreseeable future, winning the battle against climate change will depend less on scientific advancement and more on political activism.</p> <p>That’s why Beyond Carbon includes political spending that will mobilize voters to go to the polls and support candidates who actually are taking action on something that could end life on Earth as we know it. And at the same time, we will defeat at the voting booth those who try to block action and those who pander with rhetoric that just kicks the can down the road.</p> <p>Our message to elected officials will be simple: face reality on climate change, or face the music on Election Day. Our lives and our children's lives depend on it. And so should their political careers.</p> <p>Now, most of America will experience a net increase in jobs as we move to renewable energy sources and reductions in pollution. In some places jobs are being lost – we know that, and we can’t leave those communities behind.</p> <p>For example, generations of miners powered America to greatness – and many paid for it with their lives and their health. But today they need our help to change with technology and the economy.</p> <p>And while it is up to the federal government to make those investments, Beyond Carbon will continue our foundation's work to show that progress really is possible. So we will support local organizations in Appalachia and the western mountain states and work to spur economic growth and re-train workers for jobs in growing industries.</p> <p>Taken together, these four elements of Beyond Carbon will be the largest coordinated assault on the climate crisis that our country has ever undertaken.</p> <p>We will work to empower and expand the volunteers and activists fighting these battles community by community, state by state. It's a process that our foundation and I have proved can succeed. After all, this isn't the first time we've done an end run around Washington.</p> <p>A decade ago no one would have believed that we could take on the coal industry and close half of all U.S. plants. But we have.</p> <p>A decade ago no one would have believed we could take on the NRA and pass stronger gun safety laws in states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada. But we have.</p> <p>Two decades ago, no one would have believed that we could take on the tobacco industry and spread New York City's smoking ban to most of America and to countries around the world. But we have.</p> <p>And now, we will take on the fossil fuel industry to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. I believe we will succeed again – but only if one thing happens and that is: you have to help lead the way by raising your voices, by joining an advocacy group, by knocking on doors, by calling your elected officials, by voting, and getting your friends and family to join you.</p> <p>Back in the 1960's, when scientists here at MIT were racing to the moon, there was a popular saying that went: if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. Today, Washington is a very, very big part of the problem.</p> <p>We have to be part of the solution through political activism that puts the screws to our elected officials. Let me reiterate, this has gone from a scientific challenge to a political one.</p> <p>It is time for all of us to accept that climate change is the challenge of our time. As President Kennedy said 57 years ago of the moon mission: we are willing to accept this challenge, we are unwilling to postpone it, and we intend to win it. We must again do what is hard.</p> <p>Graduates, we need your minds and your creativity to achieve a clean energy future. But that is not all. We need your voices. We need your votes. And we need you to help lead us where Washington will not. It may be a moonshot – but it's the only shot we've got.</p> <p>As you leave this campus I hope you will carry with you MIT's tradition of taking – and making – moonshots. Be ambitious in every facet of your life. And don't ever let something stop you because people say it's impossible. Let those words inspire you. Because just trying to make the impossible possible can lead to achievements you never dreamed of. And sometimes, you actually do land on the moon.</p> <p>Tomorrow start working on the mission that, if you succeed, will lead the whole world to call you the Greatest Generation, too.</p> <p>Thank you, and congratulations.</p> Michael Bloomberg, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and three-term New York City mayor, addressed the Class of 2019 during MIT’s commencement ceremony on June 7. Images: Dominick ReuterCommencement, Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni/ae, Community, Special events and guest speakers, Technology and society, Climate change J-WAFS announces seven new seed grants http://news.mit.edu/2019/j-wafs-announces-seven-new-seed-grants-0529 Nine principal investigators from MIT will receive grants totaling over $1 million for solutions-oriented research into global food and water challenges. Wed, 29 May 2019 14:20:01 -0400 Andi Sutton | Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab http://news.mit.edu/2019/j-wafs-announces-seven-new-seed-grants-0529 <p>Agricultural productivity technologies for small-holder farmers; food safety solutions for everyday consumers; sustainable supply chain interventions in the palm oil industry; water purification methods filtering dangerous micropollutants from industrial and wastewater streams — these are just a few of the research-based solutions being supported by the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT. J-WAFS is funding these and other projects through its fifth round of seed grants, providing over $1 million in funding to the MIT research community. These grants, which are funded competitively to MIT principal investigators (PIs) across all five schools at the Institute, exemplify the ambitious goals of MIT’s Institute-wide effort to address global water and food systems challenges through research and innovation.&nbsp;</p> <p>This year, seven new projects led by nine faculty PIs across all five schools will be funded with two-year grants of up to $150,000, overhead-free. Interest in water and food systems research at MIT is substantial, and growing. By the close of this grant cycle, over 12 percent of MIT faculty will have submitted J-WAFS grant proposals. Thirty-four principal investigators submitted proposals to this latest call, nearly one third of whom were proposing to J-WAFS for the first time. “The broad range of disciplines that this applicant pool represents demonstrates how meeting today’s water and food challenges is motivating many diverse researchers in our community," comments Renee Robins, executive director of J-WAFS. "Our reach across all of MIT’s schools further attests to the strength of the Institute’s capabilities that can be applied to the search for solutions to pressing water and food sector challenges.” The nine faculty who were funded represent eight departments and labs, including the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Economics, as well as the Media Lab (School of Architecture and Planning), MIT D-Lab (Office of the Vice Chancellor), and the Sloan School of Management.</p> <p><strong>New approaches to ensure safe drinking water</strong></p> <p>Nearly 1 billion people worldwide receive their drinking water through underground pipes that only operate intermittently. In contrast to continuous water supplies, pipes like these that are only filled with water during limited supply periods are vulnerable to contamination. However, it is challenging to quantify the quality of water that comes out of these pipes because of the vast differences in how the pipe networks are arranged and where they are located, especially in dense urban settings. Andrew J. Whittle, the Edmund K. Turner Professor in Civil Engineering, seeks to address this problem by gathering and making available more precise data on how water quality is affected by how the pipe is used — i.e., during periods of filling, flushing, or stagnation. Supported by the seed grant, he and his research team will perform tests in a section of abandoned pipe in Singapore, one that is still connected to the urban water pipe network there. By controlling flushing rates, monitoring stagnation, and measuring contamination, the study will analyze how variances in flow affect water quality, and evaluate how these data might be able to inform future water quality studies in cities with similar piped water challenges.</p> <p>Patrick Doyle, the Robert T. Haslam (1911) Professor of Chemical Engineering, is taking a different approach to water quality: creating a filter to remove micropollutants. Wastewater from industrial and agricultural processes often contains solvents, petrochemicals, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, hormones, and pesticides, which can enter natural water systems. While these micropollutants may be present at low concentrations, they can still have a significant negative impact on aquatic ecosystems, as well as human health. The challenge is in detecting and removing these micropollutants, because of the low concentrations in which they occur. For this project, Doyle and his team will develop a system to remove a variety of micropollutants, at even the smallest concentrations, using a special hydrogel particle that can be “tuned” to fit the size and shape of particular particles. Leveraging the flexibility of these hydrogels, this technology can improve the speed, precision, efficiency, and environmental sustainability of industrial water purification systems, and improve the health of the natural water systems upon which humans and our surrounding ecosystems rely.</p> <p><strong>Developing support tools for small-holder farmers</strong></p> <p>More than half of food calories consumed globally — and 70 percent of food calories consumed in developing countries — are supplied by approximately 475 million small-holder households in developing and emerging economies. These farmers typically operate through informal contracts and processes, which can lead to large economic inefficiencies and lack of traceability in the supply chains that they are a part of. Joann de Zegher, the Maurice F. Strong Career Development Professor in the operations management program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, seeks to address these challenges by developing a mobile-based trading platform that links small-holder farmers, middlemen, and mills in the palm oil supply chain in Indonesia. Rapid growth in demand in this industry has led to high environmental costs, and recently pressure from consumers and nongovernmental organizations is motivating producers to employ more sustainable practices. However, these pressures deepen market access challenges for small-holder palm oil farmers. Her project seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current supply chain, and create transparency as a byproduct.</p> <p>Another small-holder farmer intervention is being developed by Robert M. Townsend, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics. He is leading a research effort to improve access to crop insurance for small-holder farmers, who are particularly vulnerable to weather-related crop failures. Crop cultivation worldwide is highly vulnerable to unfavorable weather. In developing countries, farmers bear the financial burden of their crops’ exposure to weather ravages, the extent of which will only increase due to the effects of climate change. As a result, they rely on low-risk, low-yield cultivation practices that do not allow for the food and financial gains that can be possible when favorable weather supports higher yields. While crop insurance can help, it is often prohibitively expensive for these small-scale producers. Townsend and his research team seek to make crop insurance more accessible and affordable for farmers in developing regions by developing a new system of insurance pricing and payoff schedules that takes into account the widely varying ways through which weather affects crop’s development and yield throughout the growth cycle. Their goal is to provide a new, personalized insurance tool that improves farmers’ ability to protect their yields, invest in their crops, and adapt to climate change in order to stabilize food supply and farmer livelihoods worldwide.&nbsp;</p> <p>Access to affordable fertilizer is another challenge that small holders face. Ammonia is the key ingredient in fertilizers; however, most of the world’s supply is produced by the Haber-Bosch process, which directly converts nitrogen and hydrogen gas to ammonia in a highly capital-intensive process that is difficult to downscale. Finding an alternative way to synthesize ammonia could transform access to fertilizer and improve food security, particularly in the developing world where current fertilizers are prohibitively expensive. For this seed grant project, Yogesh Surendranath, Paul M Cook Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry, will develop an electrochemical process to synthesize ammonia, one that can be powered using renewable energy sources such as solar or wind. Designed to be implemented in a decentralized way, this technology could enable fertilizer production directly in the fields where it is needed, and would be especially beneficial in developing regions without access to existing ammonia production infrastructure.</p> <p>Even when crops produce high yields, post-harvest preservation is a challenge, especially to fruit and vegetable farmers on small plots of land in developing regions. The lack of affordable and effective post-harvest vegetable cooling and storage poses a significant challenge for them, and can lead to vegetable spoilage, reduced income, and lost time. Most techniques for cooling and storing vegetables rely on electricity, which is either unaffordable or unavailable for many small-holder farmers, especially those living on less than $3 per day in remote areas. The solution posed by an interdisciplinary team led by Daniel Frey, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and D-Lab&nbsp;faculty director, along with Leon Glicksman, professor of architecture and mechanical engineering, is a storage technology that uses the natural evaporation of water to create a cool and humid environment that prevents rot and dehydration, all without the need for electricity. This system is particularly suited for hot, dry regions such as Kenya, where the research team will be focusing their efforts. The research will be conducted in partnership with researchers from University of Nairobi’s Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection, who have extensive experience working with low-income rural communities on issues related to horticulture and improving livelihoods. The team will build and test evaporative cooling chambers in rural Kenya to optimize the design for performance, practical construction, and user preferences, and will build evidence for funders and implementing organizations to support the dissemination of these systems to improve post-harvest storage challenges.</p> <p><strong>Combatting food safety challenges through wireless sensors</strong></p> <p>Food safety is a matter of global concern, and a subject that several J-WAFS-funded researchers seek to tackle with innovative technologies. And for good reason: Food contamination and foodborne pathogens cause sickness and even death, as well as significant economic costs including the wasted labor and resources that occur when a contaminated product is disposed of, the lost profit to affected companies, and the lost food products that could have nourished a number of people. Fadel Adib, an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, will receive a seed grant to develop a new tool that quickly and accurately assesses whether a given food product is contaminated. This food safety sensor uses wireless signals to determine the quality and safety of packaged food using a&nbsp;radio-frequency identification sticker placed on the product’s container. The system turns off-the-shelf RFID tags into spectroscopes which, when read, can measure the material contents of a product without the need to open its package. The sensor can also identify the presence of contaminants — pathogens as well as adulterants that affect the nutritional quality of the food product. If successful, this research, and the technology that results, will pave the way for wireless sensing technologies that can inform their users about the health and safety of their food and drink.</p> <p>With these seven newly funded projects, J-WAFS will have funded 37 total seed research projects since its founding in 2014. These grants serve as important catalysts of new water and food sector research at MIT, resulting in publications, patents, and other significant research support. To date, J-WAFS’ seed&nbsp;grant PIs have been awarded over $11M in follow-on funding. J-WAFS’ director, Professor John Lienhard, commented on&nbsp;the&nbsp;influence of this grant program: “The betterment of society drives our&nbsp;research community at MIT. Water&nbsp;and food, our world’s&nbsp;most vital resources, are currently put at great risk by a&nbsp;variety of global-scale challenges, and MIT researchers are responding forcefully. Through this, and&nbsp;J-WAFS’&nbsp;other grant programs, we see MIT's creative innovations and actionable&nbsp;solutions that will help to ensure&nbsp;a sustainable future.”</p> <p><strong>J-WAFS Seed Grants, 2019</strong></p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/learning-food-and-water-contaminants-using-wireless-signals">Learning Food and Water Contaminants using Wireless Signals</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PI: Fadel Adib, assistant professor, MIT Media Lab</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/designing-supply-chain-platforms-smallholders-indonesia">Designing Supply Chain Platforms for Smallholders in Indonesia</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PI: Joann de Zegher, Maurice F. Strong Career Development Professor, Sloan School of Management</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/microparticle-systems-removal-organic-micropollutants">Microparticle Systems for the Removal of Organic Micropollutants</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PI: Patrick Doyle, Robert T. Haslam (1911) Professor of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/evaporative-cooling-technologies-vegetable-preservation-kenya">Evaporative Cooling Technologies for Vegetable Preservation in Kenya</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PIs: Daniel Frey, professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, and faculty research director, MIT D-Lab; Leon Glicksman, professor of building technology and mechanical engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Eric Verploegen, research engineer, MIT D-Lab</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/electrocatalytic-ammonia-synthesis-distributed-agriculture">Electrocatalytic Ammonia Synthesis for Distributed Agriculture</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PI: Yogesh Surendranath, Paul M Cook Career Development Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/designing-purely-weather-contingent-crop-insurance-personalized-coverage">Designing Purely Weather-Contingent Crop Insurance with Personalized Coverage to Improve Farmers’ Investments in their Crops for Higher Yields</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PI:&nbsp; Robert M. Townsend, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics, Department of Economics</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jwafs.mit.edu/research/projects/2019/understanding-effects-intermittent-flow-drinking-water-quality">Understanding Effects of Intermittent Flow on Drinking Water Quality</a></li> </ul> <p class="rteindent1">PI: Andrew J. Whittle, Edmund K. Turner Professor in Civil Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering</p> Agricultural productivity technologies for small-holder farmers; sustainable supply chain interventions in the palm oil industry; interventions that can provide clean water for cities and surrounding ecosystems — these are just a few of the research topics that grantees are pursuing, supported by the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT.Civil and environmental engineering, Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Chemistry, Economics, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, School of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Agriculture, Food, Water, Climate change, Sustainability, Pollution, Desalination, Developing countries, Environment, Grants, D-Lab, J-WAFS, Vice Chancellor Finding value in nature and ensuring green growth http://news.mit.edu/2019/finding-value-in-nature-gretchen-daily-kendall-lecture-0523 For the 17th annual Kendall Lecture, Gretchen Daily analyzes species and ecosystem services and leverages natural capital to build a green financial system. Thu, 23 May 2019 11:35:01 -0400 Lauren Hinkel | EAPS http://news.mit.edu/2019/finding-value-in-nature-gretchen-daily-kendall-lecture-0523 <p>How do you place a value on a single species? What’s the price of an ecosystem’s production or the cost of its loss? Last week, conservation scientists from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services revealed the bottom line of their latest comprehensive United Nations report assessing the global state of nature: We’re facing a biodiversity crisis. Up to 1 million of about 8 million animal and plant species are threatened with the possibility of extinction, many within decades, and the culprit is human activity. The main drivers for this, the researchers point out, are changes in land and sea use, exploitation of organisms and materials for economic gain, climate change, pollution, and new evolutionary pressures like invasive species and pathogens.</p> <p>Although the future laid out in the report may seem bleak, and economic and societal growth is at odds with protecting biodiversity, it does highlight some “transformative changes” we can make to mitigate this outcome while vastly improving the well-being of humanity. If we produce and consume natural resources in an equitable and sustainable manner, this “will better support the achievement of future societal and environmental objectives.”</p> <p>Last week, <a href="https://ccb.stanford.edu/gretchen-daily" target="_blank">Gretchen Daily</a>, the Bing Professor of Environmental Science at Stanford University and Natural Capital Project co-founder and director, showed attendees of the 17th annual Henry W. Kendall Memorial Lecture how this could be done.</p> <p>Daily — who briefly worked alongside the late Henry Kendall, the J.A. Stratton Professor of Physics at MIT and an ardent environmentalist — is a pioneer in the fields of conservation biology, ecology, and “countryside biogeography.” Her research elucidates the fates of species and ecosystems in a growing fraction of the Earth’s non-urban lands, which are becoming more strongly influenced by humanity. Through scientific study, Daily attempts to determine which species in a given ecosystem are relatively more important for sustaining the area’s biodiversity, and thus merit protection. She then links the natural services to humanity provided by the conserved biodiversity and incorporates these values into decisions in private practice, development, finance, and public policy.</p> <p>In short, Daily evaluates the value the environment and its services afford people and then incentivizes them to invest in these, helping to ensure their future and that of the planet.</p> <p><strong>Valuing nature&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The foundation of this lies in the argument that ecosystems are treated similarly to a capital asset that retains value. The Earth’s biosphere — land, air, water, and biodiversity — are all part of our life support system, which provides a stream of benefits to the world and people. These include coastal protection, urban cooling, food production and security, flood control, clean water, recreation, and mental health, in addition to climate and energy security.</p> <p>Reflecting on recent environmental disasters like the California wildfires and flooding in China that are becoming increasingly common, Daily worries about the capacity of ecosystems to continue to provide these benefits in light of dwindling abundance due to human consumption, the expansion of civilization, and anthropogenic causes. We can attribute some of this valuation to our mindset on conservation that tends to fall into one of two camps. There’s the thought that “nature is infinitely valuable and that we shouldn’t be, from a moral perspective, just driving everything to extinction as the dominant species on the planet,” says Daily. “Yet, in decisions, mostly nature comes in at a zero, if it’s not something to be extracted or mined.” This neglects the fact that scarcity conveys a value all its own. “Neither of those extremes has helped informed decisions [on conservation and consumption] in a productive way.”</p> <p>Daily suggests a compromise: Rather than thinking of the environment as an all-you-can-eat buffet with a one-time, exhaustible set of resources, people need to strike a balance between livelihood and conservation, being mindful of the limited resources, applying restraint when using these them, and investing in these life support systems to maintain them.</p> <p>Fieldwork, like the kind Daily and her research group conduct, helps researchers understand the interplay between different organisms and the environment, put numbers to these relationships, and establish where to draw the line and the worth of biodiversity. In this way, they can establish “lower-bound” values on the services provided. This new data can then inform and motivate decisions to shift practices and policy, driving “economic dimensions of growth that are important, but at the same time dramatically reducing our impact on the life support systems we depend on truly, so securing human well-being at the same time as security the environment over the long run.”</p> <p><strong>Promising pathways for green finance</strong></p> <p>The idea of a field interfacing ecology and economics predates Daily’s research. In 1991, economist Ken Arrow demonstrated how nature behaves like an asset that can be invested in with the current economic system. Since then others have implemented the strategy, joining the growing movement.</p> <p>Costa Rica led the way as an early adopter. Setting up the first national payment for ecosystem services program, the country went from having the world's highest recorded deforestation rate to net reforestation, which has continued for over 20 years thanks to buy-ins from investors for the first carbon offsets and pharmaceutical groups for biodiversity benefits. This also provided climate stability, water purification, and scenic beauty.</p> <p>Daily’s own work there helped to elucidate and enumerate the benefits of biodiversity to agriculture, since about a third of our food supply is from pollinated species of crops, and agribusiness drives significant biodiversity loss. To create a “win” for all parties, Daily works to help integrate nature into agricultural practices. Through various studies, her team teased apart intricate ecosystem relationships and the added value they conferred, and found that wildlife-friendly farming yielded more crops and revenue compared to traditional practices — a bright outcome. Other examples included improving New York City watersheds to ensure clean drinking water at a cost cheaper than installing filtration plants. Additionally, there were indirect benefits delivered that the analysis didn’t capture, but further supported justification for green investments.</p> <p>Daily wants to encourage outcomes like these by systemizing and building a universal approach that replicates and scales cases like these around the world. She’s thinking critically about the barriers to entry and how to overcome them, driving open pathways to green development that provide economic, social, and ecological “wins” for all involved.</p> <p><strong>Capturing and translating value into winning&nbsp;scenarios</strong></p> <p>The Natural Capital Project, formed in 2006 with the help of Daily, has been building up these approaches to the scale of cities and even countries. To date it has amassed the involvement of about 50 research institutions and 200-plus implementing institutions globally. To optimize conservation efforts and investments in green capital, the group has developed an open-source, free, data and modeling software platform called InVEST (integrated valuation of environmental services and tradeoffs). The model helps determine what portfolio of investments and interventions can achieve a particular environmental goal under various budgets, as well as positive impacts on human well-being and mental health.</p> <p>Most countries have taken up the model to some degree and the group is seeing significant results, particularly when it comes to clean water. In Latin America, clean water scarcity is plaguing cities. The group has examined social and data layers related to the watersheds feeding the city of Tulua, Colombia, and found a mixture of funds that have considered protecting forests upstream, reforesting, silvopasture, fencing, and enrichment around streams to help alleviate the problem. The Natural Capital Project has tested this in Africa as well.</p> <p>China, which has rapidly industrialized and seen incredible pollution, is changing gears to become the ecological civilization for the 21st century. The country is increasingly viewing its natural resources as an asset. “Clear waters and lush mountains are gold and silver,” said Daily, translating the motto of this nationwide initiative. “We will not trade them for gold or silver.”</p> <p>Over a 10-year period the country zoned about 49 percent of its lands for ecosystem services, vastly improving soil fertility, flood control, sandstorm control, water supply, and biodiversity, all the while paying 200 million people to restore natural capital. Follow-on monitoring studies found it to be a success. &nbsp;</p> <p>Daily suggests that these cases support the need to move beyond gross domestic product and to consider another metric — gross ecosystem product — when making these decisions, since GDP does not capture the full suite of services provided to humanity. It would better account for ecosystem contributions to the economy and society, guide financial compensation among regions, and evaluate policies and performance of conservation over time.</p> <p>“The bottom line is that we don’t have much time,” she says, reflecting on Kendall’s comment and noting that there are many opportunities on the horizon to turn this around. “We have a lot of inspiration to look to, and a lot of eager, open-minded and ready-to-run leaders in scaling institutions with whom we can engage.”</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="https://eapsweb.mit.edu/events/kendall-lecture">Henry W. Kendall Memorial Lecture Series</a>, which is sponsored by the MIT&nbsp;<a href="https://cgcs.mit.edu/">Center for Global Change Science</a>&nbsp;and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, honors the memory of Professor Henry W. Kendall (1926-1999), who was the J.A. Stratton Professor of Physics at MIT. Kendall received the Nobel Prize in 1990 for research that provided the first experimental evidence for quarks. He had a deep commitment to understanding and finding solutions to the multiple environmental problems facing the world today and in the future. Kendall was a founding member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and this lecture marked 50th anniversary of the organization. The permanently endowed Kendall Lecture allows MIT faculty and students to be introduced to forefront areas in global change science by leading researchers.</p> Gretchen Daily presents the 17th annual Kendall Lecture.Photo: Vicki McKennaEAPS, School of Science, Center for Global Change Science, Sustainability, Climate change, Finance, Environment, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Special events and guest speakers Paving sustainably http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-pavement-emissions-sustainability-research-0522 Researchers at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub study the many factors that influence a pavement’s environmental footprint. Wed, 22 May 2019 12:15:01 -0400 Andrew Logan | Concrete Sustainability Hub http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-pavement-emissions-sustainability-research-0522 <p>Although the nearly 21 million miles of paved roads around the globe appear static, their environmental footprints are anything but set.</p> <p>When studying all stages of a road’s life using a technique called pavement life-cycle assessment, it becomes clear that a pavement’s environmental impact doesn't end with construction. In fact, there are significant emissions associated with a pavement during its operational life, also known as its use phase.</p> <p>Several factors, like the pavement quality’s impact on fuel efficiency, lighting, and its ability to absorb carbon dioxide through carbonation all contribute to this footprint. What’s more, these factors can vary depending on the pavement’s context, which includes the climate and the amount of traffic. This can make a pavement’s use phase impacts difficult to calculate.</p> <p>In a paper published in the <i>Journal of Cleaner Production</i>, researchers at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub) examine the use phase of pavements and calculate the influence of context on their environmental footprint. Their work finds that the use phase is highly context-dependent.</p> <p><strong>Where the rubber meets the road</strong></p> <p>Although the use phase can have a sizable environmental footprint, decisions made before a pavement is even constructed can influence the size of that footprint.</p> <p>“It turns out that the design and maintenance of pavements indirectly impact the environment,” explains Jeremy Gregory, CSHub executive director and an author of the recent paper. “Some of these impacts include the way that pavements impact climate through their reflectivity, through the absorption of carbon dioxide over time through the paving materials, and by how they affect the fuel consumption of the vehicles that drive on them.”</p> <p>This latter effect, called pavement-vehicle interaction (PVI), causes excess fuel consumption and is one of the greatest contributors to use-phase pavement emissions.</p> <p>As its name suggests, PVI refers to the interaction between a vehicle’s tires and the road it drives upon. It is a multifaceted phenomenon.</p> <p>The first, and most apparent, aspect of PVI is roughness, which refers to irregularities in the surface of the pavement. In addition to affecting ride comfort, roughness can have a significant effect on fuel consumption.</p> <p>“The rougher a pavement is, the more energy dissipation there is in the shock absorber system of a vehicle,” explains Gregory. “A vehicle must then consume more fuel to overcome this additional energy dissipation. We refer to this as excess fuel consumption.”</p> <p>Along with roughness, the second aspect of PVI is deflection. “Deflection has to do with very heavy vehicles, primarily trucks,” notes Gregory. “The weight of a truck makes a small indentation in the pavement so that the vehicle is always driving up a very shallow hill. Like roughness, deflection also causes excess fuel consumption.”</p> <p>Since excess fuel consumption only decreases fuel economy by a few percentage points, it isn’t that noticeable to the average driver. But when factoring in the often thousands of vehicles that drive across a stretch of pavement every single day, these few percentage points add up. In the case of California, excess fuel consumption on highways totaled 1 billion gallons over five years.</p> <p><strong>Considering context</strong></p> <p>While roughness and deflection contribute significantly to use-phase environmental impacts, another factor is also in play — a pavement’s context.</p> <p>“When we look at the overall life cycle assessment of pavements, we find that the results are very context dependent,” says Gregory. “The context includes the climate the pavement exists in, the amount of traffic for that pavement, the type of pavement design, and also the maintenance and rehabilitation schedule that’s planned for that pavement in the future. All of those factors will combine to determine the environmental impact of a pavement.”</p> <p>The authors of the paper selected nine different scenarios to study the impacts of these context-specific conditions. They analyzed pavements in four U.S. states with different climates — Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida. Within each climate zone, they then looked at roads with different traffic levels.</p> <p>After studying the data, they found that traffic was the most significant factor affecting pavement environmental impacts.</p> <p>“It turns out that for pavements with really high traffic loads, a much bigger fraction of their overall environmental impact is associated with the use phase and the excess fuel consumption of vehicles,” explains Gregory.</p> <p>For example, interstates, which have the most traffic, also had the greatest use-phase impacts — as much as 78 percent of total life cycle impacts.</p> <p>“On the other hand, for pavements that have much fewer vehicles that travel on them, most of the environmental impact is associated with the materials and construction,” reports Gregory. These kinds of less-trafficked roads, like state and rural highways, displayed lower use-phase impacts of 38 percent and 37 percent, respectively.</p> <p>In addition to traffic, the design and maintenance of a pavement also influence its environmental footprint.</p> <p>For example, since interstates see a lot of passenger vehicle traffic, the roughness of their pavements is their primary source of excess fuel consumption. If not regularly maintained, an interstate’s roughness might increase, leading to greater excess fuel consumption.</p> <p>Since truck traffic is higher on rural and state highways than on interstates, the deflection of those pavements may have a greater impact on excess fuel consumption than roughness. To mitigate the effects of deflection, the pavement must be designed to be stiff enough to withstand a truck’s weight.</p> <p>Climate also affects the environmental footprint of a pavement’s use phase. In colder climates, some pavements can deteriorate more quickly due to freeze-thaw damage, and therefore can have higher roughness. This increases the excess fuel consumption of vehicles on these pavements in cold climates.</p> <p>In warmer climates, pavements made with petroleum-based materials deform more easily, which increases their susceptibility to deflection. In turn, trucks driving on these pavements in warm climates have greater excess fuel consumption.</p> <p>Ultimately, this recent paper shows just how many contextual factors must be considered during a pavement’s use phase in order to make it as sustainable as possible. “It’s important to not assume any environmental impact for any given context,” explains Gregory. “You really have to run the numbers.”</p> <p>The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub is a team of researchers from several departments across MIT working on concrete and infrastructure science, engineering, and economics. Its research is supported by the Portland Cement Association and the Ready Mixed Concrete Research and Education Foundation.</p> MIT researchers find there are significant emissions associated with a pavement during its operational life, and that emissions depend on factors including local climate and traffic patterns.Photo: Ben Schumin/Wikimedia CommonsConcrete Sustainability Hub, Infrastructure, Transportation, Sustainability, Concrete, Civil and environmental engineering, Emissions, Climate change, Research Solution for remotely monitoring oil wells wins MIT $100K http://news.mit.edu/2019/100k-acoustic-wells-0517 MIT startup Acoustic Wells earned the grand prize at the annual entrepreneurship competition. Fri, 17 May 2019 10:14:24 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/100k-acoustic-wells-0517 <p>The winner of Wednesday’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition was a startup helping oil well owners remotely monitor and control the pumping of their wells, increasing production while reducing equipment failures and cutting methane emissions.</p> <p>Acoustic Wells, a team including two MIT postdocs, was awarded the grand prize after eight finalist teams pitched their projects to judges and hundreds of attendees at Kresge Auditorium. T-var EdTech, a company developing phonics-based devices that help children learn to read, earned the $10,000 audience choice prize.</p> <p>The MIT $100K, MIT’s largest entrepreneurship competition, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and featured talks from $100K co-founder Peter Mui ’82 and MassChallenge founder John Harthorne MBA ’07, who won the $100K grand prize in 2007.</p> <p>Mui reflected on how much the program has grown since he and his classmates first had the idea in 1989, back when it was the MIT $10K. Harthorne talked about the inspiration he got as an MBA candidate from his MIT classmates tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.</p> <p>“MIT taught me to dream big, and that’s what this event is all about,” Harthorne said to the crowd at the sold out auditorium. “Every one of the teams competing tonight could go on to do great things.”</p> <p><strong>Improving oil well pumping</strong></p> <p>The majority of North America’s 1.4 million oil and gas wells are run by independent owners operating batches of hundreds or thousands of aging wells. Working with thin profit margins and older equipment, the owners rely on small teams of workers to manually inspect each well in a yearlong, labor-intensive, daily process.</p> <p>When setting up their pumping equipment, each owner must strike a balance: If they set up the wells to pump too slowly, they risk leaving oil in the ground and losing much-needed revenue. If they pump too fast, they risk breaking their equipment and causing pollution.</p> <p>“The result [of pumping too fast] is similar to when you’re drinking with a straw from a cup and there’s nothing left, so you hear that bubble sound,” Acoustic Wells founder and CEO Sebastien Mannai SM ’14 PhD ’18 told the audience. “The same thing happens with oil wells, but on a much bigger scale.”</p> <p>In the case of oil wells, those “bubbles” are pockets of methane that enter the pump and cause it to fail, unleashing unnecessary greenhouse gases in the process.</p> <p>To address this problem, Acoustic Wells is developing an “internet of things” device based on a novel sensor and an online cloud solution to help well owners control their equipment using real-time pumping data.</p> <p>Mannai, a postdoc in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, compared the device’s sensor to a stethoscope. It works via a sensor similar to a microphone connected to the wellhead at the surface. The sensor records the sound of the pump and a field computer processes the data on the edge before sending the results&nbsp;to a cloud-based system for real-time analysis. Owners can view the processed data on a dashboard and remotely send orders to the well to change its pump settings, simplifying the inspection and control processes.</p> <p>The company has already conducted field tests with an early version of its solution on 30 wells across Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana. In those tests, the solution was able to detect key issues and the wells were adjusted to increase their efficiency and reduce their emissions, Mannai says.</p> <p>The team, which also includes Charles-Henri Clerget, a postdoctoral associate&nbsp;in the Department of Mathematics who is also affiliated with the Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL), and Louis Creteur, the IoT and cloud achitect&nbsp;of the company Leanbox, will use the winnings from the $100K competition to hire it's first employees&nbsp;and continue to scale its user base.</p> <p>The company is initially targeting independent well owners in North America. It plans to commercialize its product as a Software as a Service platform (SaaS).</p> <p>Overall, Acoustic Wells believes its solution could save independent well owners $6 billion annually while preventing the methane equivalent of 240 million tons of carbon dioxide.</p> <p><strong>Teaching kids to read</strong></p> <p>T-var EdTech has developed a product called The Read Read that acts as a sound board when blocks of letters are placed on it, in order to mimic phonics, a proven method for teaching children to read.</p> <p>Phonics has historically required adults to sound out letters and words with children as they read. The process is time-consuming and best done one-on-one. The Read Read allows children to use phonics on their own.</p> <p>The letters that come with the device represent the major English speech sounds. Children place the letters on the device and, when touched, it sounds out the letters. In the first version of its device, the company has placed braille underneath large, black letters that contrast with the white block to help children who are blind or visually impaired learn braille.</p> <p>In a pilot with the Perkins School for the Blind, students previously classified as nonreaders learned to read using the company’s device, according to founder Alex Tavares, a graudate of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.</p> <p>The company has begun preselling to parents and schools and has partnered with LC Industries, one of the largest employers of adults with visual impairments in the U.S.</p> <p>“Phonics works, but it’s not scalable in its current implementation,” Tavares told the audience. “The Read Read scales phonics by allowing kids to practice independently. Finally, phonics is accessible to all kids.”</p> <p>Wednesday night’s competition was the culmination of a process that began in the winter for semifinalist teams, who received funding and mentoring to develop comprehensive business plans around their ideas.</p> <p>The event was run by students and supported by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>This year’s judges were TJ Parker, co-founder and CEO of PillPack; Mira Wilczek ’04 MBA ’09, president and CEO of Cogo Labs; Thomas Collet PhD ’91, president and CEO of Phrixus Pharmaceuticals; Tanguy Chau SM ’10 PhD ’10 MBA ’11, an investor and co-founder of Corvium; and Katie Rae, the CEO and managing general partner of The Engine.</p> Acoustic wells chief operating officer Charles-Henri Clerget (sixth from left), chief executive officer Sebastien Mannai SM ’14 PhD ’18 (sixth from right), and chief technology officer Louis Creteur (fifth from right) pose with judges and organizers after winning Wednesday’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.Research, Industry, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Oil and gas, Greenhouse gases, Sustainability, Climate change, Startups, Contests and academic competitions, MIT $100K competition, Business and management, Energy, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering, Alumni/ae Tropical Pacific is major player in global ocean heat transport http://news.mit.edu/2019/tropical-pacific-major-player-global-ocean-heat-transport-0514 Region dominates the transfer of heat from the equator to the poles in both hemispheres, challenging the &quot;great conveyor belt&quot; model. Tue, 14 May 2019 14:00:01 -0400 Kelsey Tsipis | EAPS http://news.mit.edu/2019/tropical-pacific-major-player-global-ocean-heat-transport-0514 <p>Far from the vast, fixed bodies of water oceanographers thought they were a century ago, oceans today are known to be interconnected, highly influential agents in Earth’s climate system.</p> <p>A major turning point in our understanding of ocean circulation came in the early 1980s, when research began to indicate that water flowed between remote regions, a concept later termed the “great ocean conveyor belt.”</p> <p>The theory holds that warm, shallow water from the South Pacific flows to the Indian and Atlantic oceans, where, upon encountering frigid Arctic water, it cools and sinks to great depth. This cold water then cycles back to the Pacific, where it reheats and rises to the surface, beginning the cycle again.</p> <p>This migration of water has long been thought to play a vital role in circulating warm water, and thus heat, around the globe. Without it, estimates put the average winter temperatures in Europe several degrees cooler.</p> <p>However, recent research indicates that these global-scale seawater pathways may play less of a role in Earth’s heat budget than traditionally thought. Instead, one region may be doing most of the heavy lifting.</p> <p>A&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0333-7">paper published in April</a>&nbsp;in&nbsp;<em>Nature Geoscience</em>&nbsp;by&nbsp;Gael Forget, a research scientist in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and a member of the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans,and Climate, and David Ferreira, an associate professor in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading (and former EAPS postdoc), found that global ocean heat transport is dominated by heat export from the tropical Pacific.</p> <p>Using a state-of-the-art ocean circulation model with nearly complete global ocean data sets, the researchers demonstrated the overwhelming predominance of the tropical Pacific in distributing heat across the globe, from the equator to the poles. In particular, they found the region exports four times as much heat as is imported in the Atlantic and Arctic.</p> <p>“We are not questioning the fact that there is a lot of water going from one basin into another,” says Forget. “What we're saying is, the net effect of these flows on heat transport is relatively small. This result indicates that the global conveyor belt may not be the most useful framework in which to understand global ocean heat transport.”</p> <p><strong>Updating ECCO</strong></p> <p>The study was performed using a modernized version of a global ocean circulation model called Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO). ECCO is the brain child of&nbsp;<a href="http://paocweb.mit.edu/people/wunsch">Carl Wunsch</a>, EAPS professor emeritus of physical oceanography, who envisioned its massive undertaking in the 1980s.</p> <p>Today, ECCO is often considered the best record of ocean circulation to date. Recently, Forget has spearheaded extensive updates to ECCO, resulting in its fourth generation, which has since been adopted by&nbsp;<a href="https://ecco.jpl.nasa.gov/">NASA</a>.</p> <p>One of the major updates made under Forget’s leadership was the addition of the Arctic Ocean. Previous versions omitted the area due to a grid design that squeezed resolution at the poles. In the new version, however, the grid mimics the pattern of a volleyball, with six equally distributed grid areas covering the globe.</p> <p>Forget and his collaborators also added in new data sets (on things like sea ice and geothermal heat fluxes) and refined the treatment of others. To do so, they took advantage of the advent of worldwide data collection efforts, like ARGO, which for 15 years has been deploying autonomous profiling floats across the globe to collect ocean temperature and salinity profiles.</p> <p>“These are good examples of the kind of data sets that we need to inform this problem on a global scale,” say Forget. “They're also the kind of data sets that have allowed us to constrain crucial model parameters.”</p> <p>Parameters, which represent events that occur on too small of a scale to be included in a model’s finite resolution, play an important role in how realistic the model’s results are (in other words, how closely its findings match up with what we see in the real world). One of many updates Forget made to ECOO involved the ability to adjust (within the model) parameters that represent mixing of the ocean on the small scale and mesoscale.</p> <p>“By allowing the estimation system to adjust those parameters, we improved the fit to the data significantly,” says Forget.</p> <p><strong>The balancing act</strong></p> <p>With a new and improved foundational framework, Forget and Ferreira then sought to resolve another contentious issue: how to best measure and interpret ocean heat transport.</p> <p>Ocean heat transport is calculated as both the product of seawater temperature and velocity and the exchange of heat between the ocean and the atmosphere. How to balance these events — the exchange of heat from the “source to sink” — requires sussing out which factors matter the most, and where.</p> <p>Forget and Ferreira’s is the first framework that reconciles both the atmospheric and oceanic perspectives. Combining satellite data, which captures the intersection of the air and sea surface, with field data on what’s happening below the surface, the researchers created a three-dimensional representation of how heat transfers between the air, sea surface, and ocean columns.</p> <p>Their results revealed a new perspective on ocean heat transport: that net ocean heat redistribution takes place primarily within oceanic basins rather than via the global seawater pathways that compose the great conveyor belt.</p> <p>When the researchers removed internal ocean heat loops from the equation, they found that heat redistribution within the Pacific was the largest source of heat exchange. The region, they found, dominates the transfer of heat from the equator to the poles in both hemispheres.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“We think this is a really important finding,” says Forget. “It clarifies a lot of things and, hopefully, puts us, as a community, on stronger footing in terms of better understanding ocean heat transport.”</p> <p><strong>Future implications</strong></p> <p>The findings have profound implications on how scientists may observe and monitor the ocean going forward<em>,&nbsp;</em>says Forget.</p> <p><em>“</em>The community that deals with ocean heat transport, on the ocean side, tends to focus a lot on the notion that there is a region of loss, and maybe overlooks a little bit how important the region of gain may be,” says Forget.</p> <p>In practice, this has meant a focus on the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, where heat is lost, and less focus on the tropical Pacific, where the ocean gains heat. These viewpoints often dictate priorities for funding and observational strategies, including where instruments are deployed.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Sometimes it’s a balance between putting a lot of measurements in one specific place, which can cost a lot of money, versus having a program that's really trying to cover a global effort,” says Forget. “Those two things sometimes compete with each other.”</p> <p>In the article, Forget and Ferreira make the case that sustained observation of the global ocean as whole, not just at a few locations and gates separating ocean basins, is crucial to monitor and understand ocean heat transport.</p> <p>Forget also acknowledges that the findings go against some established schools of thought, and is eager to continue research in the area and hear different perspectives.</p> <p>“We are expecting to stimulate some debate, and I think it's going to be exciting to see,” says Forget. “If there is pushback, all the better.”</p> Aerial view of the coastline of Kauai Island Photo: U.S. Geological SocietyEAPS, School of Science, Oceans, Climate, Climate change, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Environment, Oceanography and ocean engineering Professor Emeritus David Gordon Wilson, expert in human-powered transport and gas turbines, dies at 91 http://news.mit.edu/2019/professor-emeritus-david-gordon-wilson-expert-human-powered-transport-gas-turbines-dies-91-0508 A prolific inventor and jet-engine designer, Wilson was passionate about recumbent bicycles and was an early advocate for a carbon fee. Wed, 08 May 2019 10:40:02 -0400 Mary Beth O'Leary | Mechanical engineering http://news.mit.edu/2019/professor-emeritus-david-gordon-wilson-expert-human-powered-transport-gas-turbines-dies-91-0508 <p>David Gordon Wilson, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, passed away on May 2 at the age of 91. Wilson served on MIT’s faculty since 1966 and remained an active member of the mechanical engineering community up until his death.</p> <p>Wilson was born in 1928 and grew up in Warwickshire, England. Inspired by his love for bicycles, Wilson studied engineering at the University of Birmingham, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1948. He continued his education at the University of Nottingham, where he earned his PhD in 1953.</p> <p>Upon completing his PhD, Wilson was given a postdoctoral Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to conduct research abroad at MIT and Harvard University. At the conclusion of his fellowship, Wilson worked at Boeing as a gas turbine engineer.</p> <p>After briefly returning to the U.K., Wilson embarked on a two-year stint in Africa, where he taught at the University Ibadan in Zaria, Nigeria. He also worked for Voluntary Service Overseas in Cameroon. A case of malaria forced Wilson to move home to England.</p> <p>In 1960, Wilson was invited by the Northern Research and Engineering Corp. to serve as technical director and vice president. He was charged with leading efforts to form a London branch of the company that specialized in heat transfer and turbo-powered machinery.</p> <p>At the invitation of Richard Soderberg, then the head of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Wilson joined MIT’s faculty in 1966. He taught thermodynamics and mechanical design. As a professor, Wilson served as advisor to a number of students conducting research in turbomachinery, fluid mechanics, and various design topics.</p> <p>While much of his primary research focused on turbine gas engines and jet engine design, Wilson parlayed a number of his passions into professional pursuits. His interest in transportation led to an appointment on a commission of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, where he gave recommendations on how to increase use and efficiency in public transportation. He also served on the Center for Transportation Studies.</p> <p>Transportation was a key theme in Wilson’s career — not only in his research on jet engines, but also in a thread that would weave throughout his life: his love of bicycles. Wilson was particularly enamored with recumbent bicycles. In 1967, he helped organize an international design competition in human-powered land transport in an effort to get more people interested in bicycle design.</p> <p>In 1974, Wilson released the first edition of "Bicycling Science." It became MIT Press' best-selling book and is regarded as the premiere authority on bicycle design. Throughout the 1970s, he continued to design recumbent bicycles. He eventually designed the Avatar 2000, a bike that broke the world record in speed at the International Human Powered Vehicle Association in 1982.</p> <p>Around the same time, Wilson studied fossil fuel emissions and human impact on the environment. He was a staunch advocate for a “carbon fee” to encourage companies to curb fossil fuel emissions and promote the adoption of renewable energy. This pursuit got him more engaged in government, and as a result he joined the Massachusetts chapter of the grassroots organization Common Cause. He also was co-founder of the Massachusetts Action on Smoking and Health, which advocated for nonsmokers' rights.</p> <p>After 28 years on the faculty at MIT, Wilson retired in 1994. In 2001, he co-founded Wilson TurboPower, a company focused on the development of microturbines.</p> <p>In retirement, Wilson remained an active member of the MIT community — often attending departmental meetings and serving as a faculty judge at the annual de Florez Awards. He is survived by his wife, Ellen Wilson, his two daughters, Erica Mandau and Susan Wilson, and his granddaughter.</p> <p>A memorial service will be held on May 17 at 10 a.m. at The Parish of the Epiphany, 70 Church Street, Winchester, Massachusetts.</p> Professor Emeritus David Gordon WilsonPhoto courtesy of the Department of Mechanical EngineeringMechanical engineering, Obituaries, Transportation, Emissions, Climate change, School of Engineering Ocean activity is key controller of summer monsoons http://news.mit.edu/2019/ocean-activity-control-summer-monsoons-0507 Results may help researchers interpret ancient monsoon variations, predict future activity in the face of climate change. Tue, 07 May 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/ocean-activity-control-summer-monsoons-0507 <p>Each summer, a climatic shift brings persistent wind and rain to much of Southeast Asia, in the form of a seasonal monsoon. The general cause of the monsoon is understood to be an increasing temperature difference between the warming land and the comparatively cool ocean. But for the most part, the strength and timing of the monsoon, on which millions of farmers depend each year, is incredibly difficult to predict.</p> <p>Now MIT scientists have found that an interplay between atmospheric winds and the ocean waters south of India has a major influence over the strength and timing of the South Asian monsoon.</p> <p>Their results, published today in the <em>Journal of Climate</em>, show that as the summertime sun heats up the Indian subcontinent, it also kicks up strong winds that sweep across the Indian Ocean and up over the South Asian land mass. As these winds drive northward, they also push ocean waters southward, much like a runner pushing against a treadmill’s belt. The researchers found these south-flowing waters act to transport heat along with them, cooling the ocean and in effect increasing the temperature gradient between the land and sea.</p> <p>They say this ocean heat transporting mechanism may be a new knob in controlling the seasonal South Asian monsoon, as well as other monsoon systems around the world.</p> <p>“What we find is, the ocean’s response plays a huge role in modulating the intensity of the monsoon,” says John Marshall, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography at MIT. “Understanding the ocean’s response is critical to predicting the monsoon.”</p> <p>Marshall’s co-authors on the paper are lead author Nicholas Lutsko, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and Brian Green, a former graduate student in Marshall’s group who is now at the Univeristy of Washington.</p> <p><strong>Damps and shifts</strong></p> <p>Scientists have traditionally focused on the Himalayas as a key influencer of the South Asian monsoon. It’s thought that the massive mountain ridge acts as a barrier against cold winds blowing in from the north, insulating the Indian subcontinent in a warm cocoon and enhancing the summer time temperature difference between the land and the ocean.</p> <p>“Before, people thought the Himalayas were necessary to have a monsoon system,” Lutsko says. “When people got rid of them in simulations, there was no monsoon. But these models were run without an ocean.”</p> <p>Lutsko and Marshall suspected that if they were to develop a model of the monsoon that included the ocean’s dynamics, these effects would lessen the monsoon’s intensity. Their hunch was based on previous work in which Marshall and his colleagues found that wind-driven ocean circulation minimized shifts in the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ, an atmospheric belt near the equator that typically produces dramatic thunderstorms over large areas. This wide zone of atmospheric turbulence is known to shift seasonally between the northern and southern hemispheres, and Marshall found the ocean plays a role in corraling these shifts.</p> <p>“Based on the idea of the ocean damping the ITCZ shifts, we thought that the ocean would also damp the monsoon,” Marshall says. “But it turns out it actually strengthens the monsoon.”</p> <p><strong>Seeing past a mountain</strong></p> <p>The researchers came to this unexpected conclusion after drawing up a simple simulation of a monsoon system, starting with a numerical model that simulates the basic physics of the atmosphere over an “aqua planet” — a world covered entirely in an ocean. The team added a solid, rectangular mass to the ocean to represent a simple land mass. They then varied the amount of sunlight across the simulated planet, to mimic the seasonal cycles of insolation, or sunlight, and also simulated the winds and rains that result from these seasonal shifts in temperature.</p> <p>They carried out these simulations under different scenarios, including one in which the ocean was static and unmoving, and another in which the ocean was allowed to circulate and respond to atmospheric winds. They observed that winds blowing toward the land prompted ocean waters to flow in the opposite direction, carrying heat away from waters closest to the land. This wind/ocean interaction had a significant effect on any monsoon that formed over the land: the stronger this interplay, or coupling between winds and ocean, the wider the difference in land and sea temperature, and the stronger the intensity of the ensuing monsoon.</p> <p>Interestingly, their model did not include any sort of Himalayan structure; nevertheless, they were still able to produce a monsoon simply from the effect of the ocean and winds.</p> <p>“We initially had a picture that we couldn’t make a monsoon without the Himalayas, which was the established wisdom,” Lutsko says. “But in our model, we had no such barrier, and we were still able to generate a monsoon, and we were excited about that.”</p> <p>Ultimately, their work may help to explain why the South Asian monsoon is one of the strongest monsoon systems in the world. The combination of the Himalayas to the north, which act to warm up the land, and the ocean to the south, which takes heat away from nearby waters, sets up an extreme temperature gradient for one of the most intense, persistent monsoons on the planet.</p> <p>“One reason the South Asian monsoon is so strong is there’s this big barrier to the north keeping the land warm, and there’s an ocean to the south that’s cooling, so it’s perfectly situated to be really strong,” Lutsko says.</p> <p>In future work, the researchers plan to apply their newfound observations of the ocean’s role to help interpret variations in monsoons much farther back in time.</p> <p>“What’s interesting to me is, during times when the northern hemisphere was much colder, you see a collapse of the monsoon system,” Lutsko says. “People don’t know why that happens. But we feel we can explain this, using our minimal model.”</p> <p>The researchers also believe their new, ocean-based explanation for generating monsoons may help climate modelers to predict how, for example, the monsoon cycle may change in response to ocean warming due to climate change.</p> <p>“We’re saying you have to understand how the ocean is responding if you want to predict the monsoon,” Lutsko says. “You can’t just focus on the land and the atmosphere. The ocean is key.”</p> <p>This research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.</p> MIT scientists have found that an interplay between atmospheric winds and the ocean waters south of India has a major influence over the strength and timing of the South Asian monsoon. Climate, Climate change, EAPS, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Environment, Global Warming, Research, School of Science, National Science Foundation (NSF) North Atlantic Ocean productivity has dropped 10 percent during Industrial era http://news.mit.edu/2019/north-atlantic-phytoplankton-productivity-drop-0406 Phytoplankton decline coincides with warming temperatures over the last 150 years. Mon, 06 May 2019 12:04:06 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/north-atlantic-phytoplankton-productivity-drop-0406 <p>Virtually all marine life depends on the productivity of phytoplankton — microscopic organisms that work tirelessly at the ocean’s surface to absorb the carbon dioxide that gets dissolved into the upper ocean from the atmosphere.</p> <p>Through photosynthesis, these microbes break down carbon dioxide into oxygen, some of which ultimately gets released back to the atmosphere, and organic carbon, which they store until they themselves are consumed. This plankton-derived carbon fuels the rest of the marine food web, from the tiniest shrimp to giant sea turtles and humpback whales.</p> <p>Now, scientists at MIT, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and elsewhere have found evidence that phytoplankton’s productivity is declining steadily in the North Atlantic, one of the world’s most productive marine basins.</p> <p>In a paper appearing today in <em>Nature</em>, the researchers report that phytoplankton’s productivity in this important region has gone down around 10 percent since the mid-19th century and the start of the Industrial era. This decline coincides with steadily rising surface temperatures over the same period of time.</p> <p>Matthew Osman, the paper’s lead author and a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, says there are indications that phytoplankton’s productivity may decline further as temperatures continue to rise as a result of human-induced climate change.</p> <p>“It’s a significant enough decine that we should be concerned,” Osman says. “The amount of productivity in the oceans roughly scales with how much phytoplankton you have. So this translates to 10 percent of the marine food base in this region that’s been lost over the industrial era. If we have a growing population but a decreasing food base, at some point we’re likely going to feel the effects of that decline.”</p> <p><strong>Drilling through “pancakes” of ice</strong></p> <p>Osman and his colleagues looked for trends in phytoplankton’s productivity using the molecular compound methanesulfonic acid, or MSA. When phytoplankton expand into large blooms, certain microbes emit dimethylsulfide, or DMS, an aerosol that is lofted into the atmosphere and eventually breaks down as either sulfate aerosol, or MSA, which is then deposited on sea or land surfaces by winds.</p> <p>“Unlike sulfate, which can have many sources in the atmosphere, it was recognized about 30 years ago that MSA had a very unique aspect to it, which is that it’s only derived from DMS, which in turn is only derived from these phytoplankton blooms,” Osman says. “So any MSA you measure, you can be confident has only one unique source — phytoplankton.”</p> <p>In the North Atlantic, phytoplankton likely produced MSA that was deposited to the north, including across Greenland. The researchers measured MSA in Greenland ice cores — in this case using 100- to 200-meter-long columns of snow and ice that represent layers of past snowfall events preserved over hundreds of years.</p> <p>“They’re basically sedimentary layers of ice that have been stacked on top of each other over centuries, like pancakes,” Osman says.</p> <p>The team analyzed 12 ice cores in all, each collected from a different location on the Greenland ice sheet by various groups from the 1980s to the present. Osman and his advisor Sarah Das, an associate scientist at WHOI and co-author on the paper, collected one of the cores during an expedition in April 2015.</p> <p>“The conditions can be really harsh,” Osman says. “It’s minus 30 degrees Celsius, windy, and there are often whiteout conditions in a snowstorm, where it’s difficult to differentiate the sky from the ice sheet itself.”</p> <p>The team was nevertheless able to extract, meter by meter, a 100-meter-long core, using a giant drill that was delivered to the team’s location via a small ski-equipped airplane. They immediately archived each ice core segment in a heavily insulated cold storage box, then flew the boxes on “cold deck flights” — aircraft with ambient conditions of around minus 20 degrees Celsius. Once the planes touched down, freezer trucks transported the ice cores to the scientists’ ice core laboratories.</p> <p>“The whole process of how one safely transports a 100-meter section of ice from Greenland, kept at minus-20-degree conditions, &nbsp;back to the United States is a massive undertaking,” Osman says.</p> <p><strong>Cascading effects</strong></p> <p>The team incorporated the expertise of researchers at various labs around the world in analyzing each of the 12 ice cores for MSA. Across all 12 records, they observed a conspicuous decline in MSA concentrations, beginning in the mid-19th century, around the start of the Industrial era when the widescale production of greenhouse gases began. This decline in MSA is directly related to a decline in phytoplankton productivity in the North Atlantic.</p> <p>“This is the first time we’ve collectively used these ice core MSA records from all across Greenland, &nbsp;and they show this coherent signal. We see a long-term decline that originates around the same time as when we started perturbing the climate system with industrial-scale greenhouse-gas emissions,” Osman says. “The North Atlantic is such a productive area, and there’s a huge multinational fisheries economy related to this productivity. Any changes at the base of this food chain will have cascading effects that we’ll ultimately feel at our dinner tables.”</p> <p>The multicentury decline in phytoplankton productivity appears to coincide not only with concurrent long-term warming temperatures; it also shows synchronous variations on decadal time-scales with the large-scale ocean circulation pattern known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC. This circulation pattern typically acts to mix layers of the deep ocean with the surface, allowing the exchange of much-needed nutrients on which phytoplankton feed.</p> <p>In recent years, scientists have found evidence that AMOC is weakening, a process that is still not well-understood but may be due in part to warming temperatures increasing the melting of Greenland’s ice. This ice melt has added an influx of less-dense freshwater to the North Atlantic, which acts to stratify, or separate its layers, much like oil and water, preventing nutrients in the deep from upwelling to the surface. This warming-induced weakening of the ocean circulation could be what is driving phytoplankton’s decline. As the atmosphere warms the upper ocean in general, this could also further the ocean’s stratification, worsening phytoplankton’s productivity.</p> <p>“It’s a one-two punch,” Osman says. “It’s not good news, but the upshot to this is that we can no longer claim ignorance. We have evidence that this is happening, and that’s the first step you inherently have to take toward fixing the problem, however we do that.”</p> <p>This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as well as graduate fellowship support from the US Department of Defense Office of Naval Research.</p> Ice core field camp on a clear spring evening, Disko Island Ice Cap, west Greenland. Image: Luke Trusel (Rowan University)Climate, Climate change, EAPS, Earth and atmospheric sciences, Environment, Global Warming, Greenhouse gases, Oceanography and ocean engineering, Research, School of Science, National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA MIT podcast breaks down the facts on climate change http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-tilclimate-podcast-breaks-down-climate-change-facts-0502 TILclimate (Today I Learned: Climate) podcast demystifies the science, technology, and policy surrounding climate change in 10-minute bites. Thu, 02 May 2019 17:10:01 -0400 Environmental Solutions Initiative http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-tilclimate-podcast-breaks-down-climate-change-facts-0502 <p>Climate change is confusing.</p> <p>At least, that’s the impression the average American might get if they tried to learn about the subject from the flurry of journal articles, policy papers, and action plans that dominate the conversation among scientists and environmental advocates. To help demystify the science, solutions, and policies behind climate change, the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) has launched a podcast series called TILclimate, airing eight episodes in its first season over the 2019 spring semester.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of information out there about why climate change is happening, how it will affect human life, and the solutions that are on the table. But it’s hard to find sources that you trust,” says Laur Hesse Fisher, program director for ESI and host of the new series. “And even then, there’s still a lot of jargon and technicalities that you have to wade through.</p> <p>“We’re trying to solve that problem.”</p> <p>In each 10-minute episode, Hesse Fisher speaks to an expert from the MIT community to break down a clear, focused question related to climate change. In the first batch of episodes, these questions have included: What do clouds have to do with climate change? Why are different parts of the world experiencing different climate impacts? How does carbon pricing work?</p> <p>The podcast is part of a broader ESI project called MIT Climate, a community-building effort built around a common web portal where users can share climate change-related projects, news stories, and learning resources at MIT and beyond. MIT Climate is intended to draw individuals and groups working on climate issues at MIT closer together, and eventually become a platform for worldwide, science-based learning and engagement on climate change. You can see a prototype of the portal at <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/">climate.mit.edu</a>.</p> <p>“We named the podcast TILclimate after the popular Reddit hashtag TIL, which stands for Today I Learned,” says Hesse Fisher. “We hope to signify that these episodes are accessible. Even if you have no prior knowledge of climate science or policy, after 10 minutes you know enough to start being a part of the conversation.”</p> <p>To hear this approach in action, you can listen to the podcast’s first episode, “TIL about planes,” where Hesse Fisher interviews MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics Steven Barrett, head of MIT's Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment. Together, they walk listeners through the two primary ways that air travel impacts Earth’s climate: by releasing carbon dioxide high into the atmosphere and by producing heat-trapping condensation trails.</p> <p>“Most of the CO<sub>2</sub> that aviation's ever emitted is still in the atmosphere because it lasts so long,” Barrett says in the interview. To help illustrate his point, Hesse Fisher adds: “Think about fighter planes circling Europe in World War I, or Charles Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. The CO<sub>2</sub> from those flights are still in the atmosphere.”</p> <p>“We steer clear of jargon whenever possible and make a real attempt to define the terms and concepts that we use,” says Hesse Fisher. “The point is, we hope the podcast will appeal to the ‘climate curious’ — people who are just interested enough in climate change that they’d listen to something around 10 minutes.”</p> <p>Those who do want to dig deeper into the content can head to TILclimate’s profile on the <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/users/tilclimate-podcast">MIT Climate website</a>, where each episode posting includes a “More Info” tab with links to external resources.</p> <p>Season 1 concluded on May 1, comprising eight episodes about planes, clouds, materials, hurricanes, uncertainty, climate impacts, carbon pricing, and geoengineering. You can listen to TILclimate on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p>MIT Climate is MIT’s central online portal for all things related to anthropogenic climate change.</p> Each 10-minute episode of TILclimate explains a different climate change topic.Image: Aaron Krol/MIT ESIClimate change, Earth and atmospheric sciences, School of Science, EAPS, ESI, Climate, Sustainability, Science communications, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering Study: For low-income countries, climate action pays off by 2050 http://news.mit.edu/2019/study-finds-climate-action-pays-for-low-income-countries-0501 Economic benefits of mitigation arrive much sooner than previously thought. Wed, 01 May 2019 14:30:01 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/study-finds-climate-action-pays-for-low-income-countries-0501 <p><em>The following announcement was released jointly by MIT and the International Food Policy Research Institute.</em></p> <p>Successful global efforts to substantially limit greenhouse gas emissions would likely boost GDP growth of poorer countries over the next 30 years, according to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02428-3" target="_blank">new research</a> published in <em>Climatic Change.</em></p> <p>Researchers examined the impact global climate change mitigation would have on the economies of poorer countries — specifically Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. Devastation in Mozambique and Malawi recently caused by cyclones Idai and Kenneth vividly demonstrate the crippling impact that extreme weather events can have on these economies. Climate change is widely expected to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events such as extreme heat, droughts, and floods as well as to magnify the destructive power of cyclones like Idai and Kenneth due to sea-level rise.</p> <p>The study shows that beyond the benefits of reduced extreme weather in the long term, global mitigation efforts would also lower oil prices in coming decades, resulting in a significant economic boon for most poorer countries.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is abundantly clear that many low-income countries will bear the brunt of climate change impacts over the long term, and that successful efforts to rein in emissions will lessen this blow,” says lead author Channing Arndt, director of the Environment and Production Technology Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (<a href="http://www.ifpri.org/">IFPRI</a>). “Our research now provides another rationale for robust climate action: the economic benefits of mitigation arrive much sooner than previously thought.”</p> <p>Lowering greenhouse gas emissions creates two sources of economic gain for poorer countries. First, effective global mitigation policies would reduce changes in local weather patterns and lower the odds of damaging extreme events, allowing for more economic growth than if climate change is unimpeded and more extreme weather damages economic activity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, successful mitigation policies would cause oil prices to drop due to a reduction in oil demand. If richer nations take the lead in restraining their oil use, lower-income countries will be able to transition somewhat later while benefiting from much lower oil prices during the transition period. Since nearly all low-income countries are net oil importers, such price drops would represent a significant economic windfall.</p> <p>The research suggests that by 2050 these two sources of economic benefit together could increase the average GDP of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia by between 2 and 6 percentage points — gains that cannot occur if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.</p> <p>“Previous research into the economic impacts of global climate mitigation has tended to group oil exporters, such as Nigeria and Angola, and oil importers, such as Malawi and Zambia, together in a single aggregate region that both exports and imports oil,” says <a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/paltsev-sergey" target="_blank">Sergey Paltsev</a>, deputy director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. “When you look at the impacts on a country level though, most low-income countries benefit not only from having a more stable climate but also from lower fuel prices, because they are net fuel importers and the import volumes are large relative to the size of their economies.”</p> <p>How emissions policies should be structured globally remains an open question. The models producing these results assume that low-income countries are afforded space to transition more slowly because their contributions to global emissions are relatively low and such exemption allows low-income countries to proceed with the benefit of experience accumulated elsewhere. But the researchers caution that for climate mitigation to be effective, some developing countries cannot be exempted for long — many middle-income countries will soon need to adhere to required emissions reductions.</p> <p>“The impact of climate change is not likely to be distributed equally across the planet, and neither are any costs associated with reducing emissions,” says Arndt. “We want to limit the deleterious effects of climate change on the environment and on people, particularly poor people, while avoiding harming development prospects in the process. The gains from effective mitigation shown by this research could help us achieve this goal.”</p> A satellite image shows Cyclone Kenneth approaching Mozambique on April 25, 2019.Image: NASAResearch, Energy, Greenhouse gases, Carbon, Climate, Environment, Economics, Policy, Emissions, Weather, Natural disasters, Climate change, Poverty, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change VP for Research Maria Zuber urges outward-facing collaborations at MIT Climate Night http://news.mit.edu/2019/maria-zuber-urges-outward-facing-collaborations-mit-climate-night-0501 Inaugural event for MIT’s climate action groups showcases ways the Institute is reaching outside its walls to make new contributions on climate change. Wed, 01 May 2019 12:20:01 -0400 Aaron Krol | Environmental Solutions Initiative http://news.mit.edu/2019/maria-zuber-urges-outward-facing-collaborations-mit-climate-night-0501 <p>MIT’s <a href="http://web.mit.edu/climateaction/ClimateChangeExecSumm-2015Oct21.pdf">Plan for Action on Climate Change</a>, released by President L. Rafael Reif in October 2015, has already begun to catalyze new research on climate issues at the Institute and a tighter focus on building a sustainable campus here in Kendall Square. But MIT will be passing up important opportunities to make an impact on climate change if it does not look beyond its own borders and forge partnerships far outside the realm of academic research.</p> <p>That was the message MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber brought to MIT Climate Night as the university’s environment and sustainability groups gathered on April 25 to discuss climate issues on campus.</p> <p>“One of the pillars of MIT’s Climate Action Plan,” said Zuber at the event, “is that we’ve decided that we should engage with all comers. Climate change represents a global problem, and the only way that we can really address it is to partner with as many organizations and people as we can.”</p> <p>Zuber appeared with John Fernández, director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), and Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), to discuss their personal experiences working on climate issues and where they believe the Institute can be most influential. All three agreed that, while MIT’s role as a powerhouse of basic research is important, it has been equally energizing to delve into practical, policy-based engagement with unexpected partners.</p> <p>Fernández, for example, pointed to ESI’s collaboration with the nonprofit Center for Coalfield Justice in Greene County, Pennsylvania, a region where the coal industry has long been the dominant employer. While residents of Greene County can be resistant to environmental groups, he said, it’s not because they refuse to accept that their economy is changing. Instead, they can see keenly that more prodding to abandon coal is not the help they need.</p> <p>“Everyone knows there’s going to be a transition,” said Fernández. “In fact, maybe they know better than anyone, because they’ve seen companies go bankrupt and pull up and move.” Coalfield Justice and ESI have been able to work constructively with residents because their research centers on finding paths to a humane economic transition, and communicating those paths to help the county weather the decline of its major industry.</p> <p>Armstrong, meanwhile, discussed MITEI’s work with developing countries through the Tata Center for Technology and Design, to bring energy solutions to areas without energy access, including in India and sub-Saharan Africa. “These regions are in energy poverty and in desperate need of getting energy in a carbon-free way so that they can engage in the global economy,” Armstrong said. Here, innovations in financing small grids can have a triple benefit: improving quality of life, bringing in new work opportunities, and adding carbon-free energy in countries where the dirtiest fossil fuels might otherwise expand.</p> <p>Armstrong also takes heart from MITEI’s ongoing conversations with established energy companies, some of which are beginning to make large investments in carbon-free power. “Part of the Plan for Climate Action has been engaging with industry,” he said, citing cement, chemicals, and metals as important energy-intensive sectors to decarbonize. “This has to be economy-wide,” he said. “We’re working to engage a broader range of industries.”</p> <p>MIT Climate Night was co-sponsored by ESI and MITEI and brought together representatives from more than a dozen departments, centers, and student and alumni groups whose missions include climate action on campus and beyond. It was the first real-world event to grow out of the <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/">MIT Climate Portal</a>, an online community for engagement on climate science and solutions.</p> <p>Attendees joined discussions on topics that encompassed both a global context and actions MIT can take on its own, including the energy transition, climate finance, and carbon offsets. They also took in the three headline speakers’ thoughts about how the Institute can not only advance research, but also inspire change in the wider world. As Zuber recalled, the flourishing environmental movement of the 1970s needed both scientific discovery and a mass change in consciousness, inspired by moments like the Apollo space missions, to succeed.</p> <p>Zuber projected a single slide for her talk at Climate Night: the famous “Earthrise” image taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft in December of 1968 — seven months before the Apollo 11 lunar landing and just over a year before the first Earth Day in April 1970. “Images are important, and I spend a lot of time thinking about, ‘What is the image, what is the message, that it’s going to take to globally change opinion … so that we’re all taking better care of our Earth?’” she said. “This image of actually seeing the fragile Earth from space and everything that we know and love sitting out there in space, alone, was one of the things that really inspired the environmental movement.”</p> <p>MIT’s climate community may need little encouragement to look outside their own silos, as the diverse attendees who came to Climate Night to meet new allies on campus can attest. “I think that’s fundamentally in the DNA at MIT,” noted Armstrong in his opening remarks. “I’ve found that to be extraordinarily stimulating [at MITEI], both because of the enthusiasm across campus for addressing energy, but also because of the enthusiasm for working together across disciplines.</p> <p>“I don’t know anywhere else among universities where there’s this low a barrier to collaboration.”</p> <p><em>The audience at MIT Climate Night submitted more questions than the speakers could answer during the event. For responses to more audience questions from the offices of the Vice President for Research, ESI, and MITEI, visit </em><a href="https://climate.mit.edu/"><em>climate.mit.edu</em></a><em> over the coming weeks.</em></p> As part of MIT Climate Night, MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber (center) talks with John Fernández, director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (left) and Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, about their personal experiences working on climate issues and where they believe the Institute can be most influential.Photo: Kelley Travers/MIT Energy InitiativeMIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), Climate, Environment, Energy, Climate change, ESI, Special events and guest speakers, Global, Collaboration, International relations, Sustainability Water Innovation Prize goes to startups targeting methane and wastewater http://news.mit.edu/2019/water-innovation-prize-methane-wastewater-0423 Student-led startups Symbrosia and SiPure each awarded a $14,000 grand prize. Tue, 23 Apr 2019 16:34:35 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/water-innovation-prize-methane-wastewater-0423 <p>A startup with a cheap technology for purifying textile wastewater and another with a system to help reduce methane emissions from cattle were named co-winners of the MIT Water Innovation Prize on Thursday.</p> <p>After eight student finalist teams pitched their companies’ water-related solutions, the judges couldn’t agree on the winners and ultimately split the grand prize into two $14,000 checks for the co-winners.</p> <p>The founders of both the seaweed-producing startup Symbrosia and the textile wastewater purification startup SiPure said they were happy to split the winnings.</p> <p>“We were just so proud to be here,” SiPure business development lead Lily Cheng Zedler said after the event. “We’re really grateful to the Water Innovation Prize and the judges for believing in us.”</p> <p>Close to 200 people, including students, faculty, investors, and people working in the private industry, traveled to the sixth floor of the Media Lab for the event. Members from the eight finalist teams came from as far away as Lebanon and as close as the MIT Sloan School of Management to share their ideas.</p> <p>The third place, $7,000 prize went to Volta Irrigation, which loans seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides to smallholder farmers in Rwanda and surrounding countries, then helps the farmers increase their productivity by loaning them a proprietary irrigation system called the Alma Volta. The stationary, bicycle-like device works by having operators pedal, which powers an inverter, battery, and pump that efficiently distribute over 3,000 liters of water per hour onto crops.</p> <p><strong>Addressing livestock methane emissions</strong></p> <p>According to the Environmental Protection Agency, methane accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The largest source of methane is livestock such as cows, pigs, and goats, who produce it as part of their normal digestive processes.</p> <p>Recent <a href="https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/43225/">research</a> has shown that mixing just 2 percent of a specific kind of algae into a cow’s diet can reduce their methane emissions by 99 percent.</p> <p>Symbrosia is acting on those findings with a patent-pending system that consists of a tank for growing that algae, a tank for growing shrimp, and chambers that move waste and water back and forth. When waste from the shrimp moves to the algae tank it acts as fertilizer, and as the algae absorb nutrients from the water it produces clean, oxygenated water for the shrimp.</p> <p>The result is a weekly harvest of algae and local, organic shrimp (which are grown in three-month rotational cycles). The only water loss in the system is due to evaporation, and all of the waste is dissolved back into the water, according to the company. Symbrosia plans to sell the algae to feed suppliers at $1.60 a pound, and the shrimp to restaurants at $24 a pound.</p> <p>With its algae, the company plans to first target the mixed-ration dairy feed supplement market, estimated to be around $5.3 billion in size. With its shrimp, the company will first target the $31 million imported organic shrimp market in the U.S.</p> <p>The company will begin its first pilot project with three corporate partners&nbsp;toward the end of this year. Eventually, it plans to place large versions of its system near livestock industry hot spots to maximize its impact.</p> <p><strong>Cleaning up the textile industry</strong></p> <p>Garment manufacturers use huge volumes of water each year to dye fabrics. Purifying the resulting wastewater is a complex, expensive process that can account for up to 25 percent of the operating costs of a standard textile mill.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the low margins in the textile industry lead many manufacturers to dump the wastewater in local waterways. For example, in India, the world’s second largest producer of textiles, 80 percent of textile wastewater goes untreated, according to SiPure.</p> <p>Wastewater dumping leads to the pollution of drinking water, destruction of local agriculture, and long-term health consequences for people in the area.</p> <p>SiPure has developed and patented a silicon membrane that it says makes the process of purifying textile wastewater dramatically simpler and cheaper. Billions of tiny nanopores within the membrane allow water to flow through while molecular dyes get stuck.</p> <p>“It looks boring on the surface, just a gray square,” SiPure co-founder Brendan Smith, who invented the technology during his PhD work in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, told the audience during the pitch. “But the magic is in the cross section.”</p> <p>Smith says the membrane is capable of removing more than 99 percent of the dyes in waters and can be produced for about 10 times less than competing ceramic-based purification technology. SiPure says its membrane also decreases maintenance costs while working for around 10 years.</p> <p>This summer, the company is starting a pilot project with a textile mill in India, where its membranes will purify 50 to 100 liters of wastewater each day. From there, the founders plan to continue scaling throughout India in hopes of capturing 35 to 40 percent of the market by 2025.</p> <p>The Water Innovation Prize, which helps translate research and ideas into business and impact, has been hosted by the MIT Water Club since 2015. Each year, student-led finalist teams from around the country and, increasingly, the world, come to MIT’s campus to pitch their water-related innovations.</p> Symbrosia co-founder and CEO Alexia Akbay, second from left, and co-founder and CTO Jonathan Simonds, fourth from right, pose with members of MIT’s Water Club following the MIT Water Innovation Prize Thursday.Credit: Zach WinnIndustry, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Materials Science and Engineering, DMSE, School of Engineering, Research, Greenhouse gases, Agriculture, Water, Water purification, Climate, Climate change, Sustainability, India, Special events and guest speakers Letter regarding MIT&#039;s upcoming climate change symposia http://news.mit.edu/2019/letter-climate-change-symposia-0422 Mon, 22 Apr 2019 17:00:11 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/letter-climate-change-symposia-0422 <p><em>The following letter was sent to the MIT community on April 23 by President L. Rafael Reif</em></p> <p>To the members of the MIT community,</p> <p>Starting next fall and ending on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – a year from today – MIT will hold a series of six campus symposia on the urgent challenges of climate change and climate action.</p> <p>I write now to encourage you to save the date for as many of these conversations as you can.</p> <p>Closer to the time, we will find a number of ways, including via the <a href="https://climate.mit.edu/symposia">climate symposia website</a>, to share the exact campus locations and the speakers. For now, the topics, dates and times:</p> <p><strong>Progress in Climate Science</strong><br /> October 2, 2019, 1–4 p.m.</p> <p><strong>The Climate Policy Problem</strong><br /> October 29, 2019, 4–7 p.m.</p> <p><strong>Decarbonizing the Electricity Sector</strong><br /> December 4, 2019, 3–6 p.m.</p> <p><strong>Economy-wide Deep Decarbonization – Beyond Electricity!</strong><br /> February 25, 2020, 5–8 p.m.</p> <p><strong>MIT Initiatives and the Role of Research Universities</strong><br /> April 2, 2020, 2–5 p.m.</p> <p><strong>Summing Up: “Why are we waiting?"</strong><br /> April 22, 2020, 1–4 p.m.</p> <p>For the energy and imagination it took to develop this important series, I am deeply grateful to the faculty members who agreed to serve on the MIT Climate Action Symposia Organizing Committee; their names appear below. With the leadership of chair Paul Joskow, Professor Emeritus in economics, the committee gathered ideas for topics and speakers from across the MIT community and used that thoughtful input to shape a compelling series of conversations.</p> <p>I hope these symposia will deepen our shared knowledge about current climate science and policy, and help inspire us all to find new and more effective ways to achieve the immediate and sustained action it will take to confront this civilizational threat.</p> <p>I look forward to seeing many of you at the inaugural symposium on October 2.</p> <p>Sincerely,</p> <p>L. Rafael Reif</p> <strong>MIT Climate Action Symposia Organizing Committee</strong> <p>John M. Deutch</p> <p>Kerry A. Emanuel</p> <p>Paula T. Hammond</p> <p>Colette L. Heald</p> <p>Joi Ito</p> <p>Paul L. Joskow, chair</p> <p>Ernest J. Moniz</p> <p>Richard Schmalensee</p> <p>Evelyn N. Wang</p> <p>Maria T. Zuber (<em>ex officio)</em></p> Community, Faculty, Staff, Students, Climate change, Alternative energy, Energy, Greenhouse gases, Special events and guest speakers, President L. Rafael Reif Designing water infrastructure for climate uncertainty http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-research-designing-water-infrastructure-amid-climate-uncertainty-0422 A new method identifies opportunities to learn and adapt to changing temperature and precipitation trends. Mon, 22 Apr 2019 12:40:01 -0400 Mark Dwortzan | Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-research-designing-water-infrastructure-amid-climate-uncertainty-0422 <p>In Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa, the demand for water is expected to double by 2035 to an estimated 300,000 cubic meters per day. In Mombasa’s current warm and humid climate, that water comes from a substantial volume of precipitation that may also change significantly as the region warms in the coming decades in line with global climate model projections.</p> <p>What’s not clear from the projections, however, is whether precipitation levels will rise or fall along with that warming.</p> <p>The ultimate direction and magnitude of precipitation change is a major concern for designers of a proposed dam and reservoir system that will capture runoff into the Mwache River, which currently totals about 310,000 cubic meters per day. The substantial uncertainty in future runoff makes it difficult to determine the reservoir capacity necessary to meet Mombasa’s water demand throughout its estimated 100-year lifetime. City planner are therefore faced with deciding&nbsp;whether to invest in an expensive, large-scale dam to provide a consistent water supply under the driest future climate projected by the models, a smaller-scale dam that could accommodate current needs, or start small and build capacity as needed.</p> <p>To help cities like Mombasa sort through such consequential decisions, a team of researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has developed a new, systematic approach to designing long-term water infrastructure amid climate change uncertainty. Their planning framework assesses the potential to learn about regional climate change over time as new observations become available, and thus evaluate the suitability of flexible approaches that add water storage capacity incrementally if the climate becomes warmer and drier.</p> <p>The researchers describe&nbsp;the <a href="https://rdcu.be/bxaIa" style="color: rgb(3, 87, 141);" target="_blank">framework and its application to Mombasa</a>&nbsp;in the journal&nbsp;<em>Nature Communications.</em></p> <p><strong>A new framework for water infrastructure design</strong></p> <p>Using the framework to compare the likely lifetime costs of a flexible approach with those of two static,&nbsp;irreversible options for the proposed dam in Mombasa — one designed for the driest, warmest climate, the other for today’s climate — the research team found the flexible approach to be the most cost-effective while still maintaining a reliable supply of water to Mombasa.</p> <p>“We found that the flexible adaptive option, which allows for the dam’s height to be increased incrementally, substantially reduces the risk of overbuilding infrastructure that you don’t need, and maintains a similar level of water supply reliability in comparison to having a larger dam from the get-go,” says&nbsp;<a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/fletcher-sarah" style="color: rgb(3, 87, 141);" target="_blank">Sarah Fletcher</a>, the study’s lead author, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.</p> <p>Fletcher’s work on the study was largely completed as a PhD student at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society under the supervision of co-author and MIT Joint Program Research Scientist&nbsp;<a href="https://globalchange.mit.edu/about-us/personnel/strzepek-kenneth" style="color: rgb(3, 87, 141);" target="_blank">Kenneth Strzepek</a>, and in collaboration with co-author and former Joint Program research associate&nbsp;<a href="https://eapsweb.mit.edu/people/mlickley" style="color: rgb(3, 87, 141);" target="_blank">Megan Lickley</a>, now a PhD student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.</p> <p>The Kenyan government is now in the final stages of the design of the Mwache Dam.</p> <p>“Due to the Joint Program’s efforts to make leading-edge climate research&nbsp;available for use globally, the results from this study have informed the ongoing design and master planning process,” says Strzepek. “It’s a perfect illustration of the mission of&nbsp;Global MIT: ‘Of the World. In the World. For the World.’”</p> <p>By pinpointing opportunities to reliably apply flexible rather than static approaches to water infrastructure design, the new planning framework could free up billions of dollars in savings in climate adaptation investments — savings that could be passed on to provide water infrastructure solutions to many more resource-limited communities that face substantial climate risk.</p> <p><strong>Incorporating learning into large infrastructure decision-making</strong></p> <p>The study may be the first to address a limitation in current water infrastructure planning, which traditionally assumes that today’s climate change uncertainty estimates will persist throughout the whole planning timeline, one that typically spans multiple decades. In many cases this assumption causes flexible, adaptive planning options to appear less cost-effective than static approaches. By estimating upfront how much planners can expect to learn about climate change in the future, the new framework can enable decision-makers to evaluate whether adaptive approaches are likely to be reliable and cost effective.</p> <p>"Climate models can provide us with a useful range of potential trajectories of the climate system,” says Lickley.&nbsp;“There is considerable uncertainty in terms of the magnitude and timing of these changes over the next 50 to 100 years. In this work we show how to incorporate learning into these large infrastructure decisions as we gain new knowledge about the climate trajectory over the coming decades."</p> <p>Using this planning tool, a city planner could determine whether it makes sense to choose a static or flexible design approach for a proposed water infrastructure system based on current projections of maximum temperature and precipitation change over the lifetime of the system, along with information that will eventually come in from future observations of temperature and precipitation change. In the study, the researchers performed this analysis for the proposed Mombasa dam under thousands of future regional climate simulations covering a wide range of potential temperature and precipitation trends.</p> <p>“For example, if you started off on a high-temperature trajectory and 40 years from now you remain on that trajectory, you would know that none of the low-temperature design options are feasible anymore,” says Fletcher. “At that point you would have exceeded a certain amount of warming, and could then rule out the low-temperature-change planning option, and take advantage of an adaptive approach to increase the capacity.”</p> <p>Future development on the planning framework may incorporate analysis of the potential to learn about other sources of uncertainty, such as the growth in demand for water resources, during the lifetime of a water infrastructure project.</p> <p>The study was supported by the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab and National Science Foundation.</p> Kenya Water Resources Management Authority workers build a water quality monitoring station on the Mwache River.Photo courtesy of the Mwache Dam ProjectSchool of Engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, IDSS, Climate change, Infrastructure, Policy, Water, Sustainability, EAPS, Africa, Research A steward for ocean research and climate health http://news.mit.edu/2019/ocean-research-climate-health-raffaele-ferrari-ally-of-nature-award-0419 Raffaele Ferrari honored with School of Science Ally of Nature Fund Award. Fri, 19 Apr 2019 13:00:01 -0400 Lauren Hinkel | EAPS http://news.mit.edu/2019/ocean-research-climate-health-raffaele-ferrari-ally-of-nature-award-0419 <p>The world is continually changing and evolving. But avid hikers and MIT alumni Audrey Buyrn&nbsp;’58, SM ’63, PhD ’66 her late husband, Alan Phillips ’57, PhD ’61, felt humanity had asked too much from our planet. Anthropogenic activity was pushing the world toward weather and climate extremes, and imperiling the beautiful landscapes and biodiversity they had come to love while experiencing them first-hand on their treks.</p> <p>“When Alan and I established the Ally of Nature Fund in 2007, it was still possible to be an intelligent skeptic of climate change and to think that catastrophic environmental degradation was far off in space and time. This is no longer possible,” says Buyrn, a sentiment shared with Phillips. “The evidence is in front of our eyes, over and over again from every part of the world.”</p> <p>Raffaele Ferrari, a Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography, is one of the MIT researchers investigating this anthropogenic influence on climate. His research focuses on the role that the ocean circulation plays in setting the rate at which the ocean takes up heat and carbon from the atmosphere in present and past climates. Ferrari and his group have demonstrated through theory and observations that small-scale turbulent motions play a crucial role in shaping both the rate and the pathways of this uptake; however, these motions are not properly represented in climate models.</p> <p>To remedy this, the Ferrari group is contributing to the creation of a new-generation climate model that leverages machine learning and data assimilation techniques to better represent these important small-scale turbulent motions, both in the ocean and atmosphere, so as to close the knowledge gaps and increase certainty in climate predictions compared to existing models. The information produced will help inform decisions to ensure sustainability of the Earth and our environment.</p> <p>For this work, the School of Science selected Ferrari for the 2019 Ally of Nature Fund Award, bestowed annually to support exploratory projects whose purpose is to prevent, reduce, and repair the impacts of humanity on the natural environment. The fund will be used to expand the Ferrari group’s research, supporting students who are developing basic theories for the role of small-scale ocean turbulence on large-scale circulation in simple, idealized problems — a key step to test the fidelity of the new-generation climate model.</p> <p>“Professor Ferrari’s oceanographic research impacts how we understand nature and our place in it: from the ocean’s phytoplankton that produce most of the oxygen we breathe, to our predictions about the Earth’s rising temperature and its effects on sea-level rise and food security,” says Michael Sipser, the Donner Professor of Mathematics and dean of the MIT School of Science. “I’m pleased to name him a recipient of the Ally of Nature Fund, as his work has wide-reaching implications in our understanding of the physics and biology of the oceans, and ultimately of our changing climate, which affects us all.”</p> <p>Through their fund, Buyrn and Phillips have supported the research of other Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science (EAPS) professors — including Andrew Babbin, Kristin Bergmann, Tim Cronin, John Marshall, David McGee, and Ron Prinn, in addition to Department of Physics Associate Professor Jeff Gore — on topics ranging from reconstructing and understanding past climates and the evolution of early life on Earth to the physics of our oceans and atmospheres and their impacts on climate.</p> <p>“Although it is a cliché to say 'more research is needed', more research is needed,” to understand the intricacies of our planet and the value of what could be lost to climate change and anthropogenic degradation, says Buyrn. Together, Ferrari and his EAPS geoscience colleagues are piecing together the history of our planet and its interconnected systems.</p> <p>“It is not only research in geoscience that needs continued support, but research in many other disciplines, such as chemistry, architecture, civil engineering, molecular biology, and computer sciences,” says Buyrn, that will significantly contribute to the tackling of environmental issues, wholesale. “A mammoth cross-disciplinary attack on environmental problems, including but not limited to climate change, is needed, and MIT — excelling in these areas with experience cooperating and working across fields — is one of the few places that can do it!”</p> Audrey Buyrn (left) congratulates Raffaele Ferrari on his MIT School of Science Ally of Nature Fund Award.Photo: Lauren HinkelAwards, honors and fellowships, School of Science, EAPS, Oceanography and ocean engineering, Climate, Climate change, Environment, Giving Climate expert emphasizes the fierce urgency of now http://news.mit.edu/2019/economist-nicholas-stern-warns-renewable%20energy-0411 In MIT talk, Lord Nicholas Stern calls the next 20 years “absolutely defining” for society. Thu, 11 Apr 2019 09:27:58 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/economist-nicholas-stern-warns-renewable%20energy-0411 <p>Prominent economist and policymaker Lord Nicholas Stern delivered a strong warning about the dangers of climate change in a talk at MIT on Tuesday, calling the near future “defining” and urging a rapid overhaul of the economy to reach net zero carbon emissions.</p> <p>“The next 20 years will be absolutely defining,” Stern told the audience, saying they “will shape what kind of future people your age will have.”</p> <p>“Don’t underestimate the size of the challenge,” Stern added, while giving the MIT Undergraduate Economics Association’s annual public lecture.</p> <p>To consider the climate trouble we are already in, Stern noted, consider that the concentration of carbon dioxode in the atmosphere is now over 400 parts per million, a level the Earth has not experienced for about 3 million years, long before people were around. (The modern human lineage is estimated to be about 200,000 years old.)</p> <p>Back then, sea levels were about 30 to 60 feet higher than they are now, Stern said. The recent rise in carbon dioxide concentrations has created rapidly increasing temperatures that could raise the ocean back to those prehuman levels — which would profoundly alter our civilization’s geography.</p> <p>“It would be Oxford-by-the-Sea,” Stern said, referring to the English university seat that lies about 50 miles inland at present. “Bangladesh would be completely underwater.” Moreover, Stern noted, “Southern Europe would probably look like the Sahara Desert.” &nbsp;</p> <p>And with a 2 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures, Stern pointed out, the proportion of people on Earth exposed to extreme heat would jump from 14 percent to 37 percent.</p> <p>“This is the kind of heat that can kill, in a big way,” Stern warned.</p> <p><strong>“Net zero is fundamental”</strong></p> <p>As dire as those scenarios seem, Stern also expressed some optimism, saying that policymakers are now much more likely to believe that we can can combine continued economic growth with zero-emissions technology — a change from common views expressed at, say, the 2009 global climate summit in Copenhagen.</p> <p>“What we’ve seen I think in the last five years or so is a change of understanding of the policy toward climate change,” Stern said, “from ‘How much growth do we have to give up to be more responsible and sustainable?’ to ‘How can we find a form of growth that’s different and sustainable?’”</p> <p>However, he warned, a world with a net of zero carbon dioxide emissions within a few decades will be absolutely necessary for society to maintain its current form.</p> <p>“The net zero is fundamental,” Stern said. “That’s not some strange economist’s aspiration. The net zero is the science. If you want to stabilize temperatures, you’re going to have to stabilize concentrations. Stabilizing concentrations means net zero.”</p> <p>Stern’s lecture, “Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st century: The Drive to the Zero-Carbon Economy,” was delivered to an audience of over 100 people in MIT’s Room 2-190, a lecture hall.</p> <p>As part of his remarks, Stern contended that the overhaul of energy production and consumption could have leveling economic benefits globally. Indeed, a successful transformation of energy use would almost by definition have a broad impact, he said, since about 70 percent of energy involves infrastructure and 70 percent of growth in coming decades may be located in the developing world.</p> <p>Multiplying those factors, Stern said, “Half of the story is infrastructure in developing countries and emerging markets.”</p> <p>Among many specific urban climate measures, Stern suggested that, for instance, “if cities banned internal-combustion engine cars [from] coming into the [city] centers by some date, say, 2025, that would radically change the kinds of cars that come to market.” And he touted the ability of policymakers to effect change, citing the massive global switch to more efficient LED light bulbs as one case where lawmaking has created massive improvements in energy efficiency.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>It’s not enough to talk</strong></p> <p>Stern is an accomplished economist who has studied development and growth extensively, and shifted his focus to include climate economics over the last two decades. He is professor of economics and government and chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.&nbsp;</p> <p>Stern may be best-known in public for his work as a minister in Britain’s Treasury Department, where he spearheaded a major report on climate and economics, released in 2006. In 2007, Stern was made a life peer in Britain in 2007, and sits in the House of Lords — as a nonpartisan member, he reminded the audience on Tuesday. Stern was chief economist of the World Bank from 2000 to 2003, and president of the British Academy from 2013 to 2017.</p> <p>As Stern remarked at the beginning of his talk, he also spent a year at MIT in the early 1970s, working with MIT economist Robert M. Solow. Stern said the Institute has “been my U.S. home” through the years.</p> <p>At one point, Stern asked audience members to raise their hands if they were economists; a significant percentage of people in the room did so.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Those of you who are not economists,” Stern quipped, “it was your decision, and you have to live with it.”</p> <p>Stern was introduced at the event by Paul Joskow, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at MIT, and a faculty member at the Institute for over 45 years. Joskow also led off the question-and-answer session after Stern’s talk with a query about rural land use and its impact on climate. Stern responded that, although he had emphasized urban policy in his talk, rural policies such as reforestation should play a significant role in capturing excess carbon dioxide.</p> <p>Stern fielded a wide variety of queries, including one about the economics profession from an audience member who asked: “As an economist working on an issue that affects the world in a relatively short time frame, is it enough, is it persuasive enough, to be doing research … and doing presentations like this?”</p> <p>“No,” Stern responded instantly. “That’s why I spend a lot of time doing other things.” In recent years, Stern has worked with high-level government officials on climate policy matters in China, India, France, and for the U.N., among other projects.</p> <p>As advice for economics students concerned about climate, Stern suggested: “Invest in your own skill.” And he left no doubt about his own view on the importance of the climate challenge.</p> <p>“We have the biggest problem facing humankind,” Stern said.</p> The economist Lord Nicholas Stern delivers the MIT Undergraduate Economics Association’s annual lecture, on climate economics, at MIT on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.Image: Chelsea TurnerSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Social sciences, Climate change, Energy, Special events and guest speakers, Policy, Global Warming, Renewable energy, Economics