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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MacArthur "Genius" Battles Black Carbon- WNYC

MacArthur Genius Fellow Battles Black Carbon

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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2014 MacArthur Grant Fellow Tami Bond. (Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
 
Black carbon, also known as soot or smoke, comes from burning fossil fuels like coal and diesel, and from forest fires and cooking stoves. Scientists believe black carbon is second only to carbon dioxide as a contributor to climate change.

Tami Bond is an environmental engineer and a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Earlier this month, she was named a MacArthur Fellow for her research that unravels the effects of carbon emissions.

According to the MacArthur Foundation, Bond’s work "has the potential to unlock the role of energy in our climate system and to help millions breathe cleaner air."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), black carbon can contribute to complications with asthma and other respiratory problems, and reducing black carbon emissions may help slow climate change.

“Like most other particles, it floats through the atmosphere, it interacts with clouds, and because it’s black it absorbs sunlight,” says Bond. “That radiation turns into heat that then heats the atmosphere.”
While many may associate soot with industrialized nations, black carbon is a global problem, Bond says, adding that her research aims to track and quantify its sources, among other things.

“When you start making global models of soot or black carbon, you have to look at everything,” she says. “A lot of studies on emissions that have been done were focused in the industrialized world because they’re large there. When we started asking questions about where exactly does this material come from, we realized that there were a lot of things that had never been measured because they’re not here.”

Bond and her team have traveled the globe to measure the black carbon being emitted from cooking stoves, brick kilns, and diesel engines.

“As it turns out, the largest sources of black carbon right now are in the developing world,” she says. “They have not yet gone through this fantastic transition that the U.S. did decades ago.”

Fixing the black carbon issue in the developing world is both technical and non-technical.
“There are solutions—in the developed world we call them clean fuels,” says Bond. “There are also things you can do to make brick kilns burn cleaner. I don’t think there is a magic silver bullet. The interesting thing about this challenge is there are many solutions—we have to look at each situation and figure out which one is appropriate.”

According to Bond, designing solutions begins with understanding the specific needs of a community and working with individuals on the ground to implement new systems.

“There are things that we know about combustion that simply need to be taught to the people that are designing stoves in these countries,” she says. “There’s also a component of bringing cleaner fuels farther out to rural areas. That’s how we solve the problem.”

Each MacArthur fellow receives a no-strings-attached $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. At this point, Bond says she is still deciding how she will spend her new source of funding.

“Everyone wants to know what I’m going to do with the money, including myself,” says Bond. “One of the things I want to do is engage in a little more in listening because it opens up a space to not do just technical work. When I’m actually in these countries, [I want] to hear what’s going on. I think as an engineer, one of the things we need in order to get better solutions is to really understand the constraints and limitations.”

Many researchers are limited by the time they have on the ground, but Bond is hoping the grant money will allow her to expand the time she has in the communities that she focuses on.
“I realized [the grant] is an incredible gift and it’s an incredible responsibility,” she says.

Guests:

Tami Bond

Produced by:

Berkley Wilson

Editors:

T.J. Raphael