Energy Futures

Spring 2009

Image from Innovative buildings: Prudent use of energy and materials Credit: James Bellamy
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Letter from the director

Dear friends,

The work of the MIT Energy Initiative—supporting a large group of faculty, staff, and students engaged in energyrelated research and education—has been given additional impetus from a newly energized public dialogue on clean energy and global warming, inspired in part by the high policy priority the Obama Administration has placed on energy security and climate change risk mitigation. Meeting these challenges will require major investments in energy science and technology, informed policy analysis, and the marshaling of talent across the innovation spectrum. All of this is central to the MITEI mission.

Since our last Energy Futures newsletter, we have helped bring this important national policy conversation to campus. In October, MITEI and the MIT Energy Club hosted a debate on energy policy between senior advisors to the McCain and Obama campaigns. In April, with the new administration now in place and the congressional debate on climate legislation under way, we hosted a symposium featuring Congressman Edward Markey, chair of the Select Committee on Global Warming; Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change; and Dr. John Holdren, science advisor to the president. Forum speakers outlined the tortuous path to reaching domestic and international climate mitigation agreements and engaged MIT students, faculty, MITEI industry partners, the press, and other guests in a robust give-and-take on the policy options for mitigating climate change.

In March, at the Energy Club’s annual MIT Energy Conference, Congressman Jay Inslee, an emerging leader of the “green dog” caucus in the U.S. Congress, delivered a keynote speech highlighting the fundamental role new technologies will play in transforming the energy marketplace. At MITEI hosted symposia, former senior officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz and the first Secretary of Energy, James Schlesinger, provided knowledgeable perspectives on future energy supply, delivery, and use.

Such robust and important policy dialogue was envisioned by MIT President Susan Hockfield in her initial charge to MITEI. It has been gratifying to help facilitate the engagement of the MIT community in this important conversation, as senior policymakers seek to accelerate a clean energy transformation.

As the academic year draws to a close, we are also seeing substantial progress on our core energy research and education missions. The research highlights in this issue of Energy Futures focus on innovations for our existing energy systems and infrastructure— carbon dioxide sequestration, nuclear power, and efficient use of buildings and materials. Such innovations are essential for a smooth, affordable, clean transition to a sustainable energy future.

In addition, two more rounds of seed fund awards were issued to researchers across the campus. This exciting program supports a range of early-stage innovative research proposals at the same time that it expands the circle of energy-related researchers—nearly half of the awardees are new to energy-related research, and a majority of those funded in the most recent round are junior faculty.

MITEI’s Seed Fund Program has supported more than 50 seed fund projects, ignition grants, and planning grants, enabled largely through contributions from MITEI’s Founding and Sustaining Members (listed on the inside front cover). But the program has had additional help: the generosity of our alumni and friends has grown this fund such that 30% of the proposals—still fewer than those with very high merit—could gain full or partial support. We expect to see high-impact results from this program over the next several years, providing the foundation for future major MIT energy research efforts.

There are also several exciting developments on the education front. Most of MITEI’s first group of Energy Fellows, 40 strong, are finishing their first year of graduate school (a few are at later stages) and are heading for deeper engagement in energy-related research. It has also been an active year for curriculum development, with MIT faculty developing new energy courses that will underpin a proposed novel energy minor program for undergraduates.

All in all, it has been an exciting and productive year in uncertain times. We look forward to hearing from you and to touching base again early in the next academic year.


Professor Ernest J. Moniz
MITEI Director Professor

Robert C. Armstrong
MITEI Deputy Director

In This Issue

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Harnessing the world’s collective intelligence to deal with climate change
Nuclear power plants: Shaping new fuels for higher efficiency
Innovative buildings: Prudent use of energy and materials
Turning waste into clean fuels
New MIT tool could aid safe underground storage of carbon dioxide
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