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PEI Gives Climate and Energy Research at Princeton a $1.1 Million Boost

The Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) has announced $1.1 million in new awards to support climate and energy research at Princeton University. The new endeavors will engage faculty investigators with expertise spanning nuclear energy policy, wind energy technology, carbon capture and sequestration, biofuels and air pollution, deforestation of tropical rainforests, and the global carbon cycle.

The seven new two-year projects will involve faculty from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and several departments in the natural sciences.

These projects were competitively awarded by the Carbon Mitigation Initiative (CMI) and the Siebel Energy Challenge (SEC) at levels between $100,000 and $200,000 each over the period 2011 to 2013 and represent a significant expansion of the research portfolio of the two PEI administered programs. Selection committees drawn from Princeton faculty conducted separate review processes for the CMI and SEC proposals.

“The two competitions brought forth terrific proposals,” said Robert Socolow, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, co-director of CMI and director of SEC. “Every one of the seven new projects represents a shift of at least a portion of a faculty member’s research in favor of deeper involvement in the colossally challenging problems of energy and the environment. Several projects enable new combinations of faculty to join forces. A key outcome is that the many students at Princeton who see themselves as future planetary leaders will have new opportunities to work on problems that already fascinate them.”

Additional information regarding the newly awarded CMI and SEC projects is provided below:

Carbon Mitigation Initiative Awards

Re-Engineering the Nuclear Future

Alexander Glaser, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and international affairs and M.V. Ramana, associate research scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School will focus on emerging nuclear technologies that emphasize small-scale solutions and will examine how nuclear power potentially fits into a modern low-carbon energy system – one that may be more decentralized than today’s system. The research project will draw expertise from the fields of computing, engineering, and policy to evaluate a range of possible alternative energy futures.

Coordinated Biological, Chemical, and Atmospheric Investigations of the Amazon as a Carbon Sink

David Medvigy, assistant professor of geosciences, and Lars Hedin, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will coordinate field- and model-based assessments of the response and resilience of tropical ecosystems to global environmental change.The study will seek to understand how nutrient feedbacks can affect the strength of the tropical forest carbon sink in the future, to better resolve the processes responsible for the conversion of soil carbon to atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and to investigate how plant diversity impacts the response of tropical forests to climate change.

Molecular Modeling of CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS)

Athanassios Panagiotopoulos, professor of chemical and biological engineering, Pablo Debenedetti, professor and vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Jeroen Tromp, professor of geosciences and director of the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering, will develop molecular-based computational tools for predicting the physical and chemical behavior of systems relevant to CCS. In particular, the group will study CO2/water/salt phase and interfacial behavior, examine systems for the separation of CO2 from flue gases using novel solid adsorbents, as well as improve on the accuracy of seismic monitoring of CO2 sequestration projects.

Siebel Energy Challenge New Investigator Awards

Vertical Axis Wind Turbine Farms (VAWT): Modeling and Optimization

Elie Bou-Zeid, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Alexander Smits, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will investigate the potential of VAWT farms using laboratory experiments and numerical simulations. The project will focus on optimizing the design of large-scale VAWT wind farms, and with the help of Jean-Christophe Golaz, physical scientist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, will model their impact on weather and climate. Data generated through this project will be used to enrich engineering courses MAE 222 and CEE 305, as well as independent research projects.

Understanding Earth’s Thermostat Using Experimental Studies of Water-Rock Interactions

John Higgins, assistant professor of geosciences, will develop an experimental rock autoclave system to probe weathering reactions that are thought to regulate the flow of CO2 through Earth’s surface reservoirs and impact global climate on geologic timescales.The insights gained from this work will further understanding of past and future climate change and why planets like Earth are habitable.The experimental setups in this project will serve as a foundation for a new lab-based undergraduate course on analytical techniques in the environmental and engineering sciences.

A Princeton Institute for Rainforests and the Amazon including their Nutrients, Hydrology, and the Atmosphere (PIRANHA)

Medvigy and Hedin, in coordination with their CMI funded project, will create a tropical rainforest research community by bringing together Princeton faculty, undergraduates, and GFDL researchers called the PIRANHA Consortium. This Consortium will serve as a platform for integrated biological, biogeochemical, and atmospheric investigations relevant to tropical forests and to the impacts of large-scale deforestation. The project will give Princeton students opportunities to actively engage in consortium meetings, independent research projects, and new course offerings centered on tropical ecosystems such as the Amazon.

New Diagnostics Enabling Biofuels in Transportation with Reduced Air Pollutant Emissions and Improved Efficiency

Gerard Wysocki, assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Yiguang Ju, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will develop a novel in-situ sensing method to detect key species in biofuel combustion. By using mid-infrared quantum cascade laser technology, these faculty will aim to optimize combustion efficiency and minimize the associated emissions. As part of this project, they will jointly develop a new course entitled “Cleaner transport fuels, combustion sensing and emission control” (ELE/MAE/CEE 428).

CMI is a 15-year partnership between Princeton University and BP that seeks solutions to the global carbon and climate problem. Since the program’s inception in 2000, CMI has provided $19.0 million in research funding to Princeton faculty engaged in carbon mitigation research.

Launched in 2007, the Grand Challenges Program is an integrated research and education initiative that seeks to develop solutions to focal problems of energy and climate, sustainable development in Africa, and global health and infectious disease. A collaboration between the Princeton Environmental Institute, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, it is supported by the High Meadows Foundation, the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation. The Grand Challenges Program is administered by the Princeton Environmental Institute. Over $12.0 million has been awarded to date involving more than 50 faculty committed to exploring new dimensions in their research and teaching.