PEI-STEP Fellows to explore environmental policy, from emerging pathogens to preparing cities for climate change

Morgan Kelly ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

Princeton University graduate students Paris Blaisdell-Pijuan, Kairui Feng and Jeffrey Lee have been awarded 2020 PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Graduate Fellowships from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) to explore emerging topics in environmental policy such as renewable energy and global health. They represent the departments of electrical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and molecular biology.

Their projects will explore topics that include using hydroelectric power to cleanly and efficiently produce hydrogen fuel; the cost and benefits of adapting cities to climate change before versus after disaster strikes; and expanding the development of drugs to combat drug-resistant bacteria and emerging pathogens such as COVID-19.

For 20 years, the PEI-STEP program has provided Princeton doctoral candidates in departments outside of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs with two years of financial support and a $3,500 research award. Recipients explore the environmental policy dimensions and implications of their graduate thesis research through supplementary coursework and policy-oriented research.

Upon completion of the program, the students will graduate with a certificate in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP). The program has supported more than 50 fellows. Descriptions of the projects funded for 2020 are below.

Paris Blaisdell-Pijuan, Electrical Engineering

Paris Blaisdell-PijuanPEI-STEP Topic: Assessing Routes to Clean Hydrogen: Meeting the Norwegian Hydrogen Demand with Hydropower
PEI-STEP Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute
Thesis Topic: Infrared Catalysis and Hydrogen
Thesis Adviser: Claire Gmachl, Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering

Blaisdell-Pijuan hopes to ease the transition to clean hydrogen energy by exploring the use of hydroelectric power as a zero-carbon, energy efficient method for producing hydrogen fuel. Electrolysis — in which electricity is used to separate hydrogen from water — produces hydrogen fuel without carbon emissions, but its use is limited by high costs and energy usage. Blaisdell-Pijuan will study Norway — which derives nearly 100% of its energy from hydropower — to determine the costs and limitations of creating a network of hydrogen plants powered by renewable low-cost hydroelectricity. He will use techno-economic modeling to determine the number of hydroelectric-hydrogen plants needed to meet the projected demand for hydrogen fuel by 2050, and he will identify the most efficient technologies and plant designs for production.

Kairui Feng, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Kairui FengPEI-STEP Topic: Empiric and Diagnostic Policies to Tame Hurricane and Climate Change Risks
PEI-STEP Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute
Thesis Topic: Adaptive Decision-Making for Infrastructure-Human Systems Affected by Hurricanes and Climate Change
Thesis Adviser: Ning Lin, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Feng will compare the long-term costs and benefits of two types of policies that cities use to adapt to climate change. Diagnostic efforts such as building seawalls are intended to prevent the worst consequences of climate change based on long-term projections. Empiric policies such as a government buyout of damaged properties strengthen communities after disasters exceed the capabilities of the current infrastructure. Feng will build on his previous work simulating the effect of storm surges on the infrastructure of Manhattan and of hurricanes on Houston’s power system. Through simulations and real-world examples, he will examine how diagnostic policies and empiric policies both complement and counteract the other. He will explore possibilities of combining the two policies, such as through buying low-lying properties to build a seawall on higher ground.

Jeffrey Lee, Molecular Biology

Jeffrey LeePEI-STEP Topic: Investigating the State of Antibiotic Research and Development — From Industry to Policy
PEI-STEP Advisers: Andrew Dobson, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Laura Kahn, Research Scholar, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Thesis Topic: Gut Microbiome and Antimicrobial Peptides
Thesis Adviser: Mohamed Donia, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology

Lee will develop evidence-based policy recommendations for expanding the research and development (R&D) of medications for combating drug-resistant bacteria and emerging pathogens such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Lee will build from his thesis research into bioactive peptides — including antimicrobial peptides — produced in the human gut microbiome to create a comprehensive assessment of the current state of antimicrobial research in industry. He will then analyze current national policies and initiatives that promote antibiotic R&D to inform future legislation that includes push and pull incentives. He plans to include innovative approaches to reorganizing and supporting antimicrobial research in government, academia and industry in his policy recommendations.