Research

Low-Carbon Energy Centers

Collaborative research with industry and government in key technology areas to address climate change.

Overview

In the coming decades, global energy demand is expected to rise dramatically driven by worldwide population growth and rising standards of living in the developing world. At the same time, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be drastically reduced to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Addressing this dual challenge requires simultaneous action on multiple technology and policy fronts—which in turn calls for a broad, sustained collaboration among stakeholders from academia, industry, government, and the philanthropic and NGO communities.

Recognizing this, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has launched a suite of research centers focused on tackling the world’s most pressing energy challenges with sophisticated technological solutions informed by techno-economic analyses. The Low-Carbon Energy Centers facilitate research collaborations with organizations from many sectors to develop practical solutions that can meet global energy needs sustainably. Each Center works to advance research in a specific technology area. These areas are: energy storage; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; electric power systems; energy in the developing world; energy bioscience; energy storage; materials in energy and extreme environments; mobility systems; and solar energy—as well as a related initiative, the Energy at Scale Center. Related topics and work from the Centers is published in an ongoing webinar series.

The Centers were first announced in October 2015 as a core element of the Institute’s Plan for Action on Climate Change.

Collectively, the purpose of the Centers is to:

  • convene members from a diverse set of global businesses, government entities, the philanthropic community, NGOs, and other organizations to identify the most pressing real-world needs for research within each of its targeted low-carbon energy areas;
  • promote collaboration between and among members and MIT researchers united by a common desire to advance specific low-carbon energy technology pathways;
  • draw connections between and among MIT researchers from a variety of disciplines whose work can advance research along those pathways;
  • tap expertise from Center members on market and policy issues and bring this knowledge to bear on concepts and technologies being developed in the laboratory;
  • synthesize knowledge within each Center through ongoing dialogue between and among researchers and members; and
  • disseminate insights, findings, and recommendations to members and to society, informing R&D directions as well as public policy debate and design efforts.

MIT’s Advantage

Over the last decade, the Institute, through MITEI, has worked to take on major energy and climate challenges. MIT has developed depth and breadth of expertise across a wide range of disciplines critical to the advancement of energy-related innovation and is well positioned to drive major initiatives forward in these areas.

Faculty and research scientists from across MIT engage with MITEI on energy and climate topics, and government and industry support for MIT research and education projects through MITEI—which has contributed to advancing the development and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies and to increasing the efficiency of conventional energy systems. MIT is uniquely positioned to drive major initiatives forward in these areas.

MITEI also has a significant track record of working in developing countries—notably through its Tata Center for Technology & Design, which zeroes in on the challenges of resource- constrained communities. The new Energy in the Developing World Center is continuing this important work. Since both absolute and relative growth in energy use and GHG emissions will be dominated by the developing world in the coming decades, our ability to find solutions that work there is crucial. MIT offers much-needed expertise in addressing the unique energy and climate challenges of the developing world—characterized by rapid demand growth and severe cost sensitivity—as well as proven leadership in forging the kinds of international research partnerships necessary to move the needle on a global scale.

Structure of the MIT Energy Initiative Low-Carbon Energy Centers

The Low-Carbon Energy Centers combine MIT’s proven consortium approach with tailored research programs that team MIT faculty with Center members. Within MIT, these Centers seek to concentrate and amplify the Institute’s innovative energy research while promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and inspiring new research directions for the benefit of society. MITEI brings faculty and students together from across all Centers under a shared administrative umbrella to ensure that resources are used efficiently for maximum real-world impact.

As MITEI has developed a proven record of cultivating collaborations among industry, academia, and government to move research forward, we have learned that uncertainty is one of the greatest inhibitors of progress. To address and mitigate the uncertainties inherent to an ever-changing market and regulatory environment, each Low-Carbon Energy Center is supported by a dedicated research team focused on monitoring, tracking, and reporting on the evolving performance and economic potential of emerging technologies. This team provides guidance and definition to the opportunity space that each Center is exploring.

Faculty co-directors lead each Center with the support of a Faculty Steering Committee and a dedicated Advisory Committee composed of the steering committee plus representatives from each of the Center’s members. With input from these committees, the directors set major research themes, build a portfolio of projects—from necessary advancements in basic science to deployable innovations in engineering—and commission policy and technology reviews focused on moving low-carbon energy systems into everyday use.

To attract broad participation for the Low-Carbon Energy Centers, MITEI has created a membership structure that removes many of the barriers common to other research endeavors. The Centers enable smaller private and public stakeholder institutions to participate—along with larger companies and government agencies—and to work with MITEI’s existing members, who include major incumbent energy companies. We are welcoming new entrants into MIT’s innovation ecosystem to elicit new perspectives and ideas that can boost these efforts. Please visit the individual Center websites to learn more about each Center’s approach.



Current members include

A primary goal of MITEI’s Low-Carbon Energy Centers is to promote research through in-depth interactions between industry and academia and to significantly shorten the time required to make early-stage breakthroughs, deploy and scale new technologies, and improve or develop new applications for existing technologies, products, and services. To facilitate this, the Centers undertake a series of activities to illuminate specific energy technology landscapes to help members and MIT investigators focus their research efforts.

Onboarding call: One-on-one call with each new member and the faculty directors of the relevant Center(s) to review the member’s strategic objectives and research interests.

Semi-annual consortium research development workshops: Conducted on the MIT campus, these workshops feature presentations from MIT principal investigators on research areas identified by the faculty and member companies. An area of emphasis at these workshops is to identify a set of topics that lend themselves to joint funding by two or more members. The objective of these workshops is to significantly shorten the development time it takes to produce a scope of work and to move forward with a project.

Ongoing technology assessment: A dedicated research team monitors, assesses, and reports on technology, economic, and policy developments in the field.

Seed funding: A portion of the annual fees given to each Center will seed early-stage projects and support the commission of white papers in low-carbon energy areas of interest to members. While funding decisions will be made solely by MIT, the results of such work are shared first with Center members. Members also have the opportunity, where appropriate, to frame key business challenges, specific areas of need, and provide input into requests for proposals.

Seat on the Center Advisory Committee: Some of the Centers have Advisory Committees. For Centers with committees, each Member will have one seat on each Center’s committee for which it is a member. The committees are chaired by the faculty directors and also include participating faculty and MITEI senior leadership. The Advisory Committee provide the Center directors with guidance on research directions and priorities.

MITEI Annual Research Conference and Spring Symposium: All Low-Carbon Energy Center members will be invited to participate in these invitation-only MITEI events.

Limited access to other Low-Carbon Energy Centers: Each Low-Carbon Energy Center represents a critical part of a low-carbon future, and each benefits from closer collaboration with academic, industrial, governmental, philanthropic, and NGO stakeholders. To ensure that we take advantage of the obvious synergies between and among individual Centers, members of each are allowed to sit in on designated portions of semi-annual research development workshops conducted by other Centers.

Join a Low-Carbon Energy Center

To stay updated on MITEI news and events, subscribe to our mailing list and podcast, read our research reports and publications, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

For more information about becoming a member, contact MITEI Member Services at miteimemberservices@mit.edu.