La Follette students help build powerful tool for climate technology research

Three La Follette graduate students recently developed an innovative database to help anticipate how long it might take for new climate technologies to scale up to levels necessary to limit climate change.

The Historical Adoption of TeCHnology (HATCH) dataset was created by Jenna Greene (MPA ’22), Ariana Hammersmith (MPA ’22), and current MIPA student Andrew Zaiser and debuted in an academic paper published in Communications Earth & Environment in October 2023. The new database and the resulting paper, led by Professor Gregory Nemet, could have major implications for research around climate technology innovation.

Portrait of Jenna Greene
Jenna Greene

Ironically, the project did not initially set out to have such far-reaching effects. It started small when Greene and Nemet, her advisor at the time, began researching and compiling various technologies from the past century to get a sense for how they grew over time. They began this research while working on the influential State of Carbon Dioxide Removal report, a major international assessment released in January 2023.

“We didn’t really have an ambition for it to be a really big dataset at the start,’ said Greene, now a PhD student with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “But that sort of ended up happening. It just got bigger and bigger.”

HATCH uses historical time series data on technology adoption for over 200 technologies going back to the early 20th century. This complex data can be used to understand how technologies have developed and scaled over time, which can help inform the innovation of climate technologies that must accelerate rapidly to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals.

Portrait of Andrew Zaiser
Andrew Zaiser

“I don’t think there’s anything of this size and variety yet. There are other big databases, but HATCH covers many different types of technologies,” Zaiser said. “Vaccine adoption and development, household appliances, climate technologies, you name it. In that sense, it’s paving a new road.”

To create such a robust database, Greene, Hammersmith, and Zaiser also needed to learn new skills. When Hammersmith joined the project as a PA for Nemet, she was serendipitously also in a computer science class with Greene. “It just happened that we were both taking that class and learned Python. We were able to use that coding language for this database and it helped quite a bit,” Hammersmith said.

Greene also went on to co-author the paper that used HATCH to assess the development of carbon removal technologies. The paper found evidence that the scale-up required of these emerging climate technologies fits within the historical range of previous efforts, but that company announcements and government targets implied much faster growth than the historical record and IPCC CDR scenarios.

Profile photo of Arianna Hammersmith
Ariana Hammersmith

Next up, the database will be featured prominently in the second edition of the State of Carbon Dioxide Removal report due out this June. Greene, who also worked on the first report, and Zaiser are currently finishing this project being led by Nemet.

In addition to helping Greene in her PhD pursuits, HATCH also helped Hammersmith land a job last year with the Veterans Benefits Administration working on their predictive analytics team.

“I’m doing a lot of data analytics right now,” Hammersmith said. “Helping to build this database really prepared me for what I’m doing right, and I honestly don’t know if I would have my job without this experience.”

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