Energy Futures

Winter 2008

Image from MIT competes in DOE’s Solar Decathlon Credit: Donna Coveney, MIT
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Letter from the director

Dear friends,

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Energy Futures, the newsletter of the MIT Energy Initiative. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about some of the exciting developments and activities of the Initiative during its first year of operation. President Susan Hockfield set MIT’s energy initiative in motion during her May 2005 inaugural address when she highlighted MIT’s “… institutional responsibility to address the challenges of energy and the environment.” Following a yearlong study of how MIT could best contribute, in November 2006

President Hockfield formally launched the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) with a broad mandate to address key global and national energy challenges: meeting growing demand for energy while increasing the efficiency with which it is used; enhancing energy security; and mitigating the environmental impacts of energy production, distribution, and consumption, especially the climate risks associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

Building on MIT’s long history of first-rate research and industrial and international collaboration, MITEI is designed to accelerate energy innovation by integrating the Institute’s cutting-edge capabilities in science, engineering, management, planning, and policy. MITEI also enlists the talent and dedication of MIT’s students to address critical energy and environmental challenges. Formal MITEI/industry partnerships enable MIT researchers to work closely with scientists, engineers, and planners in industry, ensuring the rapid movement of ideas into the marketplace. Finally, MITEI seeks to serve as an “honest broker” to the policy discourse, providing leaders in government and industry with unbiased analyses of energy issues, informed energy policy options, and opportunities for critical energy dialogue.

In launching MITEI, President Hockfield named an Energy Council made up of faculty from all five MIT schools to help implement the Initiative’s research and education goals. MITEI Deputy Director Robert Armstrong and I work closely with the council to oversee Initiative activities, coordinate with existing energy activities across the Institute, and facilitate the development of relationships with other institutions, industries, and governmental agencies.

To help guide the Initiative, President Hockfield has established an External Advisory Board composed of high-level members from industry, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and think tanks. It will be chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, an MIT alumnus and former faculty member. The first meeting of the board is scheduled for mid January 2008.

MITEI’s four major program components—industry research partnerships, education, campus energy management, and outreach—are already yielding important results.

MITEI’s industry partnerships support major research programs, early-stage innovative projects, educational initiatives, fellowships, undergraduate research opportunities, other student activities, and outreach. Current industry partners and some of their research interests are BP (coal conversion); Ford (new powertrain technologies); Chevron (ultra-deepwater oil and gas production); b_TEC, Barcelona (renewables); and Schlumberger (subsurface science and technology). This first group of industry partners represents a $70 million commitment over the next five years, including almost 100 new energy graduate fellowships. The partners have also contributed to an Energy Research Seed Fund; the first awards supporting novel energy-related proposals from across the campus will total nearly $1 million and will be announced by January. To date, MITEI has received more than 50 seed fund proposals. This extraordinary response to the first call for proposals shows the breadth and depth of energy-related innovation by MIT faculty.

Two task forces are helping MITEI implement its mandate from President Hockfield. The Energy Education Task Force, co-chaired by Professors Angela Belcher and Jefferson Tester, is assessing the existing curriculum, evaluating and coordinating undergraduate and graduate energy-related subjects, and considering the development of an Institute-wide energy minor. The Campus Energy Task Force is co-chaired by Professor Leon Glicksman and Theresa Stone, MIT executive vice president and treasurer. Activities include improving and planning campus energy use, providing input to new campus construction, and supporting student activities that use the campus as a laboratory for energy research and education.

Notable advances in MITEI’s education program this year include a very generous grant from the Kabcenell Foundation supporting a variety of curricular initiatives. MIT has also been awarded a Clare Boothe Luce Postdoctoral Fellowship Program for Women in Energy, to be filled starting in fall 2008. Other opportunities, such as an MITEI Practice School, are under discussion.

The Campus Energy Task Force has already awarded student grants for campus energy projects ranging from a wind turbine design competition to a campaign encouraging the use of revolving doors. A second round of funded projects will be announced soon. An exciting parallel development is the generation of numerous student-led projects such as a dorm efficiency competition (won by McCormick Hall) and an award-winning plan to produce biodiesel from campus waste.

The Laboratory for Energy and the Environment has been brought under the MITEI umbrella, providing essential administrative and programmatic support for MITEI. Similarly, MITEI is leveraging the strong Corporate Relations/Industrial Liaison Program network to attract corporate financial support and Foundation Relations and Individual Giving to attract foundations and individual donors. This collaboration avoids duplicating efforts and minimizes the buildup of support infrastructures.

On the outreach front, MITEI held three colloquia during 2007. Professor George Whitesides spoke about exciting breakthrough opportunities in basic energy research. Lee Raymond, the former CEO and chairman of ExxonMobil, discussed the recently released report by the National Petroleum Council on global oil and gas issues. Sir Nicholas Stern spoke about the global climate change imperative. In addition, MITEI, with the support of the MIT Energy Club, recently hosted an Energy Salon for the MITEI Affiliate and Associate members; discussion focused on “Innovation Is an Energy Resource: Growing the Energy Industry in New England,” with a panel led by Professor Richard Lester, director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center.

The MITEI website is also up and running at . We encourage you to take a moment to visit this portal to energy activities at the Institute.

We anticipate adding new MITEI industry partners in the near future. With those partners will come additional energy research opportunities, new energy fellowships for the Institute, and a larger Energy Research Seed Fund to support creative proposals from across the campus. MITEI will also continue to support development of the next generation of energy innovators and entrepreneurs by helping to create education options that combine single-discipline depth with multidiscipline breadth and that use the campus itself as a teaching and learning tool.

Future issues of this newsletter—to be published twice yearly—will highlight energy research outcomes and energy-related activities at the Institute. I appreciate your ongoing interest in energy issues, MITEI, and the key role the Institute is playing to help address global energy challenges.


Professor Ernest J. Moniz
Director, MIT Energy Initiative

In This Issue

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Rechargeable batteries: nanoscale clues to higher power
Students develop methodology for assessing options to cut campus energy use, emissions
Energy-related environmental change
MIT competes in DOE’s Solar Decathlon
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