Energy Futures

Autumn 2019

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Letter from the director

Dear friends,

In recent months, youth around the world have brought the urgent need for immediate action to address climate change into sharp focus. They understand that we need to accelerate and scale climate action, as the impacts of climate change have already started to affect every part of the globe—from rising sea levels to prolonged droughts to economic instability. Their voices are an important reminder of the pressing work we need to do in research, education, and outreach to help mitigate the effects of climate change and leave future generations with a healthy planet.

To examine the serious challenge of climate change, MIT is hosting a series of six Climate Action Symposia during the 2019–2020 academic year. The symposia cover climate science and policy; pathways for decarbonization of the global economy; and what universities can do to accelerate progress, including MIT’s efforts under our Plan for Action on Climate Change. In addition to enhancing the MIT community’s understanding of this range of issues, we hope that the series will spark new ideas for collaborations and solutions.

A particularly important aspect of our energy transition is how to alleviate energy poverty in the developing world and ensure that the approximately 1 billion global citizens without adequate access to electricity can benefit from affordable, sustainable power. To this end, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has received a grant to conduct research supporting the Rockefeller Foundation’s newly launched Global Commission to End Energy Poverty. The commission aims to develop an efficient and economic path forward to providing universal electrification.

This November, our Mobility of the Future study team shared its report, Insights into Future Mobility, with events in Washington, D.C., and on the MIT campus. This study analyzes many key aspects of mobility systems and how they are affected by new technologies, business models, and government policies. This report, which underscores that decarbonizing the transportation sector is vital for achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets, lays out the study team’s findings for policymakers and industry and discusses potential implications for the transition to more environmentally and economically sustainable personal mobility solutions.

In this issue of Energy Futures, you will read about other impactful research at MIT, from a look at the effects of renewable energy and carbon pricing policies on improved human health to a study on Chinese coal power plant emissions and the response to stricter emissions limits in highly populated regions. You will also learn about a new approach using electricity and electrocatalysts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced when manufacturing consumer products, and about a transparent version of silica aerogel that, when inserted into a double-pane window, can provide both insulation and clear visibility.

In addition to these research initiatives, MITEI remains committed to our energy-based Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). In this issue, you will read about several UROP students and how their experiences in interdisciplinary collaboration impacted their education. You will also read about other education collaborations, including a “Science Slam” that brought together students from MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to compete in presenting their summer research projects, as well as a new international field trip program with the University of Kiel, Germany, that brings students from both universities to each other’s regions to learn about energy-related technologies and facilities.

To realize our global emissions goals and create a decarbonized future, we must not only continue to accelerate the creation and scale-up of game-changing technologies but also engage with our communities—from local to global—to grow awareness and create opportunities for our young people to connect with government and industry. We will keep working toward these goals, and as we do so, I welcome your feedback and comments. Thank you for reading.

Warm regards,

Professor Robert C. Armstrong
MITEI Director

In This Issue

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Pathways for sustainable personal transportation

MITEI report identifies need for technological innovations, policies, and behavioral changes

Renewable energy and carbon pricing policies

State-level adoption saves money and lives

Manufacturing consumer products

A greener way to make raw materials

Making a remarkable material even better

Transparent aerogels for solar devices, windows

Tracking emissions in China

Good news, some concerns

New type of electrolyte could enhance supercapacitor performance

Novel class of “ionic liquids” may store more energy than conventional electrolytes — with less risk of catching fire.

Study: Even short-lived solar panels can be economically viable

Research shows that, contrary to accepted rule of thumb, a 10- or 15-year lifetime can be good enough.

Julia Ortony: Concocting nanomaterials for energy and environmental applications
Collaboration adds extra dimension to undergraduate research
MIT and UMass students come together for Science Slam
New intercontinental energy workshop sparks educational connections beyond the classroom
Energy Studies Minor updates: Changes offer students broader engagement with energy field
Energy Fellows, 2019–2020
3 Questions: Energy Fellows reflect on their time at MITEI
Chemistry bonds ”quirky” researchers in hard-working Surendranath Lab
Q&A: James Bushnell on electricity markets and deep decarbonization
MIT Energy Initiative awards seven Seed Fund grants for early-stage energy research

Annual MITEI awards support research on methane conversion, efficient energy provision, plastics recycling, and more.

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