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Duke Climate Forum considers ways to meet 2024 neutrality goal

The Duke Climate Forum held a panel Tuesday evening to discuss the University’s plans for reaching climate neutrality by 2024.

In 2007, Duke signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment for climate neutrality by 2024. Since then it has made immense strides towards that goal, said Duke's sustainability director Tavey McDaniel Capps. 

The University has reduced 24 percent of its emissions since 2007. Its campus steam plants were taken off of coal, nighttime setbacks were made to the heating and cooling systems and the steam system became more efficient. 

“We remain committed to 2024,” said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III. “We made a big move when we got off coal...but we’re going to have to make one more big move if we’re going to get climate neutral by 2024.”

Although the University does not have a concrete plan for the big move, the panelists noted that carbon offsets are the best approach to take.

Tatjana Vujic, director of biogas strategy, recommended capturing methane released from hog farms in Eastern North Carolina and burning it so that it turns into carbon dioxide, which is a less potent greenhouse gas than methane.

“Methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” Vujic said. “We could go to farms right now, capture the methane and say we want to get a reduction just for destroying that methane.”

Vuijic noted that farms are specifically important locations to catch the methane because North Carolina’s biggest methane source comes from the agricultural sector. Vujic highlighted that the best part of this plan is that it is a dual dividend—not only is the methane destroyed, but the emitted biogas can turn into something valuable such as electricity.

Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, agreed that biogas was the answer to zero climate emissions from Duke by 2024.

“If the University went 100 percent to biogas we would be able to over-comply,” he said. “If we just put ten percent into our system we would pretty much neutralize our natural gas emissions. Put 30 percent of biogas in our system [and] and we would make this university neutral by 2024.”

Other ideas panelists discussed for emission reductions included improved transportation, especially because employee air travel is included in this statistic for Duke’s emissions. 

“We’re thinking about more efficient buses and cleaner buses for our fleet,” said Capps. “We’ve made significant reductions but we can push further.”

Capps also hoped that Duke would work with regional partners, such as the Triangle Transportation Authority, to improve its transportation emissions.

The possibility of converting more solar power was also mentioned. However, energy manager Casey Collins did not seem thrilled about the idea. He said that if Duke put solar panels on every campus building this would only create enough energy for under four percent of the University’s energy needs.

“I think it’s necessary to think about how sustainability is really part of the fabric of this institution,” Capps said. “Duke is a university in the forest. We conserve over 7,000 acres of forested lands surrounding this campus for research and teaching and community management and environmental management...the trees on this campus are part of what makes Duke and what makes this place so special.”


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