Energy Futures

Autumn 2008

Image from Nanoscale layers promise to boost solar cell efficiency Credit: Felice Frankel
Go to the articles      ·      Download the PDF

Letter from the director

Dear friends,

Since publishing our last newsletter, the MIT Energy Initiative has made significant progress on developing a network of support for MIT faculty, students, and researchers. MITEI has also sponsored a range of outreach activities designed to enhance and inform the public dialogue on key energy policy and technology issues.

This issue of Energy Futures highlights some of the progress we are making in research, education, and outreach, with a special focus on the research area we call “Transformations”—development of the science, technology, and policy options that can enable alternative energy sources to displace significant fossil fuel use.

We would like to take a moment to focus on two key development efforts within MITEI: the Industry and Public Partners Program and the Sustainable Energy Revolutions Program.

The portfolio of MITEI’s research partners

Among the most exciting signs of MITEI’s growth is the community of partners that have now joined the Initiative to support energy research and education and to contribute to the innovation discussion fostered by MITEI.

When we released our first newsletter, MITEI had eight members; it now has 27. These members range from global enterprises to venture capital firms to government-sponsored enterprises to small innovative startups.

We also have added two new membership categories, the MITEI Founding Public Members and the MITEI Sustaining Public Members. These categories reflect the special needs and requirements of publicly funded and supported enterprises such as those of our inaugural Sustaining Public Member, the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology, and Higher Education.

Each MITEI Founding and Sustaining Member makes a commitment to the sustained sponsorship of a research program that can range from a highly focused multi-faculty “flagship” program, such as solar frontiers or advanced coal, to a set of discrete projects that meets the organization’s diverse strategic needs. These members also support a seed fund program that draws in innovative early-stage ideas from faculty across the campus. The breadth of the current research portfolio that has emerged from discussions between members and faculty is impressive. MITEI members are sponsoring research projects in the following areas:

Innovations: improving how we produce, distribute, and consume conventional energy sources.

• development of high-value products—electricity, liquid fuels, and chemicals—from low-value carbon feedstocks while minimizing carbon dioxide emissions

• increased efficiency in buildings

• intelligent infrastructure

• carbon management

• new technologies to develop and produce remote ultra-deepwater oil and gas resources in water depths of 5,000 feet or greater

• coal combustion

• new materials and concepts for efficient energy conversion systems

• power electronics

• heat management

• oxyfired coal plants

Transformations: developing clean alternative energy sources to replace conventional fuels.

• geothermal energy

• biofuels

• wind, including offshore wind

• advanced solar technologies, including nanostructured thin film photovoltaics, self-assembling photovoltaic materials, solar to fuels

• materials for batteries, fuel cells, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, catalysts, extreme conditions

• wave energy

• tidal energy Global Systems: multidisciplinary research and analysis of global systems that integrate energy policy design and technology development.

• science and policy of global change

• buildings and urban systems

• vehicles and transportation systems

• decentralized energy

• urban metabolism and green mobility

Tools: developing fundamental enabling or transformational tools and concepts to meet global energy needs.

• nanotechnology

• advanced materials discovery for energy applications with a focus on integrated computation and synthesis

• multielectron chemistry

• intelligent robotics

• catalysis

• separations

• small molecule chemistry

MITEI launches the Sustainable Energy Revolutions Program

On a related front, MITEI has launched the Sustainable Energy Revolutions Program (SERP), a new program to coordinate and enhance support for breakthrough and long-term research in renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, waves, geothermal, and biomass, as well as associated enabling technologies, such as storage.

This program also will support related analysis and will help grow the renewable energy research community at MIT through support for seminars, conferences, symposia, colloquia, and related events. In addition, SERP will leverage its activities with other programs and projects at or associated with the Institute to solidify and enhance broad support for renewable energy activities and research.

The SERP Council, now being formed, will include donors interested in the program’s core objective—breakthrough research for renewable energy. Its initial co-chairs are the MITEI director and Arunas Chesonis of the Chesonis Family Foundation. The council will serve as an advisory body and will help MITEI define, refine, and guide the mission of SERP; provide strategic direction and advice to the program; help develop key relationships and interfaces with philanthropic and industry donors interested in supporting renewable energy research and advancing SERP goals; help identify and support opportunities to transfer renewable energy technologies into the energy marketplace; and serve as a liaison between SERP and key opinion leaders.

These two elements of MITEI help to highlight the range of partners and programs we are working with to address global energy challenges. But they are only a small part of the story. A number of high-impact activities, programs, projects, and education and outreach efforts at MITEI also are generating a great deal of excitement, both on campus and in the broader public and policy arenas.

Highlights of many of these activities can be found in this issue of Energy Futures. We look forward to hearing from you—and working with you—in the days ahead.


Professor Ernest J. Moniz
MITEI Director Professor

Robert C. Armstrong
MITEI Deputy Director

In This Issue

Download the PDF
Capturing the energy in ocean waves
Nanoscale layers promise to boost solar cell efficiency
Energy Fellows, 2008-2009
MITEI launches Society of Energy Fellows at MIT
Giant wind turbines, floating out of sight
Download the PDF

Past issues

We're hiring! Learn more and apply