Energy Futures

Spring 2021

Letter from the Director

Dear friends,

It has now been more than a year since MIT and the rest of the world locked down in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. In that time, we have experienced grief and tragedy, but also extreme determination and perseverance. At MITEI, we have been humbled by the creativity and dedication of our community, which, despite many obstacles, remains committed to educating our students and finding clean energy solutions.

MIT has worked hard to keep programs running and to bring our researchers back to their labs as quickly and—most importantly—as safely as possible. MITEI looks forward to joining our colleagues on campus in what will be the “new normal” in the coming academic year.

The Institute continues to prioritize climate action, empowering our researchers to think collaboratively and strategically about where we need to make more ambitious efforts to move the needle on climate change. In March, MITEI co-hosted an engagement forum that gave the MIT community an opportunity to learn about and offer thoughts on the benefits and challenges of working with organizations outside of the Institute. As MIT Vice President for Research Maria T. Zuber said in her remarks, “MIT can’t solve climate change alone.” This event, which highlighted the benefits of these research collaborations, was part of a multiyear process informing the next phase of MIT’s climate action plan, which is being announced this spring.

From designs for a hybrid-electric plane to steps you can take to reduce the environmental footprint of your internet usage to new models rethinking the hydrogen supply chain, MIT researchers truly embody the Institute’s motto “mens et manus,” or “mind and hand.” This issue of Energy Futures highlights several of these innovative technologies and solutions that can help decarbonize our energy systems and accelerate climate change mitigation.

In this issue, you will read about a technique to generate hydrogen by reacting scrap aluminum and water, demonstrating that aluminum can be a high-energy-density, easily transportable, flexible, and carbon-free source of hydrogen. You will also read about researchers who have developed an approach for designing solid-state batteries that could be key to widespread adoption of electric vehicles and a major step in decarbonizing the transportation sector, as well as about important insights into a remarkable class of materials called metal-organic frameworks that could advance a variety of energy-related technologies.

This issue will also introduce you to gifted scholars in MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, whose research and ideas can help solve the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of the world’s energy and climate challenges. At the heart of any technological solution are the people who will need to implement, advocate, support, use, and, eventually, even dispose of it. This past fall, Professor Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga taught a course that focused on the environmental and health consequences of improperly discarded electronics waste—a huge issue as more and more of our innovations age into obsolescence.

With a heavy heart, I share with you the passing of three members of our MITEI community. We mourn the loss of George P. Shultz PhD ’49, who chaired our External Advisory Board from its beginning until he stepped down as chair at age 98 (but graciously remained on the board). He was a fierce advocate for climate change action and provided invaluable guidance on our work. You can read more about his life and contributions here. I am also sorry to share the passing of Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., and John M. Bradley ’47, SM ’49. Stephen was an inaugural member of our External Advisory Board and a champion of our undergraduate students and courses. John supported our Seed Fund Program and loved engaging in the science and technical details of the novel energy research projects it generates. They will be missed dearly.

I want to thank you for reading this issue of Energy Futures and for your support. Please stay safe and healthy, and keep in touch.

Warm regards,

Professor Robert C. Armstrong
MITEI Director

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In This Issue

In memoriam: George P. Shultz PhD ’49 (1920–2020)
Using aluminum and water to make clean hydrogen fuel—when and where it’s needed
Designing better batteries for electric vehicles

Materials selection for scaled-up production

Fine-tuning new materials for energy devices

First look at atomic structure reveals path forward

MITEI researchers build supply chain model to support hydrogen economy
Energy class dives into global problem of technology waste
Awele Uwagwu: From gas to solar, bringing meaningful change to Nigeria’s energy systems
Via Separations: MITEI spin-off takes aim at industrial decarbonization
Keeping humanity central to solving climate change

MIT scholars are helping to solve the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of the world’s energy and climate challenges.

Collaborators in climate action

Symposium highlights ambitious goals of MIT–industry research targeting technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Powering the energy transition with better storage

MIT and Princeton researchers evaluate the role and value of long-duration energy technologies in securing a carbon-free electric grid

How can you reduce the environmental impact of your next virtual meeting?

Study uncovers overlooked environmental impacts of internet use by estimating associated carbon, land, and water footprints.

Photo: Bryce Vickmark 3 Questions: Ernest Moniz on the future of climate and energy under the Biden-Harris administration

Former US energy secretary discusses opportunities and challenges with MITEI Director Robert Armstrong.

Concept for a hybrid-electric plane may reduce aviation’s air pollution problem

Proposed design could reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 95%, a new study finds.

To boost emissions reductions from electric vehicles, know when to charge

MIT researchers develop novel EV emissions model to quantify importance of vehicle charging patterns and impact of ambient temperature on EV emissions levels.

MISTI pilots conversations in energy

The MISTI Career Conversations: Energy program serves as an innovative pivot from international internships to a virtual seminar series.

Powering through the coming energy transition

Carbon capture and storage are key to achieving climate goals.

Pushing the envelope with fusion magnets

MIT Energy Fellow David Fischer irradiates high-temperature superconducting tape to test its resilience and prepare for the first pilot fusion plant.


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