Category: Researchers

A Pathway to Sustainability

It’s Sustainability Week at Imperial. So what better time to spotlight the brilliant work of the Sustainable Gas Institute’s Dr Jasmin Cooper.

On top of her day job – making a significant contribution to the scientific community’s understanding of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – Jasmin is also a member of the Department of Chemical Engineering’s (DoCE) sustainability committee. We caught up with Jasmin to find out more about what her role on the committee entails and how she her scientific skillset is playing a pivotal role in progressing Imperial’s sustainability ambitions.

There’s little disputing the scientific evidence that climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing human civilisation this century.  We’re already seeing consequences globally. 2022’s floods in Pakistan and the big Christmas freeze in North America are just two of a growing list of recent events. Weather attribution (being able to prove the link between climate change and extreme weather such as heatwaves, droughts, floods and super-storms) is a growing field in itself that Imperial scientists are involved in.  But when it comes to tackling the root causes, there’s an area of expertise that’s in at the beginning – Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

The biggest challenge in changing human behaviour is that the causes of climate change – anthropologically generated greenhouse gases (GHGs) – are, a seemingly invisible threat. To cut GHG emissions, we need to better understand how much is produced and where they come from. Our sustainability committee is focused on doing that for DoCE operations.

Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering set up its sustainability committee in 2021. It’s part of a college-wide strategy to improve environmental sustainability across all of Imperial’s estate, both through efficiency and innovation – with the holy grail of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.

A robust scientific technique for quantifying these emissions is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  As we work, rest and play there’s a life cycle for everything we interact with.  From the emissions impact of growing and processing the food we eat to the footprint of manufacture, usage and scrapping of the vehicles we drive – even the bikes we cycle and the streaming content we binge – everything has a carbon footprint.

Obtaining baseline data to quantify carbon emissions requires significant interdepartmental cooperation – with departmental operations, Imperial’s estates, ICT and campus services teams – and of course our student and academic population. So it’s as much an exercise in collaboration as it is scientific analysis

Once the carbon footprinting is done, across all of DoCE’s activities and building assets we move forward to the LCA.  We’re then able to make assessments on where we can make changes to each pathway to reduce our emissions impact – hopefully to Net Zero by 2040.

In the meantime, if you want to help right away – here are some energy-saving tips from the sustainability committee.


Sasha’s work experience at the SGI

Sustinable Gas InstituteEvery year, the Sustainable Gas Institute offers a unique placement opportunities to students to come and work in the research Institute for the summer.

In July, Sasha Dorai, a third year geology student from Imperial College, helped us prepare the groundwork for a large systemic review around the issue of “unburnable carbon” – a topic that has gained increasing  interest among environmentalists, energy researchers, industry and investors over the last few years.

We interviewed Sasha about her career aspirations and about her work in investigating this highly debated issue.

What first captured your interest in studying geology?

What I like most about geology is that it involves the study of past, present and future landscapes. The subject also combines a broad range of scientific topics I’m interested in from hydrocarbons, minerals and other natural resources to tectonic activity and climate change.

How did you find out about the Institute, and what first sparked you interest in working here?

The Institute Director, Professor Nigel Brandon was my lecturer for one of my modules. He told us about the Institute, and the research being carried out.
Last summer, I had an internship with BP where I gained a broad insight into projects carried out in industry.  So this year, I really wanted to further this experience with something a little different by working on an academic research project instead.

So can you tell us a little more about the project?

I am currently assisting Sara Budinis, a research assistant at Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), with a systematic review of literature for a new and upcoming White Paper relating to a topic known as the ‘unburnable carbon’.

Can you explain what you mean by the ‘unburnable carbon’?

The world has a constrained greenhouse gas emissions budget to ensure that global average surface temperature does not rise more than 2⁰C.

So to stay within the global carbon budget there needs to be a significant reduction in the energy consumption. This is known as ‘unburnable carbon’ – reserves that cannot be combusted if the global carbon budget is not to be exceeded. In order to mitigate the effect of climate change, companies need to either reduce energy consumption or develop modern technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or other methods to store carbon in reservoirs and underground storage.

What exactly is a ‘White Paper’ and why do you think a systematic review is important right now on this topic?

A ‘White Paper’ discusses controversial topics and debated topics in science today, often providing recommendations to policy makers.

Although, there has been some research into the area of a ‘unburnable carbon’, so far there has not yet been a comprehensive and rigorous analysis of the all the evidence covering the full breadth of the subject area, especially in relation to how technology can have an influence. It’s also a relatively new concept and therefore needs further enquiry.

GeoscienceWhat did the research actually involve on a day-to-day basis?

The actual analysis involved me scrutinising important databases and search engines; academic journals published by institutions, industry and government websites.

The topics and terms, I was looking for included fossil fuels, unburnable fuels, reserves, the carbon budget, climate change and many more. My search covered technologies and methods including carbon capture and sequestration; a technology used to capture carbon dioxide emissions produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, electricity generation and other industrial processes.

I also looked at a lot of non-peer-reviewed grey literature from organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United States Department of Energy as well as other government websites.

What do you think is the overall importance of this project?

The ‘White Paper’ explores economic aspects as well as focusing on scientific and technological aspects – the use and role of hydrocarbons.

The concept is important to science as well as society as we are in an era where we are currently heavily reliant upon hydrocarbons.

What have you enjoyed most about the research and working at the SGI?

The research was extremely interesting and I learnt a lot along the way. It was good to also experience working in a smaller organisation – everyone at the Institute was extremely warm and welcoming.

Working at the Sustainable Gas Institute has allowed me to also broaden my horizons and learn new things – including new technologies.

What do you plan to next year?

My plan this year is to start a Masters in Petroleum Geoscience, also at Imperial.

About the Sustainable Gas Institute

The Sustainable Gas Institute is a multidisciplinary institute which is exploring the role of gas in the future world energy mix. The SGI publishes papers relating to controversial issues and important topics in science including sustainable energy systems. The researchers expect to finish the ‘White Paper’ report in Spring 2016.