U-M Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program awards $1.75M in grants to seven research projects

The Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program at the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute has awarded research grants to seven projects aimed at reducing net carbon emissions.

The multiyear program was created last year with a $5 million gift from an anonymous donor. The first round of funding, totaling $1.75 million, was awarded this week to projects that investigate groundbreaking energy-storage and carbon-capture technologies, innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions in agriculture, and new options for lowering the carbon footprint of U-M student diets.

Other funded projects are designed to promote equitable heat electrification and to influence perceptions around climate change and carbon neutrality-related issues.

“I congratulate the U-M researchers of the CNAP teams whose exciting projects apply multidisciplinary problem-solving to the challenge of climate change,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “The CNAP program is a tremendous example of what we can contribute as a comprehensive public research university, with the generosity of our donors supporting efforts that have enormous potential to help address an urgent societal problem.”

The seven projects were chosen from 37 proposals involving 105 U-M faculty and researchers. The funded projects are:

Evaluating Thermal Energy Storage for Deep Decarbonization

This emerging energy storage solution could offer the best of both worlds: supporting deep decarbonization and keeping costs in check. ($300,000)

For the first time in 50 years, low-carbon technologies have overtaken coal globally as the leading source of electricity. With the penetration of renewables continuing to increase, developing cost-effective, scalable, and duration-flexible energy storage is critical to balance energy supply and demand. Enter TES: thermal energy storage.

Rohini Bala Chandran, mechanical engineering, College of Engineering, (principal investigator); Michael Craig, School for Environment and Sustainability; Donald Siegel, mechanical engineering.

Diversifying Cover Crops to Sequester Carbon in Agricultural Soil

Could a legume-grass cover crop mixture finally solve the soil-carbon dilemma? ($151,000)

Agricultural cover crops are non-harvested crops grown in rotation between primary crops. When cover crops decompose, they contribute organic matter that contains important nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers and thus lowering the overall carbon-cost of row-crop farming. But is there a way also to conserve that organic matter to sequester carbon in the soil long-term?

Jennifer Blesh, SEAS (PI); Kent Connell, SEAS; Timothy James, ecology and evolutionary biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Julie Doll, Michigan State University.

Reshaping Food Choice in U-M Dining Halls to Accelerate Carbon Neutrality

Small shifts to help students eat less meat could bring big reductions in food-related greenhouse gases. ($300,000)

Individual diets vary vastly in their carbon footprints, and the disparities are driven largely by the relative proportion of animal-source foods. Beef, for example, is responsible for 50 times the emissions per kilogram of field-grown vegetables. Reducing consumption of carbon-intense foods like beef could have transformative impacts on climate change.

Andrew Jones, School of Public Health (PI); Lesli Hoey, urban and regional planning, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Alex Bryan, Student Life; Steve Mangan, Keith Soster, Lindsay Haas and Frank Turchan, MDining.

CO2 to Fuels Through Chemistry and Technology

Inventing a device to capture, concentrate, and convert carbon dioxide emissions to viable fuels and chemicals. ($300,000)

The drive to limit the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has spurred widespread efforts to develop technologies that capture and reuse or store carbon. This research team will develop a renewable energy-powered, integrated process for the capture of CO2 and its conversion to useful fuels and chemicals.

Suljo Linic, chemical engineering, (PI); Rohini Bala Chandran, mechanical engineering, and Bryan Goldsmith and Nirala Singh, chemical engineering; Charles McCrory, chemistry, LSA.

Detroit River Story Lab’s Carbon Neutrality Narratives Project

Elevating stories of the river’s past, present, and future to enable effective regional climate action. ($270,000)

The Detroit River Watershed is one of the nation’s most deeply and visibly implicated in the troubling legacy of the carbon economy. This project aims to partner with these communities as they continue reshaping the shared narratives that will lay the groundwork for a sustainable post-carbon future for the region.

David Porter, English language and literature, and comparative literature (PI); Maria Arquero de Alarcon, architecture and urban planning, Taubman College; Rebecca Hardin, SEAS; Melissa Duhaime, ecology and evolutionary biology, and Kristin Haas, American culture, LSA.

The Promise and Risks of Framing Climate Change as a Migration Issue

Could evoking empathy for the victims of climate change spur Americans across the political spectrum to act to reduce its causes? ($137,000)

This research team will build upon its past work to explore different framings of climate migration, seeking framings that will translate into support for low-carbon policies. The researchers hope to create a set of best practices for journalists, policymakers and climate advocates to present this vital aspect of climate change.

Kaitlin Raimi, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy (PI); Julia Lee Cunningham, Stephen M. Ross School of Business; Nathaniel Geiger and Melanie Sarge, Indiana University; Ash Gillis, Pennsylvania State University.

Ensuring Equity in Electrified Space Heating

As the move to electrified heating stretches the electrical grid, will the poor bear the burdens of discomfort and high cost? ($300,000)

Each winter, a large proportion of families in the U.S. maintain their homes below the 64 degrees Fahrenheit considered healthy. As home heating moves toward full electrification and utilities require customers to adopt pricing plans designed to reduce peak demand, low-income customers could face a tradeoff between cost and comfort.

Parth Vaishnav, SEAS (PI); Tony Reames, SEAS.

“We are grateful to the donors and thrilled to be in a position to support faculty across U-M as they blaze much-needed trails to carbon neutrality,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, Graham Family Director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and co-chair of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. “We expect these projects will have a major impact, both on future research and in real-world applications.”