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Sustainable Solutions

Tackling these enormously complex global challenges will require the unflinching commitment to excellence and bold, interdisciplinary approach that distinguish Caltech.

We invite you to support the Institute scholars who are advancing research in energy, sustainability, and environmental science.

Current Research Highlights

Reduce Emissions: Jonas Peters (pictured right), director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute and Caltech's Bren Professor of Chemistry, aims to create cleaner, more sustainable ways to generate ammonia, a key component of nitrogen fertilizer. If successful, such technologies could reduce methane use and carbon dioxide emissions on a global scale. They could even enable the use of ammonia as a zero-carbon fuel.

Clean Water: With the reduction of fresh water supplies around the world, clean water treatment is more important than ever. Jinglin Huang, a Resnick Graduate Fellow, investigates ways to remove minerals from ocean water using solar energy and a new salt- and pollutant-repellant materials—carbon nanotubes that have hard-to-corrode superhydrophobic surfaces. Her work could pave the way for easier-to-clean, more eco-friendly desalination systems that consume little energy.

A More Sustainable Campus

Energy: In 2018, Caltech's solar photovoltaic instasllations, fuel cells, and combined heat and power system generated more electricity than the campus consumed for the second consecutive year.

Water: Replacement of grass with mulched native landscaping along Holliston Ave in 2018 saved enough water to fill the Gene Pool 15 times over and avoided nearly $9,000 in annual labor and water costs.

The Built Environment: New campus buildings such as Hameetman Center and Bechtel Residence are pursuing LEED certification and have each achieved 30% water savings and 50% energy savings compared to conventional buildings.

Local Food: Chandler Café's rooftop garden is a source of fresh produce that reduces the environmental impact of thousands of meals prepared on campus every day.

History of Leadership

Solving Smog:  In the 1940s, Caltech biochemist Arie Haagen-Smit discovered that smog forms when exhaust from industry and automobiles reacts with sunlight. His research led to the first vehicle emissions control systems and provided the impetus for creating the air pollution standards we continue to observe today.

Measuring Carbon Dioxide: Caltech postdoctoral scholar Charles Keeling invented a precise way to measure carbon dioxide in the air. The data he began collecting in 1958 yielded evidence for how human activities affect climate and alerted the world to the risk of global warming.

Eliminating Lead: In the process of determining the age of Earth (4.55 billion years), Caltech geochemist Clair Patterson discovered unprecedented levels of lead contamination everywhere he looked. His findings helped bring about revolutionary changes in public policy, including passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970.

Green Manufacturing:  In the 1990s, Caltech chemical engineer and Nobel laureate Frances Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, pioneered directed evolution, a technique that mimics the process of natural selection to create new enzymes that can be used in medicine, neurobiology, and alternative energy. For example, Arnold has used directed evolution to engineer enzymes that can convert plant waste into fuel.