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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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Princeton receives $20-million grant to address greenhouse problem

Princeton University has started a long-term partnership with BP and Ford Motor Company to develop solutions to the greenhouse problem.

BP has pledged $15 million and Ford $5 million over 10 years to fund a project called the Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI). It is the largest corporate grant in Princeton's history. The goal is to develop and evaluate methods for keeping carbon emissions, the main contributor to greenhouse warming, out of the atmosphere by stowing it safely within the earth, an approach known as carbon sequestration.

"It is exciting that this problem that we've all viewed as intractable - for our children and our children's children - could be fixed in our lifetimes," said Stephen Pacala, CMI's co-principal investigator.

Research conducted at Princeton and other institutions in recent years has underscored the enormity of the greenhouse warming issue, but also has revealed specific strategies with the potential to eliminate the problem, according to Pacala and co-principal investigator Robert Socolow.

"The greenhouse problem is one of the most important environmental and social issues confronting the world for the next half century or more," said Socolow. "Princeton is a university with strengths in many of the critical areas that need to be developed to make progress in solving this problem."

The greenhouse problem has arisen because sustained use of fossil (carbon-based) fuels is causing a dramatic increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Throughout Earth's history, changes in carbon dioxide levels have been linked to changes in climate. If carbon emissions continue unchecked, significant shifts in global climate are inevitable.

Under CMI, which will become a new venture under the umbrella of the Princeton Environmental Institute, scientists will investigate several technologies for capturing the carbon in fossil fuels and sequestering it in underground geological formations.

The project will assess whether these methods will:

7 have the desired effect on atmospheric carbon and climate

7 be safe and reliable and have limited environmental impact

7 involve neither prohibitive economic costs nor prohibitive disruptions in patterns of energy consumption.

A key component of this work will be to evaluate the feasibility of switching to alternative, hydrogen fuels. Such fuels would be created by transforming conventional fossil fuels into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen would be used as fuel and the carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, would be returned to underground reservoirs similar to the ones from which it came.

Throughout the project, the researchers will investigate the safety of returning large amounts of carbon to the deep subsurface. "The particular focus of the work is to make sure that the solution does not bring with it other large environmental problems," said Pacala. "The environmental risks are really front and center."

CMI builds upon and adds new focus to a range of established research projects at Princeton, and draws on the expertise of scientists and petroleum engineers at BP. Teams of scientists on campus are deeply engaged in such efforts as understanding the way carbon cycles between the earth's living organisms, its oceans and atmosphere and how that cycle drives changes in climate; developing technology for hydrogen-based fuels; and analyzing potential approaches to carbon sequestration.

"To the extent that human activities are driving changes in global climate, we are faced with an awesome responsibility," said Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro. "We must not only develop a thorough understanding of these changes, but take bold action to assure a safe and healthy environment for generations to come."

"The scope of this challenge demands the full participation of universities, corporations and governments," continued Shapiro. "That is why I am particularly pleased that BP, Ford and Princeton are forming a collaboration that harnesses our respective strengths."

"BP's commitment to the environment is demonstrated by our financial commitment to research, which will ensure cleaner energy in the future," said Sir John Browne, BP Group chief executive. "The partnerships we are forming with top universities will provide us with the greatest scientific research on environmentally sound energy use. The Princeton Environmental Institute is a leader in research on environmental issues and we are proud to be their partner on this project."

"I believe very strongly that corporations could be and should be a major force for resolving environmental and social concerns in the 21st century, including climate change," said William Clay Ford Jr., Chairman, Ford Motor Company. "This partnership is a proactive step towards realizing sustainable transportation running on alternative fuels, preserving our natural resources, and ensuring the future for the next generation."

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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