MIT selects five flagship projects for the Climate Grand Challenges

Projects will be presented at April 21 showcase

MIT has selected five flagship projects for its Climate Grand Challenges research program, according to an email from President L. Rafael Reif April 11.

After nearly 100 proposals were submitted for the grand challenges, 27 finalists were invited to develop comprehensive plans for their projects. From the finalists, MIT selected five teams to proceed as flagship projects with additional funding and support from the Institute.

“These projects will define a transformative new research agenda at MIT with the potential to make meaningful contributions to the global climate response,” Reif wrote.

The five selected projects are named: “Bringing computation to the climate challenge,” “Center for electrification and decarbonization of industry,” “Preparing for a new world of weather and climate extremes,” “Reinventing climate change adaptation,” and “Revolutionizing agriculture with low-emissions, resilient crops.”

Summaries of the projects can be found at the Climate Grand Challenges website.

“Bringing computation to the climate challenge” is led by Professors Raffaele Ferrari and Noelle Eckley Selin. The project intends to create a platform that improves the accuracy of climate models, quantifies their uncertainties, and addresses the trade-off between performance and computation time by developing a “digital twin of the Earth” that uses “more data than ever” in its climate projections. The team will then create emulators of the twin to maintain accuracy in predicting climate variables while also being fast and easy to run.

“Center for electrification and decarbonization of industry” is led by Professors Yet-Ming Chiang ScD ’85 and Bilge Yildiz PhD ’03 and proposes an innovation hub to unify the efforts of research groups, departments, and schools across MIT toward decarbonization in favor of electricity-driven chemical transformations. The center aims to transition its “most promising projects to full commercialization within five years.”

“Preparing for a new world of weather and climate extremes” is led by Professors Kerry Emanuel PhD ’78, Miho Mazereeuw, and Paul O’Gorman. The project plans to build a scalable toolkit for making improvements in predicting extreme weather events and their effects, focused initially on cities in the U.S. and in Africa, which communities and stakeholders can prepare and adapt.

“Reinventing climate change adaptation with the Climate Resilience Early Warning System” (CREWSnet) is led by Professor Elfatih Eltahir SM ’93 and Assistant Leader of the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Systems Group at the Lincoln Laboratory John Aldridge. CREWSnet will combine climate science, impact modeling, and accessible decision support tools within “an established humanitarian and social development environment” to build a forecasting system, development model, and interventional tools for climate adaptation. It will begin its work in climate-vulnerable areas of Bangladesh and partner with other organizations committed to social and humanitarian progress.

“Revolutionizing agriculture with low-emissions, resilient crops” will be led by Professor Christoper Voigt and will address the challenges of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer and creating climate-resilient crops by developing sustainable phosphorus and potassium extraction processes, rather than mining them from non-renewable resources and replacing the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process with biological nitrogen fixation through engineered plants and microbes.

MIT will hold a showcase with a live webcast for the five projects April 21 at 10 a.m. ET. Before the presentations of the projects, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Reif will begin the showcase with a fireside chat about climate issues. Additionally, President and CEO of FirstLight Power Alicia Barton, President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council Manish Bapna ’91, CEO of MathWorks Jack Little, President of Actuate Arati Prabhakar, and President of The Engine Katie Rae will speak at the event.