Partner Profile: Dr. Peter Psarras

“...(T)here are tipping points and things can change rapidly. I look at the problems remaining—they're challenging but not unsolvable...

This issue features Dr. Peter Psarras, Research Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Psarras oversees research on indirect carbonation of alkaline feedstocks, coupled LCA/TEA analyses of carbon management pathways, and strategic road mapping of CCUS and CDR deployment within the context of regional variations in resource availability, techno-economic viability, and impact at the community level. 

He has authored or co-authored several dozen publications, including the 2019 report “Getting to Neutral: Options for Negative Emissions in California”, which received the Secretary of Energy’s Achievement Award. He served as a judge on the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

How did you become interested in this field?

It was really through a few ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) projects connected with NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Of course they were looking at CO2 reuse for other reasons (and on other planets), but this started me down the path of computational modeling and planted the seed for resource utilization.

What do you like best about your job?

Right now I have the great privilege and responsibility of being the acting PI of the Wilcox Clean Energy Conversions Laboratory. Beyond a doubt the greatest part of my job is the daily interactions with my students and brilliant research associates: I continue to learn from them everyday and they make my job easy, 

You were once quoted as saying “There are a lot of arguments about how appropriate or costly these (CO2 removal) approaches are, but none of those arguments, in my mind, is aligned with the state of climate emergency we find ourselves in. Think of it this way—your room is on fire; are you going to get out a whiteboard and argue about what window you’re going to escape from?”

Your analogy of people arguing about drawings on a whiteboard while a room on fire is very vivid and really captures a sense of panic, fear, and frustration that many people have when it comes to climate change.  

Yes, I do remember this quote. Where I think the analogy fails is it actually isn't us in the room, but those far less fortunate. Imagine instead watching your neighbor's house burn down, then taking out the drawing board and holding a few roundtable sessions to decide points of entry. There is a sense of urgency here in that every second poses real danger to others. 

Given that many people may feel somewhat discouraged about this situation, what gives you hope and motivates you to continue in this field?

I believe, like many things, there are tipping points and things can change rapidly. I look at the problems remaining—they're challenging but not unsolvable, not impossible. These aren't the Millennium Prize Problems, they're questions like: How can DAC become less expensive and less resource intensive? How can we displace fossil feedstocks in textiles? Should we be moving CO2 on all of these empty rail lines? 

You once remarked, “...there’s never been a demand for CO2-derived products until now. We’re seeing this ridiculous surge in demand. So much so, that in 5 or 10 years, we’ll see a significant penetration of CO2-derived goods in the marketplace.”

Can you elaborate on that statement? What are you seeing now? And what do you think you’ll see in 5-10 yearespecially with respect to CCU?

We're seeing such a strong demand pull, largely in the offset market space, but more so for higher quality removals (eg, less susceptible to reversal). This has been fueled largely by corporate net-zero pledges. Yet the demand exceeds supply. Fortunately, one important component of corporate emission accounting and net-zero pathway strategy is value chain decarbonization, and I think this is where CCU can really step up to provide competitive products with lower lifecycle emissions. This will only grow over the next decade as more companies follow suit and join the current fleet who will have, by that time, made decarbonization through low carbon procurements a working part of their operational practice. 

What do you anticipate will come of COP26?

 Momentum. Ultimately, many of the outcomes lie in our hands.

What do you wish I had asked you?

"What do I do when I'm not studying carbon?"

I'm a musician, avid gardener, and I love to run and swim. The instruments I play are piano, bass, viola, guitar, and banjo. Mostly I play rock music.

I don’t sing at all. I'm ok with that, really, and my bandmates are very ok with that. I play as a church keyboardist every Sunday with a phenomenal group of musicians.

Dr. Psarras "on his throne."

Call for Papers

Frontiers in Climate is seeking submissions for their upcoming collection on Negative Emissions Technologies: Harmonizing Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA) guidelines: A Common Framework for consistent conduct and transparent reporting of carbon dioxide removal and CCU Technology Appraisal, Volume II.

News in a Nutshell

Columbia Launches a Carbontech Initiative to Bring Climate Solutions to Market

UBS CEO calls for global sustainability reporting standards for private, public groups

DOE launches Earthshot for carbon removal

The US has big, new plans to pull CO2 out of the air

Opinion: BlackRock says net-zero pledges among clients have hit critical mass

Imminent Events

The Global CO2 Initiative Student Association Fall 2021 Showcase

December 3


Join in person or virtually for an overview of club achievements, including building direct air capture machines. If you're interested in CCU, it's a great opportunity to see how you can get involved in student-led carbon removal initiatives at U-M. For more information or to register, click here.

Decarb Connect Global Festival, 2022

January 25-27, 2022

Come join leaders from across hard-to-abate sectors to go beyond targets and route maps. You’ll discuss how to effect progressive carbon management approaches – projects and ideas that you’ll then use to enable success in your net zero plans.

For more information or to register, click here.

Keep in touch

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