Professors study carbon capture and renewable energy as part of the Planetary Solutions project


Researchers share current initiatives aligned with the project’s mission.

Staff reporter

Marc Cheung

More than a year after its inception, Yale’s Planetary Solutions Project hopes to leverage the university’s research and teaching to help Yale reach its goal of real-world zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In December 2020, Yale announced its Planetary Solutions Project, with a university-wide symposium taking place the same month. The project aims to connect various academic departments of the University; connect the University to other research centers and translate scientific, technical and economic knowledge into practical and effective policies. The Planetary Solutions Project has not released specific goals, nor published status reports on its goal to “broaden research and teaching…to develop solutions that match the breadth and depth of to the complexity of the climate crisis”. But several centers and researchers affiliated with the project have explained how they see their research aligning with it.

“These are big ideas,” Yale Provost Scott Strobel said at the December 2020 symposium that coincided with the project’s announcement. “Big ideas linked to big problems whose parameters we are still trying to define. Big problems that need solutions. I am convinced that to do this, we must mobilize the full weight, scope and attention of the entire university to tackle these issues.

In March 2021, the project announced a $100 million donation from FedEx to establish the Center for Natural Carbon Capture to develop natural solutions to reduce atmospheric carbon. In January 2022, the project announced a $15 million Climate Impact Innovation Fund to support Yale faculty’s preliminary research into solutions related to climate change, environmental health, loss of biodiversity and environmental justice. The project has not yet announced who will receive this innovative research funding.

Specifically, the Planetary Solutions project identified the need for Yale to contribute to negative emissions through carbon capture and storage programs.

Yuan Yao, assistant professor of industrial ecology and sustainable systems at the Yale School of the Environment, worked on models to compare the efficiency, economic feasibility and environmental impacts of different carbon removal strategies. The particular carbon capture solutions she has investigated use woody materials and biomass.

“Such quantification is very important to develop these strategies in an environmentally beneficial and economically attractive way,” Yao wrote in an email to the News.

The Planetary Solutions Project also envisions research into methods to capture, convert and store renewable energy.

Kenneth Gillingham, professor of economics at the Yale School of the Environment, studies the benefits of new energy technologies and what it would take to accelerate their adoption. He said he was also “very interested in ways to equitably distribute the benefits of the energy transition”, which takes the form of the expansion of solar power to low- and moderate-income households, as well as the researching the health effects of fossil fuel production. on marginalized populations.

The project website further identifies the challenges associated with the transition to renewable energy, including the adverse health and environmental effects of lithium mining for batteries. Thomas Graedel, professor emeritus of industrial ecology and chemical engineering at the School of the Environment, suggested that “close examination of cadmium telluride [rather than lithium] for solar energy [would be] a smart thing to do. Cadmium is a byproduct of the production of zinc, which is a major industrial metal that is regularly mined for a variety of uses.

The Planetary Solutions Project’s framework also includes biodiversity loss as a climate change-related problem that it hopes to address through a “twin-track approach”. This approach is, first, to develop ways to understand how land use change and global warming impact species and ecosystems and, second, to develop more effective policies to sustainably manage ecosystems.

According to Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change oversees research and training that addresses local and global patterns of biodiversity change and supports the development of knowledge-based tools. and data to guide conservation solutions. and forestry and environmental studies. In particular, Jetz helped lead the Map of Life, which is a platform that maps and monitors the world’s species and is used by countries around the world.

“The mission of the Yale Earth Observation Center aligns with the mission of the Yale Planetary Solutions Project,” Tarek Kandakji, the center’s director, wrote in an email to The News. “As the Earth’s natural environment rapidly degrades, the need for Earth observation becomes increasingly vital.”

Kandakji noted that the Center’s lab is available to all Yale students, faculty, and staff who need to process or analyze satellite imagery as part of their research. These satellite images can be used to “monitor land change over time, monitor urban heat and greenery, assess the causes and impacts of climate change [and] assess access to health care systems,” Kandakji wrote.

The Center offers tutorials and workshops on the analysis of satellite images, and works specifically with students in “EPS 362: Observing Earth from Space” and “ENV 704: Workshop on Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry with Drones” so that they can use the Centre’s computers.

“With the expertise we have at Yale, we have a responsibility to make breakthroughs,” Strobel told YaleNews last June. “Addressing the challenges of the climate crisis requires that we develop global solutions through scholarship, research and collaboration, and that we set an example of our principles and our work.”

The Planetary Solutions project has 16 Affiliate Centers, six Affiliate Initiatives, 13 Affiliate Programs, four Affiliate Institutes and five Affiliate Laboratories.


Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman at Branford College majoring in English.


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