How UConn is Joining COP28 Commitments to Cut Methane Emissions

UConn, and UConn researchers, are dedicated to fighting climate change by helping to lower global greenhouse gas emissions

US President Joe Biden stands behind a podium delivering a speech. The UConn and Dodd Center logos are visible on the wall behind him, and an American flag and flag with the presidential seal are visible to his right.

President Joe Biden, whose administration announced new regulations designed to slash methane emissions at the COP28 summit, speaks during the dedication ceremony of The Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut main campus in Storrs on Oct. 15, 2021. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Recognizing that climate change is one of the most urgent crises facing the world today, UConn is proud to be a part of the U.S. and global efforts to mitigate its impact.  

This weekend at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, representatives from the Biden administration announced a new rule aimed at significantly reducing methane emissions from oil and natural gas production. The EPA estimates that this rule, if properly implemented, will cut U.S. methane emissions by nearly 80% over the next 15 years. 

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, leading to 28 times the warming effects as carbon dioxide (CO2) per volume. It is principally produced by natural gas and petroleum production, livestock, and landfills.  

The new EPA methane reduction standards target points of methane leaks and waste in natural gas production processes. The agency is dedicating funding to third-party investigations of pipeline and storage leaks and will, over time, mandate the recapture of excess gas, instead of burning it in flares. 

“Methane emissions are a major cause of climate change, and it is the responsibility of universities like ours to take critical steps toward significantly reducing our carbon footprint,” says Pamir Alpay, UConn’s Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. “UConn takes this responsibility seriously, as evident not only by our interdisciplinary research, but also the steps we have taken through infrastructure and everyday practices.” 

Here are just a few ways the University is leading emissions reduction efforts on a campus, regional, and global scale. 

Campus Sustainability Commitments 

After taking the helm as UConn’s President in 2021, clean energy researcher Radenka Maric pledged to steer the university to carbon neutrality by 2030 and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2040. To that end, she convened the President’s Carbon Reduction Working Group, composed of UConn executives, center directors, students, and faculty experts, to provide advice and expertise during the transitional years. The group’s progress is reported via annual greenhouse gas emission audits, and its strategy documents are available online. 

Two sectors where methane is frequently produced on college campuses include transportation and food services (when it breaks down in a landfill, wasted food produces methane). In 2022, UConn released its first Active Transportation Plan, which provides a framework for improving accessibility and mobility across campus for pedestrians, wheelchair users, and cyclists, and in 2023, the Board of Trustees announced a plan to add 18 electric vehicle chargers to the Storrs campus. In 2018, UConn Dining Services partnered with Quantum Biopower and Mahoney Environmental Services to divert food waste from landfills to composting and biofuel production.  

Powering a Cleaner Connecticut 

Transitioning away from fossil fuels in the coming years will be key for reducing methane and overall greenhouse gas emissions, climate scientists say. With this in mind, UConn has invested in research and technology development that will supply the state of Connecticut and the Northeast region with alternative power sources. 

UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) is a hub for research into the production, distribution, and upscaling of clean energy solutions. C2E2 partners with industry leaders, government agencies, and other educational institutions to maximize its research capabilities. 

UConn’s Future Climate Venture Studio serves as an incubator for climate-minded startups, providing mentorship, funding, and industry connections for local and regional companies seeking to make a difference. 

The University has also invested significantly in wind power, a zero-emissions method of energy generation that is especially productive in windy offshore regions like Connecticut’s coast. In partnership with the developers Orsted and Eversource, who are overseeing the massive Revolution Wind project expected to power 350,000 homes in Connecticut and Rhode Island by 2025, UConn researchers are also tracking the ecological impact of the turbines to minimize disruption to marine life. 

Emissions-Reducing Innovations for the Nation and Beyond 

Reducing methane emissions while supporting the world’s human population (and caring for its other resident species) will require interdisciplinary ingenuity. In addition to engineering, UConn scientists from fields like agriculture and ecology are producing valuable research that enriches global understanding of methane emissions. 

George Bollas, a professor of engineering and Director of the Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering, has been working with Technology Commercialization Services to license a method for ensuring that 100% of flared methane gas from natural gas reactors is converted into CO2, a less harmful byproduct than methane.  

In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), chemists are fine-tuning and scaling carbon capture technology, which many institutions invoke to meet their emissions reduction goals but which is still an immature system. 

In the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR), researchers are developing waste-reducing, emissions-saving agricultural technologies, shedding light on how polluted riverways can cause fish die-offs that release methane, and investigating how invasive plant management could cause increased wetland methane emission. 

“We all need to be part of the solution when it comes to addressing climate change, since it affects all aspects of our lives, from agriculture to sustaining our landscapes to human and animal health,” says Indrajeet Chaubey, dean of CAHNR. “That’s why so many of our faculty and student researchers are working from all angles to develop innovative solutions that can be implemented quickly and move the needle right now. We simply can’t wait.”