In the past 15 months New Jersey has experienced Hurricane Irene, a freak Halloween snowstorm, a snow-less winter, and Hurricane Sandy — and who knows what in terms of the nor’easter now predicted to pelt the shoreline this week. A state long known for its moderate climate has come to accept that severe and atypical weather is part of a new normal, and that climate change may well be the culprit.
But the Garden State, suddenly a case study for changing weather patterns globally, is also a leader in research on energy and environmental policy for the future. At the forefront of innovation in these areas is Princeton University, which hosts the inaugural meeting of the Princeton Energy and Environment Corporate Affiliates Program (EECAP) on Monday and Tuesday, November 12 and 13. Titled “Synergize 2012,” the two-day event will bring together leaders in academe, business, and industry for a series of lectures and discussions meant to build partnerships and encourage innovation.
Registration for the event is closed, but the issues that it will address are likely to be around — and be debated and discussed — for a long time to come.
The Corporate Affiliates Program is led by the university’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and also includes the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the School of Architecture, and the Princeton Environmental Institute. The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab, and Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM) are also involved. According to its website — http://acee.princeton.edu — the program “enhances collaboration and promotes technology transfer between Princeton University and its corporate partners to address global energy needs and environmental concerns.”
Its goals, the website says, are five-fold:
— Develop new solutions for industry and investment opportunities for venture capitalists.
— Propose policies to efficiently implement these solutions on a large scale.
— Create a think tank to inform key players of energy and environmental issues at a global level.
— Offer access to expertise in the field.
— Improve education on energy and the environment through close interactions between teachers, practitioners, and students.
When facing the complex challenges at the intersection of energy and the environment, the solutions are not likely to come “at the benchtop,” where academicians typically pursue their research, says Professor Lynn Loo, deputy director of the Andlinger Center. The challenges, she adds, require “long term solutions and sustained investments,” guided by a long-term policy that could involve private companies and public institutions, as well as academics.
Loo was first drawn to science as a small child when her father, a Malaysian-based businessman for Shell Oil, brought home diagrams showing how “black goo” was transformed into fuels. She earned a bachelor’s degrees in both materials science and chemical engineering at Penn in 1996 and then a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Princeton in 2001.
A professor of chemical and biological engineering at the university, Loo is pursuing various research projects, including work on how plastics could be utilized to create low-cost solar power systems. In 2012 the World Economic Forum named her a Young Global Leader.
While Princeton already is a center for research into the causes and effects of climate change (U.S. 1, May 30, 2012), the university is also assembling a critical interdisciplinary mass of researchers engaged in energy. The Andlinger Center, funded initially by a $100 million gift from private investment manager Gerhard R. Andlinger, Princeton Class of ‘52, brings together about 90 faculty members. And, Loo says, “we are reaching out to the private sector” through the corporate affiliates program.
Participation ranges from $10,000 a year for affiliate members to $500,000 a year for charter members. That figure may seem steep but 70 percent of the money is used to fund research efforts that are aligned with the corporate member’s technology goals. And the corporate affiliates interact not only with the faculty but also with the students, who may end up being recruited for post-graduate jobs.
The “Synergize 2012” event kicks off on the afternoon of Monday, November 12, with a lecture on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Denise Mauzerall, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and public and international affairs, will lead a panel titled “Hydraulic Fracturing — Potential Implications for Climate Change and America’s Energy Future.” Panelists will include Pamela Franklin, chief of the non-carbon dioxide programs branch at the federal Environmental Protection Agency; Robert Harris of the Environmental Defense Fund and the Houston Advanced Research Center; and Gregory Hild, who works in business development at Chevron North America.
While fracking — the practice of drilling into rock formations to release natural gas — has obvious economic benefits, environmental consequences include air and water contamination and possible public health implications. While the practice is not used in New Jersey, it has been the subject of recent legislation, and is a major cause of concern to environmental activists in neighboring Pennsylvania. In 2011 New Jersey became the first state to impose any sort of ban on fracking. Governor Chris Christie vetoed a permanent ban but implemented a one-year moratorium on fracking activity. Earlier this year Christie vetoed legislation that would prevent waste from fracking in other states from being processed in New Jersey.
The program on Tuesday, November 13, includes a welcome address by Loo, and an introduction to the Andlinger Center by director Emily Carter, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and applied and computational mathematics.
Michael Di Capua, the head of U.S. analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York City, delivers the keynote address, “What’s Next For U.S. Energy?” at 9 a.m.
Di Capua, who moved to Florida from Colombia as a child, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard, a master’s in literature from Columbia, and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He previously worked for Tata Power in India on solar energy project development and as a consultant to the telecom industry. His current position involves leading a team that produces reports, analyses, and models relating to clean energy.
Other lectures on November 13’s agenda include “The Challenges of Uncertainty in Energy Systems Analysis” by Warren Powell, a professor of operations research and financial engineering at 10 a.m.; “Photosynthesis, It’s Not Just for Plants Anymore: Light Driven Conversion of Carbon Dioxide to Fuels” by chemistry professor Andrew Bocarsly at 10:30 a.m.; and “Global Warming and the Land Carbon Sink” by ecology and evolutionary biology professor Steve Pacala (U.S. 1, May 30, 2012), at 11 a.m.
In the afternoon mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Robert Socolow will lead a panel discussion on “The Future of Nuclear Reactors: Large or Small?” at 2 p.m. Panelists will include Alexander Glaser, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and international affairs; PSEG Power president and COO William Levis; senior vice president and chief nuclear officer Pierre Oneid of Holtec International, a supplier of equipment for nuclear, solar, geothermal, and fossil power; and Robert Rosner of the University of Chicago.
The conference is the inaugural gathering of the corporate affiliates program and seems to demonstrate the goals set for the Andlinger Center when it was launched in 2008. As director Emily Carter said in a university press release at the time: “The scale of the problem is immense. If you look at where we get most of our energy, 85 percent of it comes from non-renewable fossil fuels whose combustion products pollute our environment. If we want to reach the point of not using any fossil fuels at all someday, the problem is incredibly daunting.
“It’s going to take many different approaches and many people in different disciplines working in parallel and with a lot of cross-fertilization,” she said, noting she has cultivated this interdisciplinary approach to problem solving in her own research group, which consists of students from six different departments and programs at Princeton.
“I also want our work at the center to be done in tandem with economists and public policy experts who examine the technologies we’re working on and discuss with us how different solutions could fit into the marketplace and what sort of government policies are needed to allow these new technologies to take off and create new industries and jobs.”
In the press statement Carter cited the university’s science departments as well as the Princeton Environmental Institute, the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the School of Architecture as key partners. In addition, the federal labs on campus — the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory — greatly augment the center’s mission, she said.
“With the intellectual firepower we have right now at Princeton and with the Andlinger Center now starting, we have the potential to make real progress on creating a clean energy future,” Carter said. “It is just a fantastic opportunity that Gerry Andlinger has provided, and I am honored to be part of it.”
The career path of Mauzerell, who leads the discussion on fracking, may be a microcosm of how the new Andlinger Center hopes to function.
The daughter of two scientists, Mauzerall earned a bachelor’s in chemistry from Brown in 1985 and a PhD in atmospheric chemistry from Harvard in 1996. Prior to joining the Princeton faculty in 1999, she worked for Bruce Company, an environmental consulting firm in Washington, D.C.; the United States Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Her current research focuses on air quality policy and the impacts of air pollution globally and specifically in China and the United States.
As a university press release describes it, Mauzerall’s work is guided by a passion for the environment that was sparked at an early age. She was inspired by her parents, both scientists. They introduced her to the folk singer Pete Seeger, who arrived each fall in her hometown of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., on the Clearwater sloop, the flagship of an environmental organization Seeger founded to help clean up the Hudson River. He would sing songs such as “Garbage” and “Sailing Up, Sailing Down” in small concerts in a park by the river. Sitting at his feet, Mauzerall resolved to help clean up the environment.
“My parents are both scientists and they made me realize that understanding how the science worked was critical to figuring out the solution” to environmental problems, Mauzerall said. The solution, she realized was “to go beyond doing basic research to figure out how to apply science to environmental policymaking in order to really solve environmental problems. I debated whether to continue in science, go to law school or make a career in Washington, D.C.”
Her parents, in contrast, “were powerless, as people who worked on the research side, to implement the solutions.”
Powerless — not a good place to be, as many of us know from recent experience.