From left: Pat Ward, Paul Anastas, Gregory Constantine, Mahlet Garedew, and Stafford Sheehan of Air Company are honored with EPA's Green Chemistry Challenge Award at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., on October 23, 2023. Credit: Eric Vance/US Environmental Protection Agency
YSE-Trained Scientists Win EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Award
Air Company, a carbon utilization startup whose scientific leadership team has done pioneering research at the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering (CGCGE) at Yale, received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Challenge Award for Climate Change. The team was recognized for the development a groundbreaking technology that transforms carbon dioxide captured from industrial plants and hydrogen from water into sustainable aviation fuel, ethanol, and methanol.
The company projects that its Airmade technology, if scaled, could avoid 10.8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of more than 4.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Its sustainable aviation fuel life cycle CO2 emissions are over 90% lower than traditional jet fuel.
The Air Company team includes co-founders Gregory Constantine and Stafford Sheehan ’13 MS, PhD ’16; Mahlet Garedew; Chi Chen PhD ’16; Pat Ward, and Paul Anastas, director of CGCGE and Teresa and H. John Heinz III Chair in Chemistry for the Environment, who serves as the company’s science advisor. Sheehan and Garedew were both postdoctoral associates at CGCGE. They were honored during an awards ceremony held on October 23, 2023, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
"Yale must be proud of producing people like Drs. Sheehan, Chi Chen, and Mahlet Garedew, who have shown you can go from invention to impact so quickly with solutions to such major problems," Anastas said. "I’m just happy to be part of this team with people who have dedicated their brilliance to making the world better through green chemistry."
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Three YSE Faculty Included on List of ‘Highly Cited Researchers’
Three Yale School of the Environment faculty members have been named to the world’s most influential researchers list by Clarivate Analytics, a company that compiles a list of scientists and social scientists whose papers rank in the top 1% of citations.
Included in this year’s list were Mark Bradford, professor of soils and ecosystem ecology; Karen Seto, the Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science; and Anthony Leiserowitz, founder and director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC). In total, 48 faculty members from Yale University made the list of 6,849 researchers worldwide.
Bradford’s research focuses on the health, biology, ecology, and carbon storage potential of forest, grassland, and agricultural soils. More specifically, his work develops knowledge that helps predict how environmental change and management will affect the rates of carbon stabilization and decomposition processes, and how the size of soil organic carbon stores changes in space and time.
Seto is a world-renowned expert on urbanization, integrating remote sensing, modeling methods, and field interviews to study urbanization and land change, forecast urban growth, and examine environmental consequences of urban expansion. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) recently selected Seto as one 30 new foreign academicians. Academician is the highest academic title in China, and foreign academician is the highest honorary title awarded to foreign scholars and experts who have made significant contributions to the field of science and technology in China, and who hold a high academic status internationally. CAS selects 30 foreign members every two years, and there are only 154 foreign academicians in total. Seto has been a coordinating author on two U.N. climate change reports, including the urban mitigation chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment released in 2022. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a lifetime member of the United States Council on Foreign Relations.
Leiserowitz is one of the world’s foremost voices in climate change communications, gathering information on the public perception of climate change and environmental beliefs, attitudes, and behavior at multiple scales. In 2021, he was ranked as the second most influential climate scientist in the world by Reuters.
Canadian Wildfires Impacted Health of Residents Hundreds of Miles Away
This summer's record-setting wildfires in Canada caused unhealthy air quality in New York City and increased the amount of asthma-related emergency room visits, a new Yale study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.
Previous studies on wildfire have mostly focused on the impact of populations residing nearby. The Yale study, co-authored by YSE’s Michelle Bell, Mary E. Pinchot Professor of Environmental Health, found that emergency department visits in New York City related to asthma syndrome increased by nearly 44% during a three-day wildfire smoke wave from the Canadian fires that were hundreds of miles away. As wildfires become more frequent and larger in recent years as a result of a warming climate, public health officials should develop early warning systems to alert the public to wildfire smoke events and provide guidance to protect vulnerable populations, the authors recommend.
“The air quality impacts of wildfires are widespread, as are the subsequent public health burdens,” Bell said in a statement to CT Pubilc Radio.
The study was led by Kai Chen, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH), Yiqun Ma, a doctoral student at YSPH, and Wan Yang, of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Decarbonizing the Built Environment
YSE scientists contributed to a new United Nations report that lays out an ambitious path to decarbonize the building sector, which is responsible for more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Slashing emissions in this industry is key to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
Barbara Reck, senior research scientist at YSE, was one of the five lead authors of the report, which calls for a three-pronged approach — “Avoid, Shift, Improve” — to reduce embodied carbon emissions from the production and deployment of building materials such as cement, steel, aluminum, timber, and biomass. The report, “Building materials and the climate: Constructing a new future,” was published by the UN Environment Programme and the Yale Center for Ecosystems + Architecture under the lead of CEA Founding Director Anna Dyson.
Reck’s chapter focuses on decarbonizing six major conventional building materials, including concrete, steel, and aluminum, which are the three largest sources of embodied carbon in the building sector. “Decarbonizing building materials requires a combination of better production technologies, access to low-carbon energy, design for circularity, and material efficiency measures that include lifetime extension and higher efficiencies in manufacturing and recycling,” Reck says.
Yao contributed to a section on the potential of mass timber as an alternative to concrete and steel. Studies have found that substituting mass timber could reduce global CO2 emissions between 14-31%.
YSE PhD candidate Aishwarya Iyer worked on a case study on India, where the country’s building sector is expected to grow by 20 million square meters between 2015-2030. Iyer says it is important that a diversity of building types is considered when assessing material and energy demand in low- and middle-income countries. The case study authors recommend that the government enact and enforce policies that require companies to use recycled materials and an industry shift to bio-based materials, among other pathways to decarbonization.