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To mitigate climate change, Brown launches initiative to develop new sustainable energy solutions

The university’s new Initiative for Sustainable Energy will focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable fuels and materials

Guests tour the five turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Orsted, off the coast of Block Island, R.I.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — Researchers at Brown University launched a new initiative designed to develop new, sustainable energy solutions they say will be critical for mitigating climate change and its “dire consequences.”

The Initiative for Sustainable Energy, which was announced earlier this week, will focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable fuels and materials. Coupled with research, the new initiative will also look to develop breakthrough technological innovations like sustainable battery systems, wind and water turbines, and zero-carbon fuels and energy-efficient materials.

Each of these research areas is expected to grow over the coming decades as the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide levels rise, said Brown’s interim provost Larry Larson. The program’s goal is to work toward a net-zero carbon energy future that’s secure and equitable, he said, while preparing the next generation of sustainable energy leaders. He said it’s his goal the research “leads to positive change at local, national, and global levels.”

“The launch of this initiative comes at a critical juncture in the fight against climate change as its impacts become even more readily apparent in everyday life, heightening the urgent demand for solutions,” said Larson, who is also emeritus dean of the university’s School of Engineering.

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Brown University's campus in Providence.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The news comes as the transition to renewables is boosting employment across the United States. According to a Department of Energy report released in July 2022, green jobs are rising in every sector. More than 40 percent of all energy jobs are dedicated to renewables, and align with the nation’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. At the same time, jobs in fossil fuel power generation are either falling or growing more slowly, according to research released in late 2021.

In Rhode Island, Governor Dan McKee signed historic legislation in June 2022 that required 100 percent of the state’s electricity to be offset by renewable energy by 2033. Rhode Island was the first state in the country to commit to such an ambitious renewables standard. In 2021, McKee signed the Act on Climate, which makes the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable by 2050.

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Brown’s new hub and its focus of “sustaining life on Earth” is an element of Brown’s strategic plan, which published in October 2013, and will oversee the university’s existing climate-related technology efforts.

Brown engineering professor, Nitin Padture, will serve as the hub’s founding director. Researchers from Brown’s departments of engineering, physics, environmental and planetary sciences, chemistry, ecology, and others will be affiliated with the initiative.

Padture said the initiative will complement Brown’s other work related to confronting climate change in both public policy and science. “The unique synergy . . . will make Brown a powerhouse for addressing the global crisis of our time — climate change,” said Padture, who was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to expand his research into an emerging clean energy technology based on high-efficiency perovskite solar cells.

In another effort, a team of engineers that includes Brown professor, Yue Qi, is working to replace the liquids commonly used in today’s lithium-ion batteries with solid materials. In 2021, the researchers found a new material derived from trees that could potentially replace these liquid electrolytes.

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“There is a sense of urgency for providing these technological solutions to achieve net-zero carbon over the next few decades, thereby averting disastrous global consequences of climate change,” Padture said.



Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.