HCP Summer Undergraduate Research Assistantships Recap

September 30, 2021

This summer, a select group of Harvard-China Project undergraduate researchers were hard at work, analyzing climate challenges through a variety of different lenses. From their hometowns across the globe, these seven students collaborated with HCP researchers on a variety of topics, including zero-carbon energy options for different contexts, sources of methane, and China's electricity reform. This fall, several of the summer participants are continuing as researchers, working with their advisors on papers for potential peer-reviewed publication. Below they share overviews of their summer work, made possible through generous funding from the Harvard Office of Career Services:

Jack WalkerThe Status of Global Shipping Emissions and Potential Decarbonization Strategies using Alternative Propulsion Methods
Jack Walker '24

Shipping is the dominant mode of transport for international trade. With this heavy reliance on container ships hauling immense amounts of cargo over vast ocean distances, combined with the shipping industry’s dependance on fossil fuels, maritime emissions are becoming increasingly significant in the race to address anthropogenic climate change. My research documented the scale of current and projected carbon dioxide emissions—among other air pollutants—stemming from commercial shipping. Additionally, I looked into the regulatory efforts designed to address the immense air pollution stemming from maritime exhaust, on a international, regional, and country-specific basis. 
   The most rewarding aspect of my project was connecting with a incredibly enthusiastic mentor in Peter Sherman. He and the other HCP researchers took into account my research experiences and ROTC background, to design a unique project that was interesting to me and useful for HCP.

China's Electricity System Reform and Excess Coal Capacity
Lisa Wang '23

Lisa WangWe tackled the problem of coal overcapacity in China, i.e., that many of the coal plants being built now are not going to be able to recoup their investment, and will be in an even more financially precarious position if the government limits emissions in a way consistent with the Paris Agreement. The first half of the summer was spent understanding why China continues to build coal plants despite this, understanding how the power market works, understanding the history of reforms, and understanding some of the normative recommendations for the future. In the second half of the summer, I wrote a paper summarizing what I'd learned and also assisted Dr. Mun Ho on data entry. Learning about the major obstacles to renewable energy integration in the context of electricity system planning and lack of markets was very rewarding. The assistantship was very relevant to my future career aspirations, and it was interesting to learn about potential interactions between the emissions trading system and electricity system reform.

Matthew SuAnalysis of Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies in the Cement Industry of China and the U.S.
Matthew Su '24

My research project explored the potential impact of implementing 4 different carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies in the cement industry of China and the U.S. This was done via life cycle assessment, which measured the environmental impact of Portland cement production by modeling the various subprocesses that comprise the production system. My research identified amine-containing facilitated transport matrix technology as the CCS technology with the most potential impact on emissions, with a potential reduction of cement production emissions by nearly 60%.  
   I am planning to concentrate in chemistry at Harvard, and I think it would be cool to work in sustainable/clean energy technology in the future! This project helped me explore the potential and implementation of an interesting array of carbon capture technologies, and it opened my eyes to the usage of chemical principles in climate mitigation technology. The assistance of my mentor, Professor Xi Yang, in guiding my project was invaluable to its success. She was especially helpful in guiding my literature review process to focus specifically on the cement industry and life cycle assessment. 

Preliminary Characterization of Methane Observations around Beijing
Candice Chen '22

Candice ChenI examined methane data from two stations, north and south of Beijing, to determine basic characteristics of observed methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide at these sites. I explored the diurnal, weekly, and annual variations of these species. During winter, there were enhanced CH4:CO2 ratios which could reflect more intense natural gas use and leakage during the winter.
   I enjoyed how much flexibility I was given to search relevant literature and play with the data provided to me. This was the most independent I've been in doing research, and I got to learn more about evaluating results and deciding what next steps are most interesting.
   This assistantship was a way for me to gain more experience with atmospheric science, a field I am considering doing more work in during graduate school. Regardless of the applicability of this project's topic on the projects I'll do in the future, I definitely benefitted from learning more about the research process. I hope to continue doing research for years to come, and this program played a role in continuing to affirm my enjoyment of the research process. My mentors, Shaojie Song and Bill Munger, were also so incredibly helpful throughout the process, both in recommending ways to look at the data and in describing the science to me.

Offshore Wind Ppportunities in Southeast Asia
Estel Valeanu '23

Estel ValeanuIn this project, I explored the offshore wind opportunities in Southeast Asia. My mentor, Peter Sherman, and I decided to do so because Southeast Asia is known for low water depth, which will allow installation of such turbines. We were interested specifically in Southeast Asia because of the fast population growth and the expected rapid growth in electricity demand. And in order to uphold the Paris agreement, Southeast Asia had to find non-polluting ways to generate electricity, and this could be a good one.
   The most rewarding part of my research was determining that some places like south Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Indonesia (in areas near the Java Sea) can benefit from installing offshore wind turbines. This is due to high capacity factors and low LCOE (levelized cost of electricity).
   I gained more experience with researching, writing code in MATLAB and writing a report that explains all the hard work that I did. Those skills are really important and I know that I will use them at Harvard and after college as well.