July 27, 2016
The Last Hurrah-Intern Ed.
The CCR Sweet Tooth
Wow, I can’t believe my time at the Center for Carbon Removal is already coming to a close! Time flew by so quickly. It just felt like yesterday starting my research internship at the conference in San Francisco! What has happened these last few weeks in the time before I end? As per usual, a lot.
To begin with, Noah got to try boba for the first time! He said the tapioca tasted a bit like gummy bears, but not as sweet, which was something I hadn’t had heard before. Still, the milk tea was definitely a delicious parting gift that he enjoyed from me before he flew off to Washington D.C.
Furthermore, there was a new addition to the CCR team! Her name is Alyssa Briones from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo or SLO for short. She’s currently a senior in environmental engineering there and she is doing wetland research for the CCR. What’s really interesting though is that she commutes to work in Oakland from Turlock everyday which is about a 2.5 hour trip just going one-way! I admire her daily commitment to working for the CCR.
Another interesting thing was getting to sit on and participate in my first all-hands-on-deck meeting. As it was an all-hands-on-deck meeting, the whole CCR team showed including some people who I’d never met, but were still playing important roles in the CCR such as board members and consultants. In the meeting, everyone gave brief introductions about themselves and how they were involved within the CCR. Naturally, I was given time to share about what I did as an intern at the CCR which was definitely more nerve-racking than I had imagined to be, but it was a great experience in allowing me to elaborate my work on carbon-negative-materials and see how it fit in with the overall mission of the CCR.
In terms of my research work, I was once again, to no surprise, revising my fact sheet on carbon-negative materials. Each revision led to more clarity on what carbon-negative-materials were, but also to more questions as to how I should word definitions and clarifications on the fact sheet and how much to put on it so the fact sheet didn’t become an overload of information. I also was mapping out the financial and policy support for carbon-dioxide-based materials. That was definitely a challenging task having to sift through grants, program websites, press articles, and program overview documents, especially when they sometimes had what seemed like conflicting information. However, it was very satisfying at the end when I was able to chart where money for research went and came from, especially on a visual diagram!
Looking back at my time, there were definitely a lot of sweet moments literally with sweets and jokes throughout my research internship! I have learned so much about what research is and the methodology behind it and how it differs from the traditional academic mindset I’m so used to having. Revision and input is always needed to create quality, comprehensive work. In terms of people, Noah and Giana were great leaders to go to if I had questions on my research or even about life such as future career paths. I’m grateful that I can continue to reach out to them even after this internship with any future questions. Tae, Karl, Matt, and Alyssa were also awesome people to get to know and collaborate with and I hope to encounter them again in my career. I’m grateful for the awesome 2 months I’ve had at the Center for Carbon Removal and I hope my work on carbon-negative-materials show this at the research symposium in September.
June 25, 2016
In my last blog spot, I was hopeful that I would have a colorful draft of my carbon negative materials fact sheet I would be able to share in my next blog post. Since then however, my plans, like all plans usually do, changed. That’s not to say I’m not working on my fact sheet on carbon negative materials. I very much am, just on a different area than the colorful design of it.
So what have I been doing these past few weeks? Well, as a research analyst, I’ve been given the task to map out the space of carbon negative materials such as who the current industry leaders are, what the current policy structures that support them are, and what constitutes a carbon negative material.
To help get some insight on carbon negative materials, I had a chance to talk with Professor Richard Riman from Rutgers University about carbon negative materials. Professor Riman is currently doing research on carbon negative cement, a cement that has more sustainable production processes while also simultaneously sequestering carbon. In our conversation, we talked about what carbon negative materials actually were and he helped to give my ideas on what key factors to think about in deciding a definition for carbon negative materials. Some that were suggested were the total energy used and energy sources in producing a carbon negative material. Carbon utilization is an energy intensive process and requires a comprehensive accounting of energy usage like how much energy went in to getting and shipping the raw materials to a carbon negative company. If the resource was mined, was a fossil fuel source used and if so, how much carbon dioxide was produced? A cradle-to-grave analysis on carbon dioxide was needed to evaluate whether a carbon negative material technology was truly carbon negative.
With this discussion in mind, I began my work of outlining the key information related to carbon negative materials. What I’ve learned through this whole process is that there is really no such thing as a final draft. Revision is always necessary. For instance, when I thought I had a concise, clear handle on what carbon negative materials actually were, I was challenged with different hypothetical situations that tested whether my definition was too restrictive or too broad for the purposes of the CCR. Did carbon negative technologies that took in waste carbon dioxide from industrial plants count as emissions reducing or carbon negative? Questions like these led to many scrapped definition drafts and countless conversations with CCR staff on how to group carbon negative materials. Nevertheless, it was an overall fruitful experience in teaching me that revision is not a bad thing, but an important part in work.
Aside from my research analyst responsibilities, I’ve also been fortunate enough to be involved in the Center for Carbon Removal on a deeper level such as by helping flesh out CCR’s vision of carbon removal. One way was through helping define what carbon removal meant for the CCR. Would the CCR include conservation of existing forests as a form of carbon removal? How would this definition inform the CCR on whether it should be concerned about emission reduction technologies or on current carbon sequestration technologies? These were big questions that had major repercussions for how the CCR would function and present itself to the outside world. Though we didn’t come up with an airtight definition of carbon removal, we came up with a definition that helped affirm what CCR wanted and helped point the CCR in the right direction.
To end the week, the CCR team and I went to The Perennial, a San Francisco based restaurant that strives to be carbon neutral. What was cool was that the restaurant claimed nothing extravagant but the fact that it was trying to be carbon conscious such as by serving aquaponics lettuce and kernza bread! It was encouraging for the CCR to eat good food and have tasty drinks there, but also more importantly to see ordinary people and businesses concerned about carbon removal. Seeing people prioritize carbon removal is a trend, which we hope with our work at the CCR, continues.
Carbon Neutral Cuisine
June 20, 2016
The first day of my Cal Energy Corp 2016 internship started not on the 4thfloor of Sutardja Dai, a building that I had prepared to get access to with my key card before I started working, but at the Bay Area Council building in San Francisco.
Before I get to that though, let me first backtrack about my Cal Energy Corp internship and how I got it.
I started off at UC Berkeley as an energy engineer, a fairly new major that most people haven’t heard of. Energy engineering is a major that gives a student a broad overview of the energy landscape such as the current technologies being researched and the new research being done in a variety of fields. One class that I took as an energy engineer was Engineering 93, a seminar that brought in professors, researchers, and think-tank mentors all focused on the topic of energy.
One speaker who I found quite interesting was a guy named Noah Deich. He was a Berkeley Haas business graduate who decided to start up an organization called the Center for Carbon Removal (CCR) along with Giana Amador, a former Environmental and Economic Policy major at Berkeley. The Center for Carbon Removal is an organization committed to stopping climate change by encouraging and connecting policymakers, businesses, and the public to be involved in coming up with innovative solutions towards removing carbon dioxide from the air.
After hearing his presentation, I was intrigued and wanted to know if and how I could get involved to which Noah and Giana graciously offered me a Cal Energy Corps internship as a research analyst with the CCR for the summer of 2016. I quickly accepted and was eager to see how I would get involved with the CCR as a researcher!
Thus, it was to my surprise that I wouldn’t be in the office on the first day, but at a conference in San Francisco. I learned that the CCR was co-hosting a parallel session to the 7th Clean Energy Ministerial meetings, Carbon Management via CCUS as a Complement to and Enabler of Renewable Energy, with NRDC and the Global CCS Institute. For one of the sessions, Noah would head a panel on carbon removal being done currently in the world.
Coming in to the conference, I had no idea what to expect. Would I be confused by all the academic language and feel confused? Would I be underdressed in having no suit? Questions like these popped up in my head as I headed to San Francisco.
Luckily, these fears were misplaced as I had a wonderful time at the conference! What I learned from the conference was that there needs to be a new narrative for carbon removal. Yes, the world is going to blow past its carbon budget in the next 5 years at the current carbon emission rate if it wants to restrict global temperature increase to only 2°C. Yes, carbon removal is key to curbing climate change. But what would be the game- changer for carbon removal is the fact that there can be a market for carbon, a place where money can flow and carbon can be sequestered.
Noah’s panel especially highlighted this when he brought in researchers-turned-entrepreneurs who created their own carbon removal technology startups and began their steps towards industry. One notable example was a woman named Kendra Kuhl who talked about her involvement in a startup called Opus 12. Opus 12 is a company that is turning carbon dioxide into useful, profitable chemicals and has the right technology to do this on an industrial scale. No longer would carbon dioxide be a pollutant, but a resource to be mined from the sky!
With this fresh perspective, I began my work as a research analyst. For the next 2 weeks, my task was to choose a carbon removal technology and do research on it so that I could create a fact sheet of the technology for other people to understand the current state of the technology, government policies supporting it, and barriers from it reaching the public. After hearing people like Kendra speak about their work, I decided to do my research on carbon negative materials.
It turns out that choosing the topic was the easy part. The hard part lay in finding research on different carbon negative materials because it was such a new field and even defining the term carbon negative materials as no one else had done it. Still, I felt good being a “pioneer” in helping assimilate all this information as it would enable the general public to get excited about carbon removal!
I’m not the only one doing carbon removal research this summer. Karl Walter, another fellow energy engineer, is interning with me at the CCR, doing his research on biochar. It’s been a pleasure working with him and the rest of the CCR team as I’ve learned a lot about carbon removal and the inner workings of a startup! The fact sheet is still a work in progress, but I’m excited for the end product and I hope others will be too. Stay tuned!