CIT professor Ed Rubin wins Nobel Prize for Peace

Professor Ed Rubin of the engineering and public policy and mechanical engineering departments of Carnegie Mellon is among the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize award that was presented to the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore in December 2007.

“It is a fantastic accomplishment,” said Dave Dzombak, CIT associate dean and a colleague of Rubin’s. “He is the first faculty member and alum to be affiliated by the Nobel Peace Prize to my knowledge.”

The IPCC was established 20 years ago to address the causes of climate change, its environmental and socio-economic consequences, as well as adaptation and mitigation options that respond to it. In an e-mail, Rubin stated, “The award will lend additional prestige to an organization that is already widely respected.”

Rubin was invited five years ago to be a lead author on a special report dealing with carbon dioxide capture and storage. The report was completed at the end of 2005. It was a major contribution to the understanding of technical options to control CO2 emissions.

The research is focused on identifying the technical options and costs of reducing emissions from large industrial sources, especially power plants. Rubin and his group also study the process of technological innovation to estimate how environmental issues might evolve in the future.

“Carbon dioxide from power plants is taken and separated,” said Sean McCoy, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon who was involved in the research with Rubin. “Then you transport it and sequester it, store it underground,” he said. “The cost is quite reasonable, around $5 per ton of CO2 stored.”

Dzombak attributed part of Rubin’s success to the interdisciplinary research culture at Carnegie Mellon.

“It made it easy for [Rubin] to interact with a variety of engineers, process modelers, and people who work [in] decision making,” Dzombak said.

Rubin was able to integrate aspects of science and engineering to address large-scale technology issues. He, his students, and his post-docs have worked for years to develop integrated models for the entire process.

“Our work in the IPCC, and our research here at Carnegie Mellon, show that there are viable solutions to address the climate change problem — solutions that are not only good for the environment, but also good for the economy and for national security. The key challenge now is to get on with the job,” Rubin stated in a Carnegie Mellon press release.

There are many solutions that can be adopted for mitigating climate change. These involve using energy more efficiently, using energy sources with low or no carbon emission (like wind and solar energy, in addition to other renewable energy sources), capturing CO2 from large industrial sources and sequestering it deep underground, reducing deforestation, and a host of other measures to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and other activities.

According to Rubin, using energy more efficiently is something that every individual can and should be able to do easily. Rubin believes that governments around the globe have major potential to change the fate of the environment in terms of climate change.

“This is a classic role of government — which boils down to the people you and I elect to represent our common interests,” Rubin stated. “But individuals, companies, and non-governmental organizations also can be major forces for change.”

“The technology on which [Rubin] has been working, like the clean coal combustion technology and the carbon capture sequestration, are important technologies as we transition from dirty coal to clean coal,” Dzombak said. “The transition will take around 100 years to evolve from the fossil fuel age to the renewable energy source age.”

Climate change is something that will affect all countries. Rubin suspects that the poorer countries of the world are the most likely to suffer most, but he does not deny the fact that potential reverberations are global.

One crucial task is the development of new technologies.

“Innovation is basically learning how to do things better,” McCoy said. “With time, we learn how to make things better and more cheaply, more reliably. This is the kind of work [Rubin] has been doing.
“Today no one has built a power plant that has carbon capture storage, but we have many good analogies to think about the capture systems,” he added. “We have models. We are trying to estimate how much cheaper these technologies can be and when.”

Rubin hopes to raise public awareness. “The first step is to get more informed, then get involved,” he stated. “There are lots of resources on the Web to help get people started, including environmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (”

Rubin is among 16 Nobel laureates currently at Carnegie Mellon and is the first faculty member to share the Nobel Peace Prize.