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Collaborative Climate Innovation

January 22, 2024
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Time is moving fast. It is nearly ten years since the 2015 Paris Agreement brought an international commitment to limit global temperature rise. In September 2023, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) released the first Global Stocktake report, a comprehensive assessment mandated by those historic 2015 proceedings, on the world's progress on climate action. Global efforts to date have been insufficient according to the report. Current estimates put us on track for 2.5C-2.9C of warming.

We cannot simply slow our absolute rate of emissions to reach our goals. We must also remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) efforts span a range of natural and technological solutions—everything from traditional land management and afforestation to atmospheric carbon capture with sorbents—so-called ‘direct air capture’.  The IPCC has made it clear that carbon capture and storage is a critical decarbonization strategy in nearly all credible mitigation pathways.

At the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy, we bring a solutions mindset to these challenges. Our faculty affiliates emulate the diversity of expertise within Northwestern—across highly ranked departments—and allow us to approach these challenges in an interdisciplinary manner. With renewable energy and sustainability as University Priorities, we are well-positioned to make important contributions to the cutting edge of decarbonization science.

The Trienens Institute has been active in funding novel carbon capture research as part of its semiannual seed funding program.  An early project is preparing to explore the scale-up of enhanced rock weathering techniques. It will enhance the natural process by which carbon dioxide reacts with water and rocks to transform carbon into a compound that can be stored in water long-term.  The initiative is a collaboration between Trienens Institute co-director Bradley Sageman and his colleague Andrew Jacobson (Earth and planetary sciences), and Nyree Zerega and Lousie Egerton-Warburton (plant biology and conservation) at the Chicago Botanic Garden. 

A reminder that the next semiannual call for funding proposals from our Faculty Affiliates is currently open, with a submission deadline of March 1.

We are also grateful for opportunities to collaborate with global peers, to seed and accelerate the potential for new partnerships.   The Toronto-Northwestern Decarbonization Alliance (TNDA), which we launched this fall in partnership with the University of Toronto and the Buffett Institute, is a climate innovation hub that strives to find and launch collaborative solutions between faculty from both universities. Meanwhile, a Northwestern delegation recently returned from COP28 in Abu Dhabi, the annual global climate negotiations, where University faculty shared their expertise on the world stage. Kimberly Marion Suiseeya, associate professor in the Department of Political Science faculty, and Sera Young, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, both led panel discussions.

These kinds of research and engagement initiatives are full of potential for the near future. I look forward to their collective progress, alongside the diverse climate research happening across Northwestern and collaborating organizations.

Together, we are moving ahead in 2024 with speed, scope, and scale.


Ted Sargent

Co-Executive Director
Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy
Lynn Hopton Davis and Greg Davis Professor of Chemistry,
Electrical and Computer Engineering