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    Study finds health risks in switching ships from diesel to ammonia fuel

    As container ships the size of city blocks cross the oceans to deliver cargo, their huge diesel engines emit large quantities of air pollutants that drive climate change and have human health impacts. It has been estimated that maritime shipping accounts for almost 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and the industry’s negative impacts on air quality cause about 100,000 premature deaths each year.Decarbonizing shipping to reduce these detrimental effects is a goal of the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency that regulates maritime transport. One potential solution is switching the global fleet from fossil fuels to sustainable fuels such as ammonia, which could be nearly carbon-free when considering its production and use.But in a new study, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from MIT and elsewhere caution that burning ammonia for maritime fuel could worsen air quality further and lead to devastating public health impacts, unless it is adopted alongside strengthened emissions regulations.Ammonia combustion generates nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas that is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It also emits nitrogen in the form of nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2, referred to as NOx), and unburnt ammonia may slip out, which eventually forms fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. These tiny particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing health problems like heart attacks, strokes, and asthma.The new study indicates that, under current legislation, switching the global fleet to ammonia fuel could cause up to about 600,000 additional premature deaths each year. However, with stronger regulations and cleaner engine technology, the switch could lead to about 66,000 fewer premature deaths than currently caused by maritime shipping emissions, with far less impact on global warming.“Not all climate solutions are created equal. There is almost always some price to pay. We have to take a more holistic approach and consider all the costs and benefits of different climate solutions, rather than just their potential to decarbonize,” says Anthony Wong, a postdoc in the MIT Center for Global Change Science and lead author of the study.His co-authors include Noelle Selin, an MIT professor in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS); Sebastian Eastham, a former principal research scientist who is now a senior lecturer at Imperial College London; Christine Mounaïm-Rouselle, a professor at the University of Orléans in France; Yiqi Zhang, a researcher at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and Florian Allroggen, a research scientist in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The research appears this week in Environmental Research Letters.Greener, cleaner ammoniaTraditionally, ammonia is made by stripping hydrogen from natural gas and then combining it with nitrogen at extremely high temperatures. This process is often associated with a large carbon footprint. The maritime shipping industry is betting on the development of “green ammonia,” which is produced by using renewable energy to make hydrogen via electrolysis and to generate heat.“In theory, if you are burning green ammonia in a ship engine, the carbon emissions are almost zero,” Wong says.But even the greenest ammonia generates nitrous oxide (N2O), nitrogen oxides (NOx) when combusted, and some of the ammonia may slip out, unburnt. This nitrous oxide would escape into the atmosphere, where the greenhouse gas would remain for more than 100 years. At the same time, the nitrogen emitted as NOx and ammonia would fall to Earth, damaging fragile ecosystems. As these emissions are digested by bacteria, additional N2O  is produced.NOx and ammonia also mix with gases in the air to form fine particulate matter. A primary contributor to air pollution, fine particulate matter kills an estimated 4 million people each year.“Saying that ammonia is a ‘clean’ fuel is a bit of an overstretch. Just because it is carbon-free doesn’t necessarily mean it is clean and good for public health,” Wong says.A multifaceted modelThe researchers wanted to paint the whole picture, capturing the environmental and public health impacts of switching the global fleet to ammonia fuel. To do so, they designed scenarios to measure how pollutant impacts change under certain technology and policy assumptions.From a technological point of view, they considered two ship engines. The first burns pure ammonia, which generates higher levels of unburnt ammonia but emits fewer nitrogen oxides. The second engine technology involves mixing ammonia with hydrogen to improve combustion and optimize the performance of a catalytic converter, which controls both nitrogen oxides and unburnt ammonia pollution.They also considered three policy scenarios: current regulations, which only limit NOx emissions in some parts of the world; a scenario that adds ammonia emission limits over North America and Western Europe; and a scenario that adds global limits on ammonia and NOx emissions.The researchers used a ship track model to calculate how pollutant emissions change under each scenario and then fed the results into an air quality model. The air quality model calculates the impact of ship emissions on particulate matter and ozone pollution. Finally, they estimated the effects on global public health.One of the biggest challenges came from a lack of real-world data, since no ammonia-powered ships are yet sailing the seas. Instead, the researchers relied on experimental ammonia combustion data from collaborators to build their model.“We had to come up with some clever ways to make that data useful and informative to both the technology and regulatory situations,” he says.A range of outcomesIn the end, they found that with no new regulations and ship engines that burn pure ammonia, switching the entire fleet would cause 681,000 additional premature deaths each year.“While a scenario with no new regulations is not very realistic, it serves as a good warning of how dangerous ammonia emissions could be. And unlike NOx, ammonia emissions from shipping are currently unregulated,” Wong says.However, even without new regulations, using cleaner engine technology would cut the number of premature deaths down to about 80,000, which is about 20,000 fewer than are currently attributed to maritime shipping emissions. With stronger global regulations and cleaner engine technology, the number of people killed by air pollution from shipping could be reduced by about 66,000.“The results of this study show the importance of developing policies alongside new technologies,” Selin says. “There is a potential for ammonia in shipping to be beneficial for both climate and air quality, but that requires that regulations be designed to address the entire range of potential impacts, including both climate and air quality.”Ammonia’s air quality impacts would not be felt uniformly across the globe, and addressing them fully would require coordinated strategies across very different contexts. Most premature deaths would occur in East Asia, since air quality regulations are less stringent in this region. Higher levels of existing air pollution cause the formation of more particulate matter from ammonia emissions. In addition, shipping volume over East Asia is far greater than elsewhere on Earth, compounding these negative effects.In the future, the researchers want to continue refining their analysis. They hope to use these findings as a starting point to urge the marine industry to share engine data they can use to better evaluate air quality and climate impacts. They also hope to inform policymakers about the importance and urgency of updating shipping emission regulations.This research was funded by the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium. More

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    Study: Weaker ocean circulation could enhance CO2 buildup in the atmosphere

    As climate change advances, the ocean’s overturning circulation is predicted to weaken substantially. With such a slowdown, scientists estimate the ocean will pull down less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, a slower circulation should also dredge up less carbon from the deep ocean that would otherwise be released back into the atmosphere. On balance, the ocean should maintain its role in reducing carbon emissions from the atmosphere, if at a slower pace.However, a new study by an MIT researcher finds that scientists may have to rethink the relationship between the ocean’s circulation and its long-term capacity to store carbon. As the ocean gets weaker, it could release more carbon from the deep ocean into the atmosphere instead.The reason has to do with a previously uncharacterized feedback between the ocean’s available iron, upwelling carbon and nutrients, surface microorganisms, and a little-known class of molecules known generally as “ligands.” When the ocean circulates more slowly, all these players interact in a self-perpetuating cycle that ultimately increases the amount of carbon that the ocean outgases back to the atmosphere.“By isolating the impact of this feedback, we see a fundamentally different relationship between ocean circulation and atmospheric carbon levels, with implications for the climate,” says study author Jonathan Lauderdale, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “What we thought is going on in the ocean is completely overturned.”Lauderdale says the findings show that “we can’t count on the ocean to store carbon in the deep ocean in response to future changes in circulation. We must be proactive in cutting emissions now, rather than relying on these natural processes to buy us time to mitigate climate change.”His study appears today in the journal Nature Communications.Box flowIn 2020, Lauderdale led a study that explored ocean nutrients, marine organisms, and iron, and how their interactions influence the growth of phytoplankton around the world. Phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that live on the ocean surface and consume a diet of carbon and nutrients that upwell from the deep ocean and iron that drifts in from desert dust.The more phytoplankton that can grow, the more carbon dioxide they can absorb from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, and this plays a large role in the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon.For the 2020 study, the team developed a simple “box” model, representing conditions in different parts of the ocean as general boxes, each with a different balance of nutrients, iron, and ligands — organic molecules that are thought to be byproducts of phytoplankton. The team modeled a general flow between the boxes to represent the ocean’s larger circulation — the way seawater sinks, then is buoyed back up to the surface in different parts of the world.This modeling revealed that, even if scientists were to “seed” the oceans with extra iron, that iron wouldn’t have much of an effect on global phytoplankton growth. The reason was due to a limit set by ligands. It turns out that, if left on its own, iron is insoluble in the ocean and therefore unavailable to phytoplankton. Iron only becomes soluble at “useful” levels when linked with ligands, which keep iron in a form that plankton can consume. Lauderdale found that adding iron to one ocean region to consume additional nutrients robs other regions of nutrients that phytoplankton there need to grow. This lowers the production of ligands and the supply of iron back to the original ocean region, limiting the amount of extra carbon that would be taken up from the atmosphere.Unexpected switchOnce the team published their study, Lauderdale worked the box model into a form that he could make publicly accessible, including ocean and atmosphere carbon exchange and extending the boxes to represent more diverse environments, such as conditions similar to the Pacific, the North Atlantic, and the Southern Ocean. In the process, he tested other interactions within the model, including the effect of varying ocean circulation.He ran the model with different circulation strengths, expecting to see less atmospheric carbon dioxide with weaker ocean overturning — a relationship that previous studies have supported, dating back to the 1980s. But what he found instead was a clear and opposite trend: The weaker the ocean’s circulation, the more CO2 built up in the atmosphere.“I thought there was some mistake,” Lauderdale recalls. “Why were atmospheric carbon levels trending the wrong way?”When he checked the model, he found that the parameter describing ocean ligands had been left “on” as a variable. In other words, the model was calculating ligand concentrations as changing from one ocean region to another.On a hunch, Lauderdale turned this parameter “off,” which set ligand concentrations as constant in every modeled ocean environment, an assumption that many ocean models typically make. That one change reversed the trend, back to the assumed relationship: A weaker circulation led to reduced atmospheric carbon dioxide. But which trend was closer to the truth?Lauderdale looked to the scant available data on ocean ligands to see whether their concentrations were more constant or variable in the actual ocean. He found confirmation in GEOTRACES, an international study that coordinates measurements of trace elements and isotopes across the world’s oceans, that scientists can use to compare concentrations from region to region. Indeed, the molecules’ concentrations varied. If ligand concentrations do change from one region to another, then his surprise new result was likely representative of the real ocean: A weaker circulation leads to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.“It’s this one weird trick that changed everything,” Lauderdale says. “The ligand switch has revealed this completely different relationship between ocean circulation and atmospheric CO2 that we thought we understood pretty well.”Slow cycleTo see what might explain the overturned trend, Lauderdale analyzed biological activity and carbon, nutrient, iron, and ligand concentrations from the ocean model under different circulation strengths, comparing scenarios where ligands were variable or constant across the various boxes.This revealed a new feedback: The weaker the ocean’s circulation, the less carbon and nutrients the ocean pulls up from the deep. Any phytoplankton at the surface would then have fewer resources to grow and would produce fewer byproducts (including ligands) as a result. With fewer ligands available, less iron at the surface would be usable, further reducing the phytoplankton population. There would then be fewer phytoplankton available to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and consume upwelled carbon from the deep ocean.“My work shows that we need to look more carefully at how ocean biology can affect the climate,” Lauderdale points out. “Some climate models predict a 30 percent slowdown in the ocean circulation due to melting ice sheets, particularly around Antarctica. This huge slowdown in overturning circulation could actually be a big problem: In addition to a host of other climate issues, not only would the ocean take up less anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere, but that could be amplified by a net outgassing of deep ocean carbon, leading to an unanticipated increase in atmospheric CO2 and unexpected further climate warming.”  More

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    Reducing carbon emissions from long-haul trucks

    People around the world rely on trucks to deliver the goods they need, and so-called long-haul trucks play a critical role in those supply chains. In the United States, long-haul trucks moved 71 percent of all freight in 2022. But those long-haul trucks are heavy polluters, especially of the carbon emissions that threaten the global climate. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, in 2022 more than 3 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions came from long-haul trucks.The problem is that long-haul trucks run almost exclusively on diesel fuel, and burning diesel releases high levels of CO2 and other carbon emissions. Global demand for freight transport is projected to as much as double by 2050, so it’s critical to find another source of energy that will meet the needs of long-haul trucks while also reducing their carbon emissions. And conversion to the new fuel must not be costly. “Trucks are an indispensable part of the modern supply chain, and any increase in the cost of trucking will be felt universally,” notes William H. Green, the Hoyt Hottel Professor in Chemical Engineering and director of the MIT Energy Initiative.For the past year, Green and his research team have been seeking a low-cost, cleaner alternative to diesel. Finding a replacement is difficult because diesel meets the needs of the trucking industry so well. For one thing, diesel has a high energy density — that is, energy content per pound of fuel. There’s a legal limit on the total weight of a truck and its contents, so using an energy source with a lower weight allows the truck to carry more payload — an important consideration, given the low profit margin of the freight industry. In addition, diesel fuel is readily available at retail refueling stations across the country — a critical resource for drivers, who may travel 600 miles in a day and sleep in their truck rather than returning to their home depot. Finally, diesel fuel is a liquid, so it’s easy to distribute to refueling stations and then pump into trucks.Past studies have examined numerous alternative technology options for powering long-haul trucks, but no clear winner has emerged. Now, Green and his team have evaluated the available options based on consistent and realistic assumptions about the technologies involved and the typical operation of a long-haul truck, and assuming no subsidies to tip the cost balance. Their in-depth analysis of converting long-haul trucks to battery electric — summarized below — found a high cost and negligible emissions gains in the near term. Studies of methanol and other liquid fuels from biomass are ongoing, but already a major concern is whether the world can plant and harvest enough biomass for biofuels without destroying the ecosystem. An analysis of hydrogen — also summarized below — highlights specific challenges with using that clean-burning fuel, which is a gas at normal temperatures.Finally, the team identified an approach that could make hydrogen a promising, low-cost option for long-haul trucks. And, says Green, “it’s an option that most people are probably unaware of.” It involves a novel way of using materials that can pick up hydrogen, store it, and then release it when and where it’s needed to serve as a clean-burning fuel.Defining the challenge: A realistic drive cycle, plus diesel values to beatThe MIT researchers believe that the lack of consensus on the best way to clean up long-haul trucking may have a simple explanation: Different analyses are based on different assumptions about the driving behavior of long-haul trucks. Indeed, some of them don’t accurately represent actual long-haul operations. So the first task for the MIT team was to define a representative — and realistic — “drive cycle” for actual long-haul truck operations in the United States. Then the MIT researchers — and researchers elsewhere — can assess potential replacement fuels and engines based on a consistent set of assumptions in modeling and simulation analyses.To define the drive cycle for long-haul operations, the MIT team used a systematic approach to analyze many hours of real-world driving data covering 58,000 miles. They examined 10 features and identified three — daily range, vehicle speed, and road grade — that have the greatest impact on energy demand and thus on fuel consumption and carbon emissions. The representative drive cycle that emerged covers a distance of 600 miles, an average vehicle speed of 55 miles per hour, and a road grade ranging from negative 6 percent to positive 6 percent.The next step was to generate key values for the performance of the conventional diesel “powertrain,” that is, all the components involved in creating power in the engine and delivering it to the wheels on the ground. Based on their defined drive cycle, the researchers simulated the performance of a conventional diesel truck, generating “benchmarks” for fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, cost, and other performance parameters.Now they could perform parallel simulations — based on the same drive-cycle assumptions — of possible replacement fuels and powertrains to see how the cost, carbon emissions, and other performance parameters would compare to the diesel benchmarks.The battery electric optionWhen considering how to decarbonize long-haul trucks, a natural first thought is battery power. After all, battery electric cars and pickup trucks are proving highly successful. Why not switch to battery electric long-haul trucks? “Again, the literature is very divided, with some studies saying that this is the best idea ever, and other studies saying that this makes no sense,” says Sayandeep Biswas, a graduate student in chemical engineering.To assess the battery electric option, the MIT researchers used a physics-based vehicle model plus well-documented estimates for the efficiencies of key components such as the battery pack, generators, motor, and so on. Assuming the previously described drive cycle, they determined operating parameters, including how much power the battery-electric system needs. From there they could calculate the size and weight of the battery required to satisfy the power needs of the battery electric truck.The outcome was disheartening. Providing enough energy to travel 600 miles without recharging would require a 2 megawatt-hour battery. “That’s a lot,” notes Kariana Moreno Sader, a graduate student in chemical engineering. “It’s the same as what two U.S. households consume per month on average.” And the weight of such a battery would significantly reduce the amount of payload that could be carried. An empty diesel truck typically weighs 20,000 pounds. With a legal limit of 80,000 pounds, there’s room for 60,000 pounds of payload. The 2 MWh battery would weigh roughly 27,000 pounds — significantly reducing the allowable capacity for carrying payload.Accounting for that “payload penalty,” the researchers calculated that roughly four electric trucks would be required to replace every three of today’s diesel-powered trucks. Furthermore, each added truck would require an additional driver. The impact on operating expenses would be significant.Analyzing the emissions reductions that might result from shifting to battery electric long-haul trucks also brought disappointing results. One might assume that using electricity would eliminate CO2 emissions. But when the researchers included emissions associated with making that electricity, that wasn’t true.“Battery electric trucks are only as clean as the electricity used to charge them,” notes Moreno Sader. Most of the time, drivers of long-haul trucks will be charging from national grids rather than dedicated renewable energy plants. According to Energy Information Agency statistics, fossil fuels make up more than 60 percent of the current U.S. power grid, so electric trucks would still be responsible for significant levels of carbon emissions. Manufacturing batteries for the trucks would generate additional CO2 emissions.Building the charging infrastructure would require massive upfront capital investment, as would upgrading the existing grid to reliably meet additional energy demand from the long-haul sector. Accomplishing those changes would be costly and time-consuming, which raises further concern about electrification as a means of decarbonizing long-haul freight.In short, switching today’s long-haul diesel trucks to battery electric power would bring major increases in costs for the freight industry and negligible carbon emissions benefits in the near term. Analyses assuming various types of batteries as well as other drive cycles produced comparable results.However, the researchers are optimistic about where the grid is going in the future. “In the long term, say by around 2050, emissions from the grid are projected to be less than half what they are now,” says Moreno Sader. “When we do our calculations based on that prediction, we find that emissions from battery electric trucks would be around 40 percent lower than our calculated emissions based on today’s grid.”For Moreno Sader, the goal of the MIT research is to help “guide the sector on what would be the best option.” With that goal in mind, she and her colleagues are now examining the battery electric option under different scenarios — for example, assuming battery swapping (a depleted battery isn’t recharged but replaced by a fully charged one), short-haul trucking, and other applications that might produce a more cost-competitive outcome, even for the near term.A promising option: hydrogenAs the world looks to get off reliance on fossil fuels for all uses, much attention is focusing on hydrogen. Could hydrogen be a good alternative for today’s diesel-burning long-haul trucks?To find out, the MIT team performed a detailed analysis of the hydrogen option. “We thought that hydrogen would solve a lot of the problems we had with battery electric,” says Biswas. It doesn’t have associated CO2 emissions. Its energy density is far higher, so it doesn’t create the weight problem posed by heavy batteries. In addition, existing compression technology can get enough hydrogen fuel into a regular-sized tank to cover the needed distance and range. “You can actually give drivers the range they want,” he says. “There’s no issue with ‘range anxiety.’”But while using hydrogen for long-haul trucking would reduce carbon emissions, it would cost far more than diesel. Based on their detailed analysis of hydrogen, the researchers concluded that the main source of incurred cost is in transporting it. Hydrogen can be made in a chemical facility, but then it needs to be distributed to refueling stations across the country. Conventionally, there have been two main ways of transporting hydrogen: as a compressed gas and as a cryogenic liquid. As Biswas notes, the former is “super high pressure,” and the latter is “super cold.” The researchers’ calculations show that as much as 80 percent of the cost of delivered hydrogen is due to transportation and refueling, plus there’s the need to build dedicated refueling stations that can meet new environmental and safety standards for handling hydrogen as a compressed gas or a cryogenic liquid.Having dismissed the conventional options for shipping hydrogen, they turned to a less-common approach: transporting hydrogen using “liquid organic hydrogen carriers” (LOHCs), special organic (carbon-containing) chemical compounds that can under certain conditions absorb hydrogen atoms and under other conditions release them.LOHCs are in use today to deliver small amounts of hydrogen for commercial use. Here’s how the process works: In a chemical plant, the carrier compound is brought into contact with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst under elevated temperature and pressure, and the compound picks up the hydrogen. The “hydrogen-loaded” compound — still a liquid — is then transported under atmospheric conditions. When the hydrogen is needed, the compound is again exposed to a temperature increase and a different catalyst, and the hydrogen is released.LOHCs thus appear to be ideal hydrogen carriers for long-haul trucking. They’re liquid, so they can easily be delivered to existing refueling stations, where the hydrogen would be released; and they contain at least as much energy per gallon as hydrogen in a cryogenic liquid or compressed gas form. However, a detailed analysis of using hydrogen carriers showed that the approach would decrease emissions but at a considerable cost.The problem begins with the “dehydrogenation” step at the retail station. Releasing the hydrogen from the chemical carrier requires heat, which is generated by burning some of the hydrogen being carried by the LOHC. The researchers calculate that getting the needed heat takes 36 percent of that hydrogen. (In theory, the process would take only 27 percent — but in reality, that efficiency won’t be achieved.) So out of every 100 units of starting hydrogen, 36 units are now gone.But that’s not all. The hydrogen that comes out is at near-ambient pressure. So the facility dispensing the hydrogen will need to compress it — a process that the team calculates will use up 20-30 percent of the starting hydrogen.Because of the needed heat and compression, there’s now less than half of the starting hydrogen left to be delivered to the truck — and as a result, the hydrogen fuel becomes twice as expensive. The bottom line is that the technology works, but “when it comes to really beating diesel, the economics don’t work. It’s quite a bit more expensive,” says Biswas. In addition, the refueling stations would require expensive compressors and auxiliary units such as cooling systems. The capital investment and the operating and maintenance costs together imply that the market penetration of hydrogen refueling stations will be slow.A better strategy: onboard release of hydrogen from LOHCsGiven the potential benefits of using of LOHCs, the researchers focused on how to deal with both the heat needed to release the hydrogen and the energy needed to compress it. “That’s when we had the idea,” says Biswas. “Instead of doing the dehydrogenation [hydrogen release] at the refueling station and then loading the truck with hydrogen, why don’t we just take the LOHC and load that onto the truck?” Like diesel, LOHC is a liquid, so it’s easily transported and pumped into trucks at existing refueling stations. “We’ll then make hydrogen as it’s needed based on the power demands of the truck — and we can capture waste heat from the engine exhaust and use it to power the dehydrogenation process,” says Biswas.In their proposed plan, hydrogen-loaded LOHC is created at a chemical “hydrogenation” plant and then delivered to a retail refueling station, where it’s pumped into a long-haul truck. Onboard the truck, the loaded LOHC pours into the fuel-storage tank. From there it moves to the “dehydrogenation unit” — the reactor where heat and a catalyst together promote chemical reactions that separate the hydrogen from the LOHC. The hydrogen is sent to the powertrain, where it burns, producing energy that propels the truck forward.Hot exhaust from the powertrain goes to a “heat-integration unit,” where its waste heat energy is captured and returned to the reactor to help encourage the reaction that releases hydrogen from the loaded LOHC. The unloaded LOHC is pumped back into the fuel-storage tank, where it’s kept in a separate compartment to keep it from mixing with the loaded LOHC. From there, it’s pumped back into the retail refueling station and then transported back to the hydrogenation plant to be loaded with more hydrogen.Switching to onboard dehydrogenation brings down costs by eliminating the need for extra hydrogen compression and by using waste heat in the engine exhaust to drive the hydrogen-release process. So how does their proposed strategy look compared to diesel? Based on a detailed analysis, the researchers determined that using their strategy would be 18 percent more expensive than using diesel, and emissions would drop by 71 percent.But those results need some clarification. The 18 percent cost premium of using LOHC with onboard hydrogen release is based on the price of diesel fuel in 2020. In spring of 2023 the price was about 30 percent higher. Assuming the 2023 diesel price, the LOHC option is actually cheaper than using diesel.Both the cost and emissions outcomes are affected by another assumption: the use of “blue hydrogen,” which is hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture and storage. Another option is to assume the use of “green hydrogen,” which is hydrogen produced using electricity generated from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. Green hydrogen is much more expensive than blue hydrogen, so then the costs would increase dramatically.If in the future the price of green hydrogen drops, the researchers’ proposed plan would shift to green hydrogen — and then the decline in emissions would no longer be 71 percent but rather close to 100 percent. There would be almost no emissions associated with the researchers’ proposed plan for using LHOCs with onboard hydrogen release.Comparing the options on cost and emissionsTo compare the options, Moreno Sader prepared bar charts showing the per-mile cost of shipping by truck in the United States and the CO2 emissions that result using each of the fuels and approaches discussed above: diesel fuel, battery electric, hydrogen as a cryogenic liquid or compressed gas, and LOHC with onboard hydrogen release. The LOHC strategy with onboard dehydrogenation looked promising on both the cost and the emissions charts. In addition to such quantitative measures, the researchers believe that their strategy addresses two other, less-obvious challenges in finding a less-polluting fuel for long-haul trucks.First, the introduction of the new fuel and trucks to use it must not disrupt the current freight-delivery setup. “You have to keep the old trucks running while you’re introducing the new ones,” notes Green. “You cannot have even a day when the trucks aren’t running because it’d be like the end of the economy. Your supermarket shelves would all be empty; your factories wouldn’t be able to run.” The researchers’ plan would be completely compatible with the existing diesel supply infrastructure and would require relatively minor retrofits to today’s long-haul trucks, so the current supply chains would continue to operate while the new fuel and retrofitted trucks are introduced.Second, the strategy has the potential to be adopted globally. Long-haul trucking is important in other parts of the world, and Moreno Sader thinks that “making this approach a reality is going to have a lot of impact, not only in the United States but also in other countries,” including her own country of origin, Colombia. “This is something I think about all the time.” The approach is compatible with the current diesel infrastructure, so the only requirement for adoption is to build the chemical hydrogenation plant. “And I think the capital expenditure related to that will be less than the cost of building a new fuel-supply infrastructure throughout the country,” says Moreno Sader.Testing in the lab“We’ve done a lot of simulations and calculations to show that this is a great idea,” notes Biswas. “But there’s only so far that math can go to convince people.” The next step is to demonstrate their concept in the lab.To that end, the researchers are now assembling all the core components of the onboard hydrogen-release reactor as well as the heat-integration unit that’s key to transferring heat from the engine exhaust to the hydrogen-release reactor. They estimate that this spring they’ll be ready to demonstrate their ability to release hydrogen and confirm the rate at which it’s formed. And — guided by their modeling work — they’ll be able to fine-tune critical components for maximum efficiency and best performance.The next step will be to add an appropriate engine, specially equipped with sensors to provide the critical readings they need to optimize the performance of all their core components together. By the end of 2024, the researchers hope to achieve their goal: the first experimental demonstration of a power-dense, robust onboard hydrogen-release system with highly efficient heat integration.In the meantime, they believe that results from their work to date should help spread the word, bringing their novel approach to the attention of other researchers and experts in the trucking industry who are now searching for ways to decarbonize long-haul trucking.Financial support for development of the representative drive cycle and the diesel benchmarks as well as the analysis of the battery electric option was provided by the MIT Mobility Systems Center of the MIT Energy Initiative. Analysis of LOHC-powered trucks with onboard dehydrogenation was supported by the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium. Sayandeep Biswas is supported by a fellowship from the Martin Family Society of Fellows for Sustainability, and Kariana Moreno Sader received fellowship funding from MathWorks through the MIT School of Science. More

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    Getting to systemic sustainability

    Add up the commitments from the Paris Agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, and various commitments made by cities, countries, and businesses, and the world would be able to hold the global average temperature increase to 1.9 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, says Ani Dasgupta, the president and chief executive officer of the World Resources Institute (WRI).While that is well above the 1.5 C threshold that many scientists agree would limit the most severe impacts of climate change, it is below the 2.0 degree threshold that could lead to even more catastrophic impacts, such as the collapse of ice sheets and a 30-foot rise in sea levels.However, Dasgupta notes, actions have so far not matched up with commitments.“There’s a huge gap between commitment and outcomes,” Dasgupta said during his talk, “Energizing the global transition,” at the 2024 Earth Day Colloquium co-hosted by the MIT Energy Initiative and MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and sponsored by the Climate Nucleus.Dasgupta noted that oil companies did $6 trillion worth of business across the world last year — $1 trillion more than they were planning. About 7 percent of the world’s remaining tropical forests were destroyed during that same time, he added, and global inequality grew even worse than before.“None of these things were illegal, because the system we have today produces these outcomes,” he said. “My point is that it’s not one thing that needs to change. The whole system needs to change.”People, climate, and natureDasgupta, who previously held positions in nonprofits in India and at the World Bank, is a recognized leader in sustainable cities, poverty alleviation, and building cultures of inclusion. Under his leadership, WRI, a global research nonprofit that studies sustainable practices with the goal of fundamentally transforming the world’s food, land and water, energy, and cities, adopted a new five-year strategy called “Getting the Transition Right for People, Nature, and Climate 2023-2027.” It focuses on creating new economic opportunities to meet people’s essential needs, restore nature, and rapidly lower emissions, while building resilient communities. In fact, during his talk, Dasgupta said that his organization has moved away from talking about initiatives in terms of their impact on greenhouse gas emissions — instead taking a more holistic view of sustainability.“There is no net zero without nature,” Dasgupta said. He showed a slide with a graphic illustrating potential progress toward net-zero goals. “If nature gets diminished, that chart becomes even steeper. It’s very steep right now, but natural systems absorb carbon dioxide. So, if the natural systems keep getting destroyed, that curve becomes harder and harder.”A focus on people is necessary, Dasgupta said, in part because of the unequal climate impacts that the rich and the poor are likely to face in the coming years. “If you made it to this room, you will not be impacted by climate change,” he said. “You have resources to figure out what to do about it. The people who get impacted are people who don’t have resources. It is immensely unfair. Our belief is, if we don’t do climate policy that helps people directly, we won’t be able to make progress.”Where to start?Although Dasgupta stressed that systemic change is needed to bring carbon emissions in line with long-term climate goals, he made the case that it is unrealistic to implement this change around the globe all at once. “This transition will not happen in 196 countries at the same time,” he said. “The question is, how do we get to the tipping point so that it happens at scale? We’ve worked the past few years to ask the question, what is it you need to do to create this tipping point for change?”Analysts at WRI looked for countries that are large producers of carbon, those with substantial tropical forest cover, and those with large quantities of people living in poverty. “We basically tried to draw a map of, where are the biggest challenges for climate change?” Dasgupta said.That map features a relative handful of countries, including the United States, Mexico, China, Brazil, South Africa, India, and Indonesia. Dasgupta said, “Our argument is that, if we could figure out and focus all our efforts to help these countries transition, that will create a ripple effect — of understanding technology, understanding the market, understanding capacity, and understanding the politics of change that will unleash how the rest of these regions will bring change.”Spotlight on the subcontinentDasgupta used one of these countries, his native India, to illustrate the nuanced challenges and opportunities presented by various markets around the globe. In India, he noted, there are around 3 million projected jobs tied to the country’s transition to renewable energy. However, that number is dwarfed by the 10 to 12 million jobs per year the Indian economy needs to create simply to keep up with population growth.“Every developing country faces this question — how to keep growing in a way that reduces their carbon footprint,” Dasgupta said.Five states in India worked with WRI to pool their buying power and procure 5,000 electric buses, saving 60 percent of the cost as a result. Over the next two decades, Dasgupta said, the fleet of electric buses in those five states is expected to increase to 800,000.In the Indian state of Rajasthan, Dasgupta said, 59 percent of power already comes from solar energy. At times, Rajasthan produces more solar than it can use, and officials are exploring ways to either store the excess energy or sell it to other states. But in another state, Jharkhand, where much of the country’s coal is sourced, only 5 percent of power comes from solar. Officials in Jharkhand have reached out to WRI to discuss how to transition their energy economy, as they recognize that coal will fall out of favor in the future, Dasgupta said.“The complexities of the transition are enormous in a country this big,” Dasgupta said. “This is true in most large countries.”The road aheadDespite the challenges ahead, the colloquium was also marked by notes of optimism. In his opening remarks, Robert Stoner, the founding director of the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, pointed out how much progress has been made on environmental cleanup since the first Earth Day in 1970. “The world was a very different, much dirtier, place in many ways,” Stoner said. “Our air was a mess, our waterways were a mess, and it was beginning to be noticeable. Since then, Earth Day has become an important part of the fabric of American and global society.”While Dasgupta said that the world presently lacks the “orchestration” among various stakeholders needed to bring climate change under control, he expressed hope that collaboration in key countries could accelerate progress.“I strongly believe that what we need is a very different way of collaborating radically — across organizations like yours, organizations like ours, businesses, and governments,” Dasgupta said. “Otherwise, this transition will not happen at the scale and speed we need.” More

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    Making steel with electricity

    Steel is one of the most useful materials on the planet. A backbone of modern life, it’s used in skyscrapers, cars, airplanes, bridges, and more. Unfortunately, steelmaking is an extremely dirty process.The most common way it’s produced involves mining iron ore, reducing it in a blast furnace through the addition of coal, and then using an oxygen furnace to burn off excess carbon and other impurities. That’s why steel production accounts for around 7 to 9 percent of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, making it one of the dirtiest industries on the planet.Now Boston Metal is seeking to clean up the steelmaking industry using an electrochemical process called molten oxide electrolysis (MOE), which eliminates many steps in steelmaking and releases oxygen as its sole byproduct.The company, which was founded by MIT Professor Emeritus Donald Sadoway, Professor Antoine Allanore, and James Yurko PhD ’01, is already using MOE to recover high-value metals from mining waste at its Brazilian subsidiary, Boston Metal do Brasil. That work is helping Boston Metal’s team deploy its technology at commercial scale and establish key partnerships with mining operators. It has also built a prototype MOE reactor to produce green steel at its headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts.And despite its name, Boston Metal has global ambitions. The company has raised more than $370 million to date from organizations across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East, and its leaders expect to scale up rapidly to transform steel production in every corner of the world.“There’s a worldwide recognition that we need to act rapidly, and that’s going to happen through technology solutions like this that can help us move away from incumbent technologies,” Boston Metal Chief Scientist and former MIT postdoc Guillaume Lambotte says. “More and more, climate change is a part of our lives, so the pressure is on everyone to act fast.”To the moon and backThe origins of Boston Metal’s technology start on the moon. In the mid 2000s, Sadoway, who is the John F. Elliott Professor Emeritus of Materials Chemistry in MIT’s Department of Materials Science, received a grant from NASA to explore ways to produce oxygen for future lunar bases. Sadoway and other MIT researchers explored the idea of sending an electric current through the iron oxide rock on the moon’s surface, using rock from an old asteroid in Arizona for their experiments. The reaction produced oxygen, with metal as a byproduct.The research stuck with Sadoway, who noticed that down here on Earth, that metal byproduct would be of interest. To help make the electrolysis reaction he studied more viable, he joined forces with Allanore, who is a professor of metallurgy at MIT and the Lechtman Chair in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The professors were able to identify a less expensive anode and partnered with Yurko, a former student, to found Boston Metal.“All of the fundamental studies and the initial technologies came out of MIT,” Lambotte says. “We spun out of research that was patented at MIT and licensed from MIT’s Technology Licensing Office.”Lambotte joined the company shortly after Boston Metal’s team published a 2013 paper in Nature describing the MOE platform.“That’s when it went from the lab, with a coffee cup-sized experiment to prove the fundamentals and produce a few grams, to a company that can produce hundreds of kilograms, and soon, tons of metal,” Lambotte says.

    Boston Metal’s process takes place in modular MOE cells the size of a school bus. Here is a schematic of the process.

    Boston Metal’s molten oxide electrolysis process takes place in modular MOE cells the size of a school bus. Iron ore rock is fed into the cell, which contains the cathode (the negative terminal of the MOE cell) and an anode immersed in a liquid electrolyte. The anode is inert, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in the electrolyte or take part in the reaction other than serving as the positive terminal. When electricity runs between the anode and cathode and the cell reaches around 1,600 degrees Celsius, the iron oxide bonds in the ore are split, producing pure liquid metal at the bottom that can be tapped. The byproduct of the reaction is oxygen, and the process doesn’t require water, hazardous chemicals, or precious-metal catalysts.The production of each cell depends on the size of its current. Lambotte says with about 600,000 amps, each cell could produce up to 10 tons of metal every day. Steelmakers would license Boston Metal’s technology and deploy as many cells as needed to reach their production targets.Boston Metal is already using MOE to help mining companies recover high-value metals from their mining waste, which usually needs to undergo costly treatment or storage. Lambotte says it could also be used to produce many other kinds of metals down the line, and Boston Metal was recently selected to negotiate grant funding to produce chromium metal — critical for a number of clean energy applications — in West Virginia.“If you look around the world, a lot of the feedstocks for metal are oxides, and if it’s an oxide, then there’s a chance we can work with that feedstock,” Lambotte says. “There’s a lot of excitement because everyone needs a solution capable of decarbonizing the metal industry, so a lot of people are interested to understand where MOE fits in their own processes.”Gigatons of potentialBoston Metal’s steel decarbonization technology is currently slated to reach commercial-scale in 2026, though its Brazil plant is already introducing the industry to MOE.“I think it’s a window for the metal industry to get acquainted with MOE and see how it works,” Lambotte says. “You need people in the industry to grasp this technology. It’s where you form connections and how new technology spreads.”The Brazilian plant runs on 100 percent renewable energy.“We can be the beneficiary of this tremendous worldwide push to decarbonize the energy sector,” Lambotte says. “I think our approach goes hand in hand with that. Fully green steel requires green electricity, and I think what you’ll see is deployment of this technology where [clean electricity] is already readily available.”Boston Metal’s team is excited about MOE’s application across the metals industry but is focused first and foremost on eliminating the gigatons of emissions from steel production.“Steel produces around 10 percent of global emissions, so that is our north star,” Lambotte says. “Everyone is pledging carbon reductions, emissions reductions, and making net zero goals, so the steel industry is really looking hard for viable technology solutions. People are ready for new approaches.” More

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    Nuno Loureiro named director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center

    Nuno Loureiro, professor of nuclear science and engineering and of physics, has been appointed the new director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, effective May 1.Loureiro is taking the helm of one of MIT’s largest labs: more than 250 full-time researchers, staff members, and students work and study in seven buildings with 250,000 square feet of lab space. A theoretical physicist and fusion scientist, Loureiro joined MIT as a faculty member in 2016, and was appointed deputy director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) in 2022. Loureiro succeeds Dennis Whyte, who stepped down at the end of 2023 to return to teaching and research.Stepping into his new role as director, Loureiro says, “The PSFC has an impressive tradition of discovery and leadership in plasma and fusion science and engineering. Becoming director of the PSFC is an incredible opportunity to shape the future of these fields. We have a world-class team, and it’s an honor to be chosen as its leader.”Loureiro’s own research ranges widely. He is recognized for advancing the understanding of multiple aspects of plasma behavior, particularly turbulence and the physics underpinning solar flares and other astronomical phenomena. In the fusion domain, his work enables the design of fusion devices that can more efficiently control and harness the energy of fusing plasmas, bringing the dream of clean, near-limitless fusion power that much closer. Plasma physics is foundational to advancing fusion science, a fact Loureiro has embraced and that is relevant as he considers the direction of the PSFC’s multidisciplinary research. “But plasma physics is only one aspect of our focus. Building a scientific agenda that continues and expands on the PSFC’s history of innovation in all aspects of fusion science and engineering is vital, and a key facet of that work is facilitating our researchers’ efforts to produce the breakthroughs that are necessary for the realization of fusion energy.”As the climate crisis accelerates, fusion power continues to grow in appeal: It produces no carbon emissions, its fuel is plentiful, and dangerous “meltdowns” are impossible. The sooner that fusion power is commercially available, the greater impact it can have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting global climate goals. While technical challenges remain, “the PSFC is well poised to meet them, and continue to show leadership. We are a mission-driven lab, and our students and staff are incredibly motivated,” Loureiro comments.“As MIT continues to lead the way toward the delivery of clean fusion power onto the grid, I have no doubt that Nuno is the right person to step into this key position at this critical time,” says Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s presidential advisor for science and technology policy. “I look forward to the steady advance of plasma physics and fusion science at MIT under Nuno’s leadership.”Over the last decade, there have been massive leaps forward in the field of fusion energy, driven in part by innovations like high-temperature superconducting magnets developed at the PSFC. Further progress is guaranteed: Loureiro believes that “The next few years are certain to be an exciting time for us, and for fusion as a whole. It’s the dawn of a new era with burning plasma experiments” — a reference to the collaboration between the PSFC and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a startup company spun out of the PSFC, to build SPARC, a fusion device that is slated to turn on in 2026 and produce a burning plasma that yields more energy than it consumes. “It’s going to be a watershed moment,” says Loureiro.He continues, “In addition, we have strong connections to inertial confinement fusion experiments, including those at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and we’re looking forward to expanding our research into stellarators, which are another kind of magnetic fusion device.” Over recent years, the PSFC has significantly increased its collaboration with industrial partners such Eni, IBM, and others. Loureiro sees great value in this: “These collaborations are mutually beneficial: they allow us to grow our research portfolio while advancing companies’ R&D efforts. It’s very dynamic and exciting.”Loureiro’s directorship begins as the PSFC is launching key tech development projects like LIBRA, a “blanket” of molten salt that can be wrapped around fusion vessels and perform double duty as a neutron energy absorber and a breeder for tritium (the fuel for fusion). Researchers at the PSFC have also developed a way to rapidly test the durability of materials being considered for use in a fusion power plant environment, and are now creating an experiment that will utilize a powerful particle accelerator called a gyrotron to irradiate candidate materials.Interest in fusion is at an all-time high; the demand for researchers and engineers, particularly in the nascent commercial fusion industry, is reflected by the record number of graduate students that are studying at the PSFC — more than 90 across seven affiliated MIT departments. The PSFC’s classrooms are full, and Loureiro notes a palpable sense of excitement. “Students are our greatest strength,” says Loureiro. “They come here to do world-class research but also to grow as individuals, and I want to give them a great place to do that. Supporting those experiences, making sure they can be as successful as possible is one of my top priorities.” Loureiro plans to continue teaching and advising students after his appointment begins.MIT President Sally Kornbluth’s recently announced Climate Project is a clarion call for Loureiro: “It’s not hyperbole to say MIT is where you go to find solutions to humanity’s biggest problems,” he says. “Fusion is a hard problem, but it can be solved with resolve and ingenuity — characteristics that define MIT. Fusion energy will change the course of human history. It’s both humbling and exciting to be leading a research center that will play a key role in enabling that change.”  More

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    Offering clean energy around the clock

    As remarkable as the rise of solar and wind farms has been over the last 20 years, achieving complete decarbonization is going to require a host of complementary technologies. That’s because renewables offer only intermittent power. They also can’t directly provide the high temperatures necessary for many industrial processes.

    Now, 247Solar is building high-temperature concentrated solar power systems that use overnight thermal energy storage to provide round-the-clock power and industrial-grade heat.

    The company’s modular systems can be used as standalone microgrids for communities or to provide power in remote places like mines and farms. They can also be used in conjunction with wind and conventional solar farms, giving customers 24/7 power from renewables and allowing them to offset use of the grid.

    “One of my motivations for working on this system was trying to solve the problem of intermittency,” 247Solar CEO Bruce Anderson ’69, SM ’73 says. “I just couldn’t see how we could get to zero emissions with solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind. Even with PV, wind, and batteries, we can’t get there, because there’s always bad weather, and current batteries aren’t economical over long periods. You have to have a solution that operates 24 hours a day.”

    The company’s system is inspired by the design of a high-temperature heat exchanger by the late MIT Professor Emeritus David Gordon Wilson, who co-founded the company with Anderson. The company integrates that heat exchanger into what Anderson describes as a conventional, jet-engine-like turbine, enabling the turbine to produce power by circulating ambient pressure hot air with no combustion or emissions — what the company calls a first in the industry.

    Here’s how the system works: Each 247Solar system uses a field of sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats to reflect sunlight to the top of a central tower. The tower features a proprietary solar receiver that heats air to around 1,000 Celsius at atmospheric pressure. The air is then used to drive 247Solar’s turbines and generate 400 kilowatts of electricity and 600 kilowatts of heat. Some of the hot air is also routed through a long-duration thermal energy storage system, where it heats solid materials that retain the heat. The stored heat is then used to drive the turbines when the sun stops shining.

    “We offer round-the-clock electricity, but we also offer a combined heat and power option, with the ability to take heat up to 970 Celsius for use in industrial processes,” Anderson says. “It’s a very flexible system.”

    The company’s first deployment will be with a large utility in India. If that goes well, 247Solar hopes to scale up rapidly with other utilities, corporations, and communities around the globe.

    A new approach to concentrated solar

    Anderson kept in touch with his MIT network after graduating in 1973. He served as the director of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) between 1996 and 2000 and was elected as an alumni member of the MIT Corporation in 2013. The ILP connects companies with MIT’s network of students, faculty, and alumni to facilitate innovation, and the experience changed the course of Anderson’s career.

    “That was an extremely fascinating job, and from it two things happened,” Anderson says. “One is that I realized I was really an entrepreneur and was not well-suited to the university environment, and the other is that I was reminded of the countless amazing innovations coming out of MIT.”

    After leaving as director, Anderson began a startup incubator where he worked with MIT professors to start companies. Eventually, one of those professors was Wilson, who had invented the new heat exchanger and a ceramic turbine. Anderson and Wilson ended up putting together a small team to commercialize the technology in the early 2000s.

    Anderson had done his MIT master’s thesis on solar energy in the 1970s, and the team realized the heat exchanger made possible a novel approach to concentrated solar power. In 2010, they received a $6 million development grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. But their first solar receiver was damaged during shipping to a national laboratory for testing, and the company ran out of money.

    It wasn’t until 2015 that Anderson was able to raise money to get the company back off the ground. By that time, a new high-temperature metal alloy had been developed that Anderson swapped out for Wilson’s ceramic heat exchanger.

    The Covid-19 pandemic further slowed 247’s plans to build a demonstration facility at its test site in Arizona, but strong customer interest has kept the company busy. Concentrated solar power doesn’t work everywhere — Arizona’s clear sunshine is a better fit than Florida’s hazy skies, for example — but Anderson is currently in talks with communities in parts of the U.S., India, Africa, and Australia where the technology would be a good fit.

    These days, the company is increasingly proposing combining its systems with traditional solar PV, which lets customers reap the benefits of low-cost solar electricity during the day while using 247’s energy at night.

    “That way we can get at least 24, if not more, hours of energy from a sunny day,” Anderson says. “We’re really moving toward these hybrid systems, which work like a Prius: Sometimes you’re using one source of energy, sometimes you’re using the other.”

    The company also sells its HeatStorE thermal batteries as standalone systems. Instead of being heated by the solar system, the thermal storage is heated by circulating air through an electric coil that’s been heated by electricity, either from the grid, standalone PV, or wind. The heat can be stored for nine hours or more on a single charge and then dispatched as electricity plus industrial process heat at 250 Celsius, or as heat only, up to 970 Celsius.

    Anderson says 247’s thermal battery is about one-seventh the cost of lithium-ion batteries per kilowatt hour produced.

    Scaling a new model

    The company is keeping its system flexible for whatever path customers want to take to complete decarbonization.

    In addition to 247’s India project, the company is in advanced talks with off-grid communities in the Unites States and Egypt, mining operators around the world, and the government of a small country in Africa. Anderson says the company’s next customer will likely be an off-grid community in the U.S. that currently relies on diesel generators for power.

    The company has also partnered with a financial company that will allow it to access capital to fund its own projects and sell clean energy directly to customers, which Anderson says will help 247 grow faster than relying solely on selling entire systems to each customer.

    As it works to scale up its deployments, Anderson believes 247 offers a solution to help customers respond to increasing pressure from governments as well as community members.

    “Emerging economies in places like Africa don’t have any alternative to fossil fuels if they want 24/7 electricity,” Anderson says. “Our owning and operating costs are less than half that of diesel gen-sets. Customers today really want to stop producing emissions if they can, so you’ve got villages, mines, industries, and entire countries where the people inside are saying, ‘We can’t burn diesel anymore.’” More

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    Featured video: Moooving the needle on methane

    Methane traps much more heat per pound than carbon dioxide, making it a powerful contributor to climate change. “In fact, methane emission removal is the fastest way that we can ensure immediate results for reduced global warming,” says Audrey Parker, a graduate student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

    Parker and other researchers in the Methane Emission Removal Project are developing a catalyst that can convert methane to carbon dioxide. They are working to set up systems that would reduce methane in the air at dairy farms, which are major emitters of the gas. Overall, agricultural practices and waste generation are responsible for about 28 percent of the world’s methane emissions.

    “If we do our job really well, within the next five years, we will be able to reduce the operating temperature of this catalyst in a way that is net beneficial to the climate and potentially even economically incentivized for the farmer and for society,” says Desirée Plata, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering who leads the Methane Emission Removal Project.

    Video by Melanie Gonick/MIT News | 4 minutes, 35 seconds More