Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture Names Two Co-Directors

May 27, 2021

David Bercovici and Liza Comita have been announced as the inaugural co-directors of the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture (YCNCC).

The YCNCC’s primary mission is to develop natural solutions for reducing atmospheric carbon and mitigating the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Bercovici, Frederick William Beinecke Professor and chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Comita, professor of tropical forest ecology at the Yale School of the Environment, will partner in leading the campus-wide, cross-disciplinary effort.

“This Center has such a broad, important mandate,” said Michael Crair, vice provost for research. “That mandate will require innovative solutions, and this partnership between Professor Bercovici and Professor Comita will be critical in driving those efforts and building the YCNCC from the ground up.”

Founded in 2021 as a key part of Yale’s broader Planetary Solutions Project and with support from FedEx Corporation, the YCNCC will be built around three main disciplinary pillars: ecosystems, geological systems, and nature-based engineered solutions. Researchers in the YCNCC will investigate various methods of carbon capture, including those that utilize existing ecosystems, such as tropical forests and wetlands, which store carbon through photosynthesis; those that seek to accelerate Earth’s natural geological cycles by which carbon is removed from the atmosphere as silicate rocks are converted to carbonates on land and at sea; and technical methods, inspired by natural processes, to store carbon in industrial materials.

“A central focus of our approach at the Center will be driven by natural solutions in systems like forests, soils and minerals, and oceans that work at a global scale,” Bercovici said. “In short, we are trying to get the planet to do what it would do anyway, only faster. There are also promising co-benefits to these approaches, such as improved ecosystem health, ocean deacidification, and agricultural yield.”

“We plan to gather expertise from all over the university and the world because that is the scale of the problems we are trying to solve,” Comita said. “There is no clear silver bullet. A good analogy is developing a COVID-19 vaccine: you don’t want one group doing it only one way. You want as many talented groups as possible trying different approaches and learning from each other to ultimately find a range of scalable solutions.”

Prior to joining Yale in 2001, Professor Bercovici earned a B.S. in physics from Harvey Mudd College, and both an M.S. and Ph.D. in geophysics and space physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. His research interests include geophysical and geological fluid dynamics, with applications to planetary interiors, volcanoes, and subsurface fluid migration and rock deformation.  

Professor Comita is an ecologist, with expertise in tropical forests and drought impacts. She joined Yale in 2014 after earning a B.A. in biology and an M.A. in conservation biology at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in plant biology from the University of Georgia. Her research uses extensive field studies to uncover novel insights about how tropical forests regenerate and the diverse ecological communities that support this regeneration.

Initial funding from FedEx will allow the Center to begin or advance important research and add instrumentation to support those efforts, expand access through conferences and events, and recruit four new professorships across both the Yale School of the Environment and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. In the longer term, the funding will also support the establishment of a permanent physical home for the Center.

“It’s a great credit to FedEx that they are forward-thinking,” Bercovici said. “They recognize the need for innovative solutions to the global climate crisis and the potential in partnering with a research institution like Yale to help achieve those goals.”

“While many promising approaches already exist, we need additional, rigorous research to determine which natural climate solutions are most effective and under what conditions,” Comita added. “We’re eager to explore scalable and effective natural carbon capture strategies that will complement efforts to rapidly and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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