MIT Climate Grand Challenges Live Event
[AUDIENCE CHATTER] [MUSIC PLAYING] [AUDIENCE CHATTER] [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] - Climate change presents immense and growing challenges to the world around us. - It demands big ideas. - Immediate action. - And a willingness to take risks.
- Climate Grand challenges is a whole of MIT effort. - To develop high-impact climate solutions. - To the toughest climate problems. - And bring them to the world as fast as possible.
- With the extraordinary work of our five flagship projects. - 22 finalist teams. - And the whole MIT research community. We can not only change the trajectory of humankind and our planet, but inspire others to join us. [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] MODERATOR: Please welcome President Rafael Reif.
[APPLAUSE] L. RAFAEL REIF: Good morning, good morning. On behalf of everyone, everyone involved in the MIT Climate Grand Challenges program, welcome aboard. We're absolutely delighted to have you with us as we introduce our five flagship projects to the world. I'm grateful to the many people who helped create this showcase event, including our outstanding panelists, as well as all the MIT researchers who invested such inspiring creativity and care in developing the solutions we will hear about today.
I also offer a warm hello to the Congressional staff members joining us today and a special-- a very special shout-out to our distinguished guest, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. In July 2020, when we launched the Climate Grand Challenges, we wanted to focus the daring creativity and pioneering expertise of the MIT community on the urgent problem of climate change. But the world was still reeling from the first months of COVID. MIT researchers were just getting used to working on campus again. We simply did not know what reaction to expect. So you can imagine how thrilled we were when our first call for proposals yielded nearly 100 submissions, involving almost 400 faculty researchers, representing all five MIT schools, as well as our College of Computing.
After rigorous review, we invited 27 teams to develop comprehensive plans. And from that exceptional group of finalists, we then chose five teams to proceed as flagship projects. And you will have the opportunity to meet each one of them today. These projects touch domains from industry to agriculture, and from prediction to adaptation. Yet, they all aim to address an important unsolved problem in climate.
And they all aim to generate and deploy significant solutions at scale in time to make a difference. Together, these flagship projects will define a transformative new research agenda at MIT, one that has the potential to make meaningful contributions to the global climate response. Each one has received a vital boost of initial funding from MIT.
Yet with aspirations on this scale, these projects will also need allies and supporters at MIT and other institutions, as well as from outside the Academy, including investors, philanthropists, policymakers, industry leaders, and more. To all of you here with us, and to all of you watching, I hope that what you hear today will inspire you to join us in action for humanity around the globe. Climate change has been called a super wicked problem.
In Boston, that might sound like a local way of saying really hard, but this phrase is actually a technical term. It describes any enormously complex societal problem that has no single right answer and no clear finish line, as well as multiple stakeholders with conflicting priorities, and no central authority empowered to solve it. A vivid example is the current war in Ukraine. It's obviously creating terrible immediate human suffering.
It is also affecting the price of oil and gas, and therefore, impacting the global debate over climate and energy policy. Complexity, uncertainty, and conflict can paralyze progress. In fact, I recently heard a phrase that has stuck in my mind. When it comes to addressing climate change, despair is as bad as denial. At MIT, we believe that when a problem feels overwhelming the best antidote is practical action.
And that is exactly what we're here to share with you today. So let's get started. The program begins with a fireside chat between me and our special guest, Secretary Kerry.
It is a chat, but luckily for me, I will be asking all the questions. In January 2021, former Secretary of State John Kerry became the first person appointed to serve a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Secretary Kerry is an inspiring choice and his role is a perfect expression of the fact that when it comes to climate, no nation can go it alone. We're all in this together.
So with that, please welcome Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry. [APPLAUSE] L. RAFAEL REIF: Secretary Kerry, it's a great honor to have you with us today. Thank you so much for joining us. Since last May, MIT has been pursuing its latest climate action plan and we call it Fast Forward, because we believe that progress on climate change depends on pursuing two tracks at the same time. Track one is do everything possible as fast as possible to get current technologies deployed and policies implemented.
Track two is to accelerate the development of new technologies and policy tools, because current technology alone, we believe, is not sufficient to meet the world's climate goals. So two questions. Do you believe we need action on both those tracks? And do the world leaders you meet with share that view? JOHN KERRY: Well, first of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to tackle this wicked awesome problem with all of you. I'm really thrilled to be at MIT and I congratulate you, Rafael, on a very timely, critical initiative, which is, as I said earlier, classic MIT.
And I think it's part of what we're going to need to get where we need to go. Those two tracks are absolutely correct and critical. We do have the technology we need now to do what we need to do between now and 2030, but we don't have the technology we need to guarantee we can get to net zero by 2050 and do what we have to do after that. I mean, even if we get to net zero by 2050, if you want an awesome problem, we have to take 1.9 trillion or so tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere and figure out what we're going to do with it and where we put.
That's once we get to the net zero. We can do that. If we were to deploy much more of the renewables that we have, and keep some of the nuclear that we have already providing, and bring on line some of the clean energy sources that we've been building in the last years, we can get a 45% to 50% reduction in emissions between now and 2030. But that requires also for the rest of the world to be doing things at a pace that they are not. In Glasgow, we agreed, and it was quite extraordinary actually, we got big countries-- China, Russia, India, others, to consent to a kind of shift from Paris.
Where in Paris, we agreed we had to do two degrees or well below 2 degrees with an aspiration of trying to do 1.5. Because of the IPCC report of 2018, we all know that it no longer is two 2 degrees. That doesn't cut it-- well below. And by the way, well below 2, it sounds like 1.5 to me. So we're now all agreed that we need to try to get there, but it's a verbal rhetorical agreement at this moment in time.
And I'm deeply concerned about where we are. 65% of global GDP left Glasgow committed to real plans that can achieve the limiting of 1.5 degrees as your temperature increase. In fact, Fatih Birol and the IEA did modeling on all the promises and pledges made in Glasgow.
And they determined that by 2050, indeed if they're all implemented, we would be at 1.8 degrees. When I heard that, I said, wow, we really can win this fight. Because if we can get to 1.8 degrees with only 65% of GDP,
think of what happens if we get the rest of these people on board. So our goal now is to push for that. We are pushing for it. We're working hand-in-hand with Indonesia. We're working very closely with South Africa. We've got about 8 and 1/2 billion we're putting into South Africa to bail out their energy company, which is basically bankrupt, and to begin to close down coal fired power plants.
We're working with Mexico very closely now to get President AMLO to-- Lopez Obrador, to agree to deploy many renewables. So if we can do those things, the problem is-- and I tell you, I mean, I've been at this for a long time and I'm beginning to be a little frustrated and exasperated with people who are defending the status quo and who are standing in the way. China is 30%-- 28% to 30% of all the emissions of the world. And we can't get there without China moving. Now, we created a working group with China. We had dozens of working sessions with the Chinese, negotiating.
We finally broke through in Glasgow. We got the Chinese to agree that they will this year issue an ambitious national action plan on methane reduction. They will join with us in the working group in order to try to reduce our their consumption of coal. And they will deal with deforestation. So if we can get them to move on those three things, we could get enough of a reduction curve to get to the 2030 date in a decent place. And the IPCC recently said, in its most recent report, that while the window is closing, we actually do still have time to be able to do what we need to do to avoid the worst consequences-- the worst, not to avoid the crisis altogether.
So each of the tracks you've talked about, so taking the existing technology and deploying it more rapidly. But the IEA also tells us that to achieve our goals, more rapidly means deploying renewable energy five times faster than we are now. It means deploying-- cutting coal fired power five times faster than we are now. It means getting electric cars on the road 22 times faster than we are. When you start hearing those figures, and say, we have to mobilize as if we're at war. And in many ways we are, because part of what's happening in Ukraine is tied to the weaponization of energy and it's a problem.
So at the same time, we must push the new technologies. I was just out in California, just to really learn more about what is happening, and what is real, and how can we get there. And at Google X, I saw people making carbon into product.
And there are real ways we can do that. I know in Australia they've done some of that, other places. With a bunch of startups, I saw things that will change the game on lithium and how we produce it-- battery-- battery storage, 100-hour battery, game changing.
So we have to push those technologies to market faster. We've got to find them, check their feasibility, put a demonstration together, prototype, get out there, and then bring them to scale. That's a monumental job, folks. And it's all got to be done in the next eight years.
So I don't think we're equipping ourselves sufficiently to actually meet that target, which I'm concerned about and chagrined about. And we have a very, very difficult political situation in our country today, where an entire party has decided that the concept of climate response is toxic. And they will not acknowledge the reality and move on it.
So if we don't move on that, then the United States of America, which has the historic high of carbon production, is going to become a real problem in terms of where we have to get to. L. RAFAEL REIF: Mr. Secretary, you say-- you said, if we can get to work together, and you mentioned other nations, we have a shot at getting there. And there is a lot of things frustrating going on in the world and sometimes in America as well.
But let me just say that we are with you. And if there is one person that can accomplish that globally, that's you. JOHN KERRY: Oh, well-- [LAUGHTER] L. RAFAEL REIF: In other words-- JOHN KERRY: Thank you, folks, it was great being here. Look, it's really hard when you can't talk to some of these people.
I actually got a lot done with President Putin when I was there. We got chemical weapons out of Syria. We did the Iran Nuclear Agreement. We did the Paris Agreement. We created the largest marine protected area in the world, the Ross Sea in Antarctica, so we got some things done.
But this is a very different moment and a very different person right now. And Russia's off the table for the time being. So that's a problem.
China, we have many other issues with China that are getting in the way. Obviously, climate is not a bilateral issue. It's a universal, multilateral, global challenge. To some degree we've been able to separate that in our meetings, but recently I have begun to feel a growing tension, which I worry about greatly. Because we can't-- you can't talk in the context of existential challenges and then walk away the way people are walking away and behave the way they're behaving.
Either it's existential or it isn't. And it is existential. Why? Not because the ideology tells us that, because the science tells us that. This is a matter of physics and mathematics, not a matter of politics or of ideology. But unfortunately, we are stuck in a place where ideology is getting in the way, where the polarization of our nation is preventing us from doing what we know we have to do. And history is going to judge us very harshly if we do not find a way through this thicket at this moment.
L. RAFAEL REIF: All understood, those are serious challenges. All I meant to say is just keep at it, don't give up. We need you.
JOHN KERRY: You don't have to. It's OK, I accept the responsibility. Thank you-- I accept the nomination, thank you. [LAUGHTER] L. RAFAEL REIF: Mr. Secretary, the Great Challenge projects we'll hear about today deal with many aspects of the climate change problem-- mitigation, adaptation, prediction.
On climate adaptation, what do you see as the greatest needs worldwide in that arena? On prediction, how helpful will it be for countries to have more precise information on where and when climate impacts will be felt? And in mitigation, a project focused on industrial energy use and on agriculture, what are the biggest hurdles, in your view, to making progress in those areas right now? So, I'm talking about adaptation, prediction, mitigation. JOHN KERRY: Well, the biggest problem-- Rafael, the biggest problem is the status quo-- powerful vested interests that are standing in the way. It's just the biggest problem.
I spoke at CERA, the big energy conference in Houston this year. And I was the lead speaker, the beginning speaker, the first speaker. And what was supposed to be a meeting that was truly organized around transition became a meeting that suddenly reorganized itself around production. And you could just feel the energy industry feeling excited by the prospect of what was happening with supply and demand.
The demand, obviously up because COVID was beginning to seem like there was a light somewhere, so demand was going up. And also, supply was going down, because of OPEC. I think that's had far more impact than Ukraine, per se. But the price is high, it drives the politics. And instills fear in a lot of people, particularly six months out from the midterm election. So again, the politics are getting in the way.
And truth-- we have lost our ability in the United States of America to agree on what facts are and what the truth is. And if you can't agree on what the truth is in a democracy, you have a real problem. And that's where we are. And it defies imagination, because there aren't sufficient facts to support the alternative views. I mean, there aren't alternative facts, right? As old John Adams said, facts are stubborn things, but we are not behaving that way.
So I don't mean to sound-- I'm more and more persuaded, frankly-- first of all, government doesn't have the money to do what we need to do. When I stopped being Secretary of State, I left the job believing that it's going to be the private sector that solves this for us and I still believe that. The marketplace is going to be far more powerful than solving this than the government, any government. And we need to deploy trillions of dollars in order to do this. The UN finance report says that we have a deficit of about $2 and 1/2 to $4 and 1/2 trillion per year for the next 30 years just to get to net zero.
And the reality is that we've had trouble getting $100 billion for the $100 billion that was promised in Paris for the less developed countries, to help them transition. Now we're about $96 billion now. But even if you get to 100 this year-- we will be at 100 next year, but even if you get to that, that's not-- that's a drop of water in the bucket compared to what we need. Now in Glasgow, we did create an alliance of major investors in the world, asset managers, asset owners, banks, et cetera.
I personally went to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, State Street. And those banks, the six biggest banks in America, committed that over the next eight years they will invest in this transition, $4.2 trillion. And that's without BlackRock and others, who say they'll do a trillion by themselves and so on. So you can get to $6, $7, $8, $10 trillion pretty quickly. The problem is deploying that money. It's investment money.
It's not concessionary funding. So you need to find a way to de-risk some of it. And we're meeting on that. Right now, this week, we will have meetings with various-- the multilateral banks are meeting in Washington-- World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Development Bank, et cetera.
So we're going to try to find a way to create blended finance and activate that money. And that money, rushing into the sector, will, I think, have a profound impact. In addition, we do have $62 billion that went to the Department of Energy. And I am still hopeful that we will get some kind of climate bill out of Congress. There are discussions taking place right now and there's a possibility of it-- not a certainty, but a possibility. But those trillions of dollars are key.
Also, there's about a trillion dollars of venture capital now in the marketplace. And investors are waking up. ESG has changed boardroom discussions around the world. And people are now sensing much greater urgency to finding the solutions, the new technologies, and taking to scale some of the old technologies. So what keeps exciting me and the reason I keep at it is we can do this. We can win this battle, actually.
But there has to be a massive change of behavior and a shift in the allocation of capital. I think the marketplace has a better chance of enticing that shift than does the government, absent perhaps one tool the government could put in place quickly. That would be the investment tax credits and the production tax credits. Those would make a huge difference. And if at some point people could bring themselves to price carbon adequately, that would also have the greatest impact, as your own modeling at MIT shows, and everywhere else.
That's the biggest shift you get in the curve, comes from pricing. L. RAFAEL REIF: Did the legislation to move us in that direction-- JOHN KERRY: No, none on that yet.
No-- I mean, there are people pushing it. Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island, a few other people. Lindsey Graham's talked about, perhaps, doing something in that vein. There's certainly a bipartisan small group who could move on it, but it has not yet been proposed and-- and promulgated as a major initiative, either by the administration or the Congress at this point. L. RAFAEL REIF: So it's being talked about, but you don't see anything coming anytime soon? JOHN KERRY: Probably not on that, certainly not six months before an election.
L. RAFAEL REIF: That's true. You touched that topic, the markets and the private sector. And I think, indeed, waiting for government action, sometimes it may be a little slow for the timescales we're dealing with. So the next question is addressing a little bit of that. And I'm curious about your view there. Because one problem that we have in the US right now is that we don't seem to move technology rapidly enough from the lab to the marketplace.
And I'm seeing Katie Rea, who's in the front row, she has been fighting that fight for years now, leading the engine. And in fact, that's the subject of today's final panel. So what strategies would help make the US a leader again in moving technology into commercial use? And have you seen any successes at home or abroad that you may want to share? JOHN KERRY: Well, putting vast-- I mean serious money-- into consortia that you-- I mean, if we were to bring people together-- universities, colleges, laboratories-- the 17 Labs are actually doing some really interesting things. And there's a lot of money going into the labs right now. And I think that has the potential of changing it.
But we need about five Manhattan Projects, frankly. That's what I think, anyway. And I think that we ought to organize that.
And that's how-- America's technology lead will be kept by facilitating the breakthroughs that are necessary in the technologies we know we need here. We tried-- we started something in Glasgow, which I find actually promising, as one of the tools to try to excite different activity. And it's called the First Movers Coalition. We got 36 companies-- we're now-- we're setting a goal of trying to get it over 50 by the World Economic Forum, which will take place in May in Switzerland.
And our goal is to bring these companies to the table. And what we're trying to do is have-- the first movers are big companies that are helping to accelerate the creation of the market. And they do it by paying some of the green premium up front, in order to create a product that the marketplace needs and wants.
For instance, on aviation, we have Boeing, Delta, United, Salesforce, and Apple, that all agreed that 5% of the fuel-- air airline fuel, that they use for flying around the world, for their businesses, is going to be sustainable aviation fuel, with an 85% reduction in emissions. Now, we don't have that tech today. But by saying we'll buy it, somebody's going to go out and say, OK, there's a ready market, we're going to try to make it. LafargeHolcim, which we raised in a conversation earlier, is making green cement.
They're paying the additional premium and people are paying-- and people are buying it. Ironically, they're buying it not because it's green, but because it's a better cement. So there's been a benefit to that project. Volvo agreed that 10% of the steel they buy to make their automobiles is going to be green steel.
There is a company in Sweden making green steel. So that could accelerate the move of people, if we get more people participating in that. Maersk, the largest container shipper in the world, agreed that the next eight ships they build will be carbon free. So it's exciting to have companies stepping up and saying, we're going to take the lead, we're going to help create this market.
I think we could accelerate that significantly. And obviously, if you had a tax credit for that kind of behavior, we would see a huge shift in the marketplace. So yeah, there are things that are happening that I think are exciting. The problem is it's not happening fast enough.
And that's where government comes in. Government can send the signals. Government can create the structure. And you can build around that and move much faster. And I hope, yet, we will still get there with a climate bill this year, which is essential, by the way, for American leadership. We just will not have credibility in the global marketplace of ideas and actions as a climate leader.
And we have been leading. I mean, we put the methane pledge together. We now have a pledge that 112 countries-- 113 now, we just got Qatar to sign up.
We have 113 countries that have pledged that they will join in the pledge to reduce global methane by 30% by 2030. If we achieve that goal-- and personally, I think we can exceed it. Because methane reduction is sort of plumbing. It's not reliant on high-end technology.
It's plugging leaks-- leaks in the pipes, leaks in the wells, leaks at the wellhead, leaks in transportation, leaks in use, flaring, all these things. So if we curb all of that, it's the equivalent of getting every automobile in the world, every truck in the world, every ship in the world, every airplane in the world to zero by 2030. Big impact-- it's a saving of 0.2 degrees Celsius on the rise of the Earth's temperature. So those are the kinds of things that give you encouragement. It can be done.
We have to organize the effort. And that's what we did with methane pledge. L. RAFAEL REIF: Senator Kerry, you said a few moments ago, a climate bill. What do you see coming there? What's your crystal ball? JOHN KERRY: Nobody has a crystal ball on this one.
Maybe Joe Manchin-- L. RAFAEL REIF: You said that-- JOHN KERRY: Joe Manchin has a crystal ball. No, but this requires-- this is one person that's got to decide what they're willing to put on the table.
And he's thinking about it, I know. I had great conversations with him at the IAEA meeting. I talked to him just the other day. I know he's thinking about how to do it. And he wants bipartisanship, to try to come together.
So we'll see what happens. But I think a bill in the range of $500 billion for climate, activities of various kinds, would really be a shot in the arm and put us on the track we need to get on. L. RAFAEL REIF: Let's talk about business leaders. We have only a few more minutes.
You talk not just to nation leaders, you talk to business leaders, what are they saying, business leaders, about climate? Do they understand how significant and dangerous the changes to the world climate are? And how would you assess their commitment to a rapid transition? JOHN KERRY: I think there are a lot of business leaders of very important companies, some of which I named-- the Microsoft's, and Google's, and Apple's and others, who are trendsetters in many ways, and a lot of other companies-- Ford and GM. Ford and GM are completely retooling their factory floors. They are going to produce electric cars. The target is 2035, only electric cars will be sold in the United States. And they're buying into that.
The utilities are buying into electricity's role in this transition. They're not fighting it. So there are people really raring and ready to go in the private sector, who are-- and many, many companies are now stepping up.
And witness what I said about the banks. They're ready to invest in the sector. They're allocating a specific sum of money to that sector, but they also need certain ingredients to be aligned for them to make a responsible fiduciary decision to put the money on the line for longer term investment.
But look, we had about $13 to $17 trillion sitting in a parked status, paying net negative interest over the last five years, which is absurd, when there are many projects around that are-- transportation projects, energy projects, water projects-- they have revenue streams. So you could clearly set up a capacity for that money to be working for you and maybe a 7% return, 12%. It's not 100x, but it's a decent return, particularly for people with fiduciary responsibility, like retirement funds, pensions, CalPERS, others, who have to look at a longer term with a different standard. Disclosure, by the way, which the SEC is now proffering, is a huge factor.
Because that disclosure is going to require companies to assess the impact of climate on an investment going out in the future. And if you're investing in real estate in Florida, or Bangladesh, or other places, it's going to be pretty clear, you could have a different view of that if you're looking-- taking climate into effect. So I think the corporate world, not writ large yet, but increasingly larger, much broader sector of people are deeply concerned about this, because they know it's going to affect business, values, supply chains, returns. And that's where I say the marketplace is going to move here. It already is moving.
Some people ask me frequently, especially abroad, what happens if you have a return of a certain president or what happens if there's a shift of parties and you have the people who are denying still taking over. I believe no politician can turn the clock back on what is happening now. I think the marketplace has seized this. And when you have a trillion dollars of venture capital moving towards battery storage, or green hydrogen, or electrolyzers, or carbon capture, or utilization of some kind, there is money to be made in that. And the people who understand the science know this is not a fake issue. This is going to get worse and it's coming at us.
Every economic analysis done that is legitimately peer reviewed and published, shows us it is far, far more expensive to not respond than it is to encourage these investments and to do the things we need to do to build resilience, and adapt, and so forth. It is going to happen, in my judgment. And one of the reasons is good old capitalism. People are going to see that they can make money doing this and the marketplace is going to move. L. RAFAEL REIF: That should make it work.
Secretary Kerry, it's a great honor for us to have you with us this morning. Thank you for this fascinating conversation. As you can tell, I think I speak on behalf of all of us in this room, and for all of us watching us, that were proud of the work you do and we are proud of staying, and stating with you, and standing with you in this extremely important work. Thank you so much. Well, thank you very much. Thank you to MIT.
This effort is what we need. We need grand challenges around the world. We need to come together in these efforts. So this is a brilliant initiative and very important leadership.
And thank you, MIT. L. RAFAEL REIF: Well, thank you. [APPLAUSE] Let me just say, we're now-- we're now going to hear the flagship teams and the flagship projects, but before we're going to just watch a brief video narrated by somebody with a very familiar accent. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. JOHN KERRY: Thank you. I have to go to Washington.
I hate it, but I'll go to Washington. L. RAFAEL REIF: Thank you. JOHN KERRY: OK, I'm going to get out of here.
[APPLAUSE] [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - Solving tough problems is what MIT does. It is in our DNA. And today, for much of the world's population, there is no greater problem than climate change. We launched our first ever Climate Grand Challenges competition with one overarching goal, to marshal the expertise and resources of the entire MIT community to pursue the big ideas it will take to address difficult unanswered questions facing humankind and its only planet. Our faculty responded with nearly 100 bold proposals.
From this outstanding pool, we invited 27 teams with the most promising concepts to the final round. Now we're proud to announce that five finalists will become flagship MIT projects. Together, these projects are launching a new agenda of transformative research with the potential to catalyze game-changing advances in the global climate response. Yet-Ming Chiang and Bilge Yildiz aim to reinvent and electrify the processes and materials behind hard to decarbonize industries, such as those that produce steel, cement, ammonia, and ethylene.
Raffaele Ferrari and Noelle Selin are leveraging advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data sciences to improve the accuracy of climate models and to make them more useful to communities and other stakeholders. Christopher Voight is looking to revolutionize the agricultural sector with climate resilient crops and fertilizers that eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Kerry Emanuel, Miho Mazareeuw, and Paul O'Gorman are building a scalable toolkit to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate events and transition to low carbon energy in the face of changing extreme weather. John Aldridge and Elfatih Eltahir are rethinking how communities adapt to climate change by developing a cutting-edge forecasting system to help underserved populations anticipate future climate impacts. The goal is grand and simple, to bring these new solutions to the world quickly.
To help the team solve these grand challenges as fast as possible, MIT is dedicating significant funding and we're seeking more. We're eager to partner with industry, business, philanthropic, and community leaders to implement these solutions at scale and to inspire others to join us in this work. [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] YET-MING CHIANG: Thank you. Thank you all for being here. We're here to talk about a global problem, but I wanted to start with something very local. So everyone in this room probably remembers when they first came to accept the reality of climate change and the impact that was going to have.
And so I wanted to tell you my personal story here. So it didn't happen in the lab and it didn't happen while reading scientific papers. No, here in Massachusetts, if you like the outdoors, you're likely to be gravitated towards Cape Cod, right? And so there are a lot of things to do out there. But what I like to do is go fishing. Now, the most prized native species in Massachusetts is the striped bass.
And this is a family friend, Camille Riley. And she caught this in the 1990s. She's now a biomedical engineer working in New York City. Now, as scientists, of course, we kept data.
And what we saw was that year by year we would catch more of these warm water species. This is my son, Merrill, with a Spanish mackerel. At first, we thought this is great, these are beautiful fish.
They happened to actually be good to eat as well. But within about 15 years, my daughter, Mickey, caught a tropical fish off of Cape Cod. This is a trigger fish. So my point is that this fish does not belong in New England. And this wasn't the only one. We are catching mahi mahi late in the summer.
And of course, nobody knows this more than the New England lobster men. They've seen the sweet spot for lobster moving north with surprising velocity. And so this was how I personally first came to understand the impact of a warming ocean, many years ago.
So to save the natural world, of course we are here to address the industrialized world in this particular project. And so the topic that we've addressed in our center, which is called the Center for Electrification-- one key word-- and Decarbonization of Industry. We're choosing to address firstly the four largest emitters. So cement happens to be the material that we make in the largest volume of any man-made material today, some $4 billion tons a year. And so along with steel, those literally form the backbone of our built environment, our cars, our appliances. And then there's ethylene, which is the basis for many plastics, including the packaging plastics, you'll no doubt make some use of at lunch today.
And then ammonia, which is used in fertilizer. So just these four, taken together, represent some 45% of our industrial emissions globally today. If you now project that to all human emissions, this is about 15% of all human emissions today. So this is really-- this is a grand challenge.
What we're going to try to do is try to reinvent the processes by which these have been made, all of which are a 100 years or so-- or close to that-- old. And we're going to try to do it with electricity. So let me tell you a little bit about cement.
So cement, the process we use today was invented over 150 years ago. It's a high-temperature process. The temperature of a cement kiln is about 1,450 centigrade. And so the emissions that come from this-- there's an easy number to remember-- each ton of cement that we produce emits one ton of CO2 by this process.
So 4 billion tons of cement a year is what we produce globally. Half of that CO2 comes from the limestone, which we decompose on the way to making this cement. The other half comes from the fossil fuels, which we use to reach those temperatures, mostly coal-- some old tires thrown in there, but mostly coal. And so if you instead use electricity you can take the same starting materials-- limestone here on the right, and take it and turn it into lime, which is the input into making that cement.
And in the process, electrochemically what we can do is to take out that CO2 in a cold, pure form, that's much easier to capture and to sequester. And we can do this entirely at room temperature. And as a result, we take out the thermal emissions as well. Now Secretary Kerry referred to some ongoing work with green cement. And there's a path to partial decarbonization of the industry. We're aiming for complete decarbonization of the industry and to do so with zero green premium.
And we think that there are pathways to getting there. And so if you take this decarbonized lime, which is highly reactive, you can then, at room temperature, with an entirely room temperature process, make decarbonized cement, which you see is Tim the Beaver on the right hand side here. That's not the only thing we did with this cement.
Now, I've been carrying Tim the beaver around for several months, so he's a pretty strong beaver. But this is a cement that's already more than 80% decarbonized, made, as I said, entirely at room temperature. So this illustrates a pathway that we're following.
Now, I don't have a lot of time to talk about steel today, but I did want to say that steel-- electrochemistry applied to steel can likewise achieve massive decarbonization. And that's an industry that's been using fossil fuels since literally the Iron Age. So at this point, let me pass it over to Bilge, who will tell you about ethylene and ammonia. BILGE YILDIZ: Thank you, Yet-Ming. So let's go to the story of ammonia and ethylene.
So these are the two topmost CO2 emitting chemicals by far among industrial chemicals. And the quantity is large. Ammonia feeds the world and ethylene is precursor to plastics. The current chemical processes that we use to synthesize them require large amounts of thermal energy input. For example, the Haber Bosch process for ammonia and steam cracking of NAFTA for ethylene. And the thermal energy needed-- required for these processes at present is being provided by burning fossil fuels.
Moreover, some of the feedstock that's needed for the conversion process, for example, hydrogen needed for ammonia synthesis, is being made by CO2 emitting processes at present. So this together amounts to a large CO2 footprint of about 1.5 to 3 tons of CO2 emitted per ton of ammonia or ethylene produced. So I will repeat the same message as Yet-Ming, that in the center our vision is to use clean electricity to decarbonize the manufacturing of these chemicals and to make them more modular and economical. And by use of electricity, we don't mean only to use electricity to convert electrical energy to thermal energy, to provide to the same chemical process, but rather, use electricity to break, and make, and remake chemical bonds. And we call this electrochemistry.
And our aim is to reinvent these processes by leveraging electrochemistry as an effective means to decarbonize the manufacturing of ammonia ethylene, similar to the story of cement and steel that Yet-Ming has shared. And electrochemistry gives us a key advantage, a leverage, in fact, a very strong driving force to drive these reactions at more moderate, milder conditions, in particular much reduced temperatures, which makes the process more manageable with also increased selectivity towards the chemical products that we are targeting to produce. And for example, we can use solid oxide, solid state electrochemistry to produce ammonia from water vapor and nitrogen, or to produce ethylene through similar solid state roots, from methane or CO2, plus water vapor. And the resulting solid state electrochemical systems are more modular, more compact, more distributable, and flexible, and certainly, cleaner than the current thermochemical processes. In addressing the decarbonization of these four industrial pillars-- steel, cement, ethylene, and ammonia, we will consider their integration, that is connecting input and output streams among multiple processes, so that we can enable a self-contained supply chain to the extent feasible. And this integration approach can minimize the waste and emission footprint from the process overall, by utilizing waste stream from one process as feedstock to the other.
For example, hydrogen, which would become a byproduct of electrochemical ethylene synthesis, could be used to extract iron from iron ore without CO2 emissions, or the CO2 generated from limestone conversion reaction in cement production could be used as a feedstock to electrochemical ethylene synthesis. So considering these processes collectively and looking for the best integration paths would be important for the optimum sustainability of the process. And our work will leverage targeted fundamental science to advance these technologies in our laboratories, working together with our students and young scientists. Followed up by scale-up from small scale to pilot scale demonstration, also at MIT. And finally, and in fact, as soon as possible, translation to the field through startups or through collaborations with established industry.
And I would say that we feel very lucky to be at MIT to address this Climate Grand Challenge, because we can bring together the needed key expertise, all the way from atoms to enterprise, under the same roof. And indeed, our team brings together the needed expertise in innovations in electrochemistry, innovations in materials, innovations in process design and scale up, as well as in the integration, sustainability, and techno economic analysis. So that we can together discover and deliver novel materials, processes to enable the electrification and decarbonization of important industrial products. And we are very excited to be working on this together. And I would also like to thank the MIT leadership for initiating the Climate Grand Challenge activities on campus and for supporting our work.
And we are looking forward to growing our collaborations with all interested groups. And thank you for being here and for listening. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] RAFFAELE FERRARI: Is anything going to happen? No.
OK, starting in the '60s here at MIT, scientists have developed sophisticated numerical models to predict the evolution of clouds, storms, and ocean currents. You can see that today's weather model, here on the right, look very similar to reality. That's a picture from a satellite-- a NASA satellite, and allow us to predict the future evolution of currents and clouds. These models have been very successful-- these models have been very successful in predicting the evolution of weather, a few days to a week in advance. It is now common to check a weather forecast on a smartphone and make decisions based on that forecast, like planning an event, go on a hike.
This is information that everybody can use to make decisions without being an expert in weather forecasting. Similar models are used to study the evolution of climate on longer timescales, from decades to centuries. To run such-- for such long time scales, climate models ignore many details, like the day-to-day weather patterns that you've seen in the previous picture, because of limits in present-day computer power. As a result, they are not very accurate at making projections of future climates. On the screen here, you see a cartoon showing the increase in mean Earth temperature predicted by what would be four state-of-the-art climate models.
All these models agree with each other and with observations over the past century because they have been tuned to reproduce available observations. But this approach does not work when they try to predict the future, and we see the discrepancy as we move forward. In essence, climate models are good at interpolation, but not at extrapolation. These models are not quite fit for the purpose of evaluating different mitigation and adaptation strategies, which is the big theme of today's discussion. The challenge we want to tackle in our proposal is, therefore, to tackle two issues.
The first one is to make climate models more accurate, but then also to make them useful for stakeholders, much like the weather applications that I've shown you before, that we use weather forecasting. So how do we plan to achieve the goal? Well, in particular, I will talk about the first goal. Then I'll pass it to Noelle for the second one, making them useful for stakeholders. So this is work that we have already started doing as part of the Climate Modeling Alliance. That's a collaboration project between MIT, Cal Tech, and JPL, sponsored by Schmidt Futures, to write a new generation climate model. What do I mean by that? Well, you can see a sketch of what would be our model on the left.
The atmosphere, land, and ocean are divided in big blocks of about 100 kilometers by design-- that's a quarter of the size of Massachusetts-- And tens to hundreds of meters in the vertical. Many processes, like clouds and ocean turbulence literally fall through the cracks of the model. And figuring out how to represent the effect of these small scale processes on future climate is the key challenge really of climate modeling from a physics perspective. Taking advantage of new and faster computing architectures, like GPUs, we can now simulate clouds, storm vortices separately in each one of the blocks in which we divided our global model. And essentially, create digital data on how these processes will change in a future climate.
So we are creating the digital data that we need. Then leveraging advances in data science and machine learning, we can then use this digital data to train the climate model on both the present, past, and in particular, future climates. This will both improve the accuracy of the climate model, but as importantly, it will also provide quantified uncertainty in climate projections that are needed to have actionable information.
NOELLE SELIN: This new climate model can provide information that represents a substantial advance over the state of the art. Not only in incorporating the latest science and computational techniques, but also it's tied to questions of global importance. But is it really a more useful model.
And why should those be-- who are making decisions about mitigating and adapting to climate change trust its insights? Can a model like this provide the real-time information that stakeholders need to address a changed climate? And will those stakeholders have the ability to explore scenarios, change its assumptions, and customize it to their needs? Our project builds on the understanding that if this new modeling approach is going to be useful and relevant to decision makers and communities, they need tailored products, not a one fits all-- a one-size-fits-all simulation. And the users need to be full partners in developing and testing this model. So how do we plan on bridging this gap? The new advances in data science and artificial intelligence that help create the new climate model can also be leveraged to help us design and build new, fast running simulations that stakeholders can interact with. These smaller, more efficient simulations, which we call emulators of the full model, will provide high-fidelity predictions for the climate variables that users need the most.
Right now, creating this kind of emulator is very time consuming and very expensive, but our plan is to harness the latest computational techniques to make this process faster, easier, and cheaper. For example, a tailored emulator could be useful for local communities and governments who are grappling with issues, such as heat waves and their health impacts. We know that heat waves are deadly and they're increasing in frequency and severity as a result of changing climate. But it matters where and how they occur and how long.
And he also interact with other human influence drivers, such as emissions, that affect air quality. Decision makers that want to manage the human impact of heat waves need information at the scale that matters to them, so that they can intervene by planning policies and strategies for sectors like infrastructure, transportation, and energy. And those, in turn, can feedback to affect outcomes, such as people's health. So doing so requires projections of things like temperature and other climate variables, such as rainfall. And also, their expected probabilities in the future. And our emulator approach aims to make that type of information necessary for those decisions more accessible and more relevant.
And ideally, eventually, as easy to access as that weather app. And to create these emulators together with stakeholders, we plan to work together with colleagues at MIT who have deep connections to the decision makers who are affected by climate change, both in the public sector, including policymakers and planners, as well as the private sector, in particular working together with the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium. Our project aims to provide the proof of concept for this new modeling approach in a few selected case studies.
But once it's scaled up, we hope it will democratize access to climate information, providing new information for those across the world who are making decisions that affect our shared future. RAFFAELE FERRARI: So the goal of making climate information accessible and useful for stakeholders is truly a grand challenge, but one that MIT is uniquely positioned to meet, thanks to our expertise in all the relevant disciplines. And that goes from climate science to be the models, to machine learning, and the skill to design fast emulators. And finally, the engagement, on the right, with stakeholders working both public and private sectors through numerous MIT led initiatives. And we're really thankful to MIT and the broader world community for giving us the opportunity to work on this problem properly and hopefully making a difference.
[APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] MARY GEHRING: In 1998, when I was an undergraduate, I had the privilege of meeting Norman Borlaug, who came to my college to lecture and meet with students studying biology. Dr. Borlaug was a leader of the Green Revolution of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, and he developed, in his work in Mexico, high-yielding dwarf varieties of wheat, which were planted in Mexico, India, and Pakistan. Combined with fertilizer usage and new farming methods, these high-yielding varieties are estimated to have averted famine for a billion people and propelled many others out of poverty. Dr. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize
for this work in 1970 and many other prestigious awards throughout his career. But what struck me in his conversation with us students is that he was not content. He was incredibly concerned for the future and he was unsatisfied with the present state of research in agricultural technology.
He exhorted us that young people must continue to pursue research in this area. This conversation was one of the inspirations for me to become a plant biologist and ultimately a faculty member here at MIT. Today, we face far more dire prospects than when I met Dr. Borlaug in the late 1990s, and another global agricultural revolution is needed. Agriculture both contributes to and is impacted by climate change. I'm part of a team, led by Chris Voight, in biological engineering, to revolutionize agriculture with low emissions and resilient crops.
Our interdisciplinary team, shown here, consists of members from across engineering, science, and economics, with a shared goal of mitigating and adapting to climate change through solutions from agricultural biotechnology. We're addressing two substantial challenges that I'll tell you about today. Agriculture is responsible for an astonishing 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
We're focused on one aspect of this fertilizer, which we just heard a bit about. The addition of nitrogen fertilizer to soils has been absolutely critical for huge gains in crop productivity-- crop productivity. But it's come at a cost. Ammonia, as we heard, is made via the Haber Bosch process in large, centralized chemical factories, like the one shown here.
This process consumes 5% of the world's natural gas production. Additionally, nitrogen fertilizer is heavy, which further contributes to transportation costs and fertilizer inequities around the world. Our goal is to use synthetic biology, chemical and biological engineering, and materials science to create economically viable and environmentally conscious fertilizers. This includes using genetic engineering to modify soil bacteria to provide fixed atmospheric nitrogen to crop plants, reducing or eliminating the need for applied nitrogen.
An early iteration of this work is shown here, where the field treated on the right, with engineered bacteria, that fixed nitrogen, you can see looks much healthier and less yellow than the untreated part of the field on the left. And that yellowing is a signature of nitrogen deficiency. Ultimately, we seek to provide equitable and access to these new green fertilizers. The second challenge that our team is addressing is the impact of climate stress on crop yields.
Stress includes things like flooding, heat waves, increased pathogens, high winds, and drought. At present, about a third of the variability in crop yields is tied to climate variability. And this effect, of course, is only going to increase.
So it's really incumbent on us to develop strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on food security. To do this, we're creating climate resilient crops. We're performing fundamental research, first to understand how plants respond to stress conditions. And we'll use advanced engineering technologies to promote resiliency.
Even relatively simple solutions can have a big impact. For example, as shown here, so these beans, the seeds on the right, were coated with bacteria, encased in a silk-based biopolymer. And you can see that even though these soils are very poor, the seeds that were treated with this bacteria actually end up producing beans, whereas those that were not, do not. So the climate resiliency-- resiliency approaches that we're developing will be transferable across species and ultimately will expand the diversity of food sources that we rely on. Agriculture is the basis of human civilization.
MIT is not historically known as a leader in the AG research space, but we are a leader in many other disciplines that are crucial for facing the climate crisis, from synthetic biology to economics. Thus, it's critical that we bring all the tools and approaches that we have here at MIT, along with our brilliant students and scientists, to address these two grand challenges. Like Dr. Borlaug, we cannot be content with the current state of research or solutions for climate change and agriculture. We have to continue to innovate and rapidly deploy the solutions we develop. And most importantly, we must inspire young scientists here at MIT and around the world to pursue research in this area.
Doing so will both ensure food security and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] PAUL O'GORMAN: Hi, everybody. My name is Paul O'Gorman.
I'm going to tell you about our grand challenge, about addressing weather and climate extremes. So I think many of us know that the worst impacts of climate change are not going to be felt through mean temperature over the year or mean rainfall, but rather in very, very rare events, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which hit Texas, and had a really record-breaking rainfall, or just last year, this incredible heat wave in Western North America, the Northwest US and Canada, which had many fatalities and huge disruptions. So these are the kind of events that have really big impact. And they only happen in a given location every 100 years, every 200 years, so they're extremely rare.
Unfortunately, progress-- we are adapting to these events, but progress, I would say, is quite slow. And also, it's tended to be in the places with the most resources already. Something you might not appreciate is that these kind of events also have a huge impact on our energy system. Our energy system is rapidly evolving, it's decarbonizing, but it's very vulnerable in all aspects to weather and climate extremes.
So not addressing this problem of these really rare events means we're not prepared for what's coming to us. And our aim in this grand challenge is to empower communities to effectively address the problem of changing weather and climate extremes. So how do we know the extremes are changing? Well, scientists have collected data over the historical record. I'm showing some results here for the US. And this is showing how rainfall is intensified. But what you'll see is that, in fact, it has changed very differently in different regions.
And in fact, the Northeast is a hotspot of changing rainfall extremes, which you may have noticed if you live here. But the historical record, unfortunately, is too short for us to really understand this pattern-- why is there such a big increase here in the Northeast, versus much smaller changes in the West? But the pattern is still extremely important if we want to address these climate extremes. So to deal with that, we need to turn to computer models for risk modeling, but this is very challenging. Because the events that have the biggest impact only are happening every 100 or 200 years. So we have to run our simulations a long time, but when they occur we have to resolve them very well. And so that's a double whammy of real cost and expense.
And the best approaches now are currently very limited, or are not being used for risk assessments worldwide, or they're using statistical frameworks that may not work well in the warmest climates, or in a warmer climate-- sorry. So what we'd like to do then, and our first goal for this grand challenge, is to really make a big improvement in our ability to model the risk of the rarest events. And this