Energy Futures

Autumn 2018

Letter from the Director

Dear friends,

In September, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) issued the eighth of our “Future of…” reports, The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World, with key findings and recommendations presented at events in the United States, Europe, and Asia. These comprehensive, multidisciplinary reports are intended to help guide researchers, policymakers, and industry by highlighting specific energy technologies that could contribute to ever-increasing energy demand in a carbon-constrained world.

This study emphasizes the importance of incorporating nuclear energy into the mix of low-carbon energy technologies and analyzes why the growth in nuclear energy capacity has stalled and how that trend can be reversed. Study co-chair MIT Professor Jacopo Buongiorno says, “Our analysis demonstrates that realizing nuclear energy’s potential is essential to achieving a deeply decarbonized energy future in many regions of the world.” To learn more about the study and its release, see the press release and read about MIT student participants’ perspectives on the study and event.

In this issue of Energy Futures, you will also read about an analysis that provides guidelines for cost-effective and reliable ways to build a zero-carbon electricity grid and a novel technology designed to provide drinking water by capturing water droplets from industrial cooling towers.

You’ll learn about innovations that fine-tune existing technologies, materials, and processes to achieve greater efficiency, sustainability, speed, and control. MIT investigators have developed a new method for rapid 3D printing of complex objects, along with a process for printing with renewable cellulosic feedstocks instead of plastics. Other researchers have demonstrated a new concept for thermal energy storage that uses conventional “phase-change” materials but defers the release of stored heat until it’s needed. Another team has gained new insights into how plants control the amount of sunlight they use to produce nutrients—information that could one day lead to increased yields of biomass for fuel and crops for food.

Earlier this fall, I joined former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz and colleagues in Washington, DC, for the MIT-Stanford Energy Game Changers Symposium to reinforce the value of fundamental research in energy. This meeting underscored the importance of energy research with two main topics: how we can change the future of the electric power sector and how we will provide energy for industry of the future. The symposium highlighted game-changing technologies for generating and storing energy and also for lowering the greenhouse gas footprint of the industrial sector going forward. The project examples that participants shared also illustrated advances that can be made when academia, government, and industry work together.

MITEI just wrapped up this year’s Annual Research Conference, where we explored the energy-intelligence nexus through a special collaboration with the MIT Quest for Intelligence, a new initiative that focuses on advancing the science and engineering of both human and machine intelligence. Together, we considered ways in which artificial intelligence and machine learning can help us realize a low-carbon energy future.

At the conference, undergraduate students presented posters about their summer research to our academic and industry participants. These presentations demonstrated what they learned not only in their research but also in newly designed professional-development workshops meant to build critical skills not found in the lab or classroom.

In other education news, we welcomed a new cohort of graduate students and postdocs into our Society of Energy Fellows and introduced a crop of incoming undergraduates to the energy opportunities at MIT through our Freshman Pre-Orientation Program.

Many people throughout the Institute are working to develop and advance low- and no-carbon energy technologies, examine transition pathways for different parts of the energy sector, inform policy discussions about transforming the energy system, and educate the next generation of energy innovators. But there is still much more to be done. Please read on to learn more about our efforts and, as always, be in touch with any feedback and thoughts.

Warm regards,

Professor Robert C. Armstrong
MITEI Director
November 2018

Energy Fellows, 2018–2019
Christoph Reinhart: Applying physics to the design of energy-efficient buildings
MIT Energy Initiative announces new class of membership geared toward energy startups
Accelerating 3D printing

Faster fabrication, renewable materials

“You don’t learn this in class”: Undergraduate researchers build professional skills
MITEI welcomes Class of 2022 to campus
Saving heat until you need it

A new concept for thermal energy storage

New system recovers fresh water from power plants; prototype installed on MIT’s Central Utility Plant
Grad student Prosper Nyovanie: Powering off-grid communities with scalable solar electric systems
Understanding how plants use sunlight

Possible pathway to more biomass and crops

3Q: Howard J. Herzog discusses the state of carbon capture
Climate change, “tough tech” startups, and the future of energy intelligence

MITEI Director Robert Armstrong on takeaways from MITEI’s Annual Research Conference

Student researchers lend their voices and ideas to Future of Nuclear study

Students describe invaluable insights gained from the experience

Study: Adding power choices reduces cost and risk of carbon-free electricity

To curb greenhouse gas emissions, nations, states, and cities should aim for a mix of fuel-saving, flexible, and highly reliable sources.

MIT Energy Initiative study reports on the future of nuclear energy

Findings suggest new policy models and cost-cutting technologies could help nuclear play vital role in climate solutions

U.S. Department of Energy to fund Energy Frontier Research Center at MIT

MIT Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport part of DOE initiative to advance basic science research for a transforming energy landscape

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