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MIT Energy Laboratory

Global climate change is the subject of policy debate within most nations and of international negotiation within the Framework Convention on Climate Change. To assist in the policy process, Global Climate Change researchers in the Energy Laboratory work to address and to integrate the diverse components of the problem, which include climate and ecosystem predictions, technology assessment, economic and social analysis of climate impacts, and study of policy and technical responses.

Sea Surface Temperature, July 1984 (NASA)

The challenge of bringing together these components and the urgency of the climate change issue led to the formation in 1991 of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Through the program, collaborating experts in the relevant disciplines are creating an integrated framework for the analysis of climate issues. This framework adds factors now missing from most policy analyses (for example, economic-based forecasts of emissions and new understandings of atmospheric chemistry and deep ocean circulation) to existing computationally feasible models in order to conduct studies of the sensitivities and uncertainties that are crucial to policy evaluation.

Energy Laboratory teams also address the three main technological approaches to mitigating potential global climate change: improving efficiency, developing non-fossil energy sources, and introducing technologies for controlling CO2 emissions.

Another potentially attractive non-fossil source is geothermal energy from hot dry rock (HDR). Energy extraction from HDR involves circulating pressurized water in a closed loop through deep zones of fractured hot rock and recovering the thermal energy from the water. HDR systems have essentially no emissions; and they can provide energy continuously, unlike intermittent renewable resources such as solar or wind energy. We are examining the reservoir characteristics of heat mining and the economics of various process options. We are also investigating developments that could substantially reduce the cost of drilling--a major expense in the exploitation of geothermal reserves. Research topics include systems integration using advanced geophysical characterization of the rock coupled to on-line control of key drilling parameters and advanced penetration concepts involving thermal spallation, erosion, and cavitation, with and without coupling to rotary methods. The work is performed under the National Advanced Drilling and Excavation Technology program.

Control technologies such as scrubbers have long been used to reduce power plant emissions such as particulates and sulfur dioxide. However, applying such technology to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is a challenge because of the large volume of CO2 that must be captured and disposed of. Our work on various aspects of CO2 capture, use, and disposal has earned us an international reputation as a leader in this field. Current work focuses on the critical problem of how to use or dispose of the captured CO2. Attention has been directed particularly to ocean disposal of CO2 and the associated environmental impacts. Another major activity in this research area is planning for the Third International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Removal, which was hosted on the MIT campus in September 1996.

Howard Herzog photo
Howard J. Herzog

Selected Participants

Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

The Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change is an organization for research, independent policy analysis, and public education in the area of global environmental change. The program seeks to provide world leadership in understanding scientific, economic, and ecological aspects of this difficult issue and in bringing together such understanding to form policy assessments that serve the needs of ongoing national and international discussions. To that end, the program assembles an interdisciplinary group from two established research centers at MIT: the Center for Global Change Science and the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. These two centers bridge many key areas of the needed intellectual work. Additional essential areas are covered by the involvement of experts from other MIT departments and by formal collaboration with the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The joint program involves sponsorship and active participation by industry, government, and nonprofit organizations. The program's co-directors are Professors Ronald Prinn and Henry Jacoby.

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