Energy Futures

Winter 2023

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Letter from the director

Dear friends,

As I write, COP27 has just concluded in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Climate-fueled disasters brought urgency to the negotiations and to our mission to rid our energy systems of greenhouse gas emissions. MITEI Deputy Director for Science and Technology Robert Stoner attended the climate conference, along with several of our students, as part of MIT’s delegation. While there, he met with leaders from emerging economy nations, such as Indonesia, Colombia, and South Africa, in connection with an MIT Climate Grand Challenges proposal that aims to help these countries adopt low-carbon economic growth trajectories. In this issue, you can read about some of his expectations and thoughts leading into the conference.

Here in the United States, Congress recently passed the most sweeping legislation in our history to address climate change. At our Fall Colloquium, MITEI External Advisory Board member Philip R. Sharp, the former president of Resources for the Future and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke optimistically about this new federal surge in action and spending, which he predicted will have vast spillover effects around the globe.

On campus, research efforts continue to make strides toward a decarbonized energy future. Read about exciting developments to produce cathodes for lithium-ion batteries more quickly and simply, and with less energy use and expense; the goal now is to speed commercialization and technology scale-up to further hasten the energy transition. You can also read about a promising MITEI study of the potential for vehicle-to-grid technology to leverage electric vehicles as “energy storage on wheels.” We highlight more battery-related research in this issue: As the world seeks economically viable, abundant materials for long-duration, grid-scale batteries, a new modeling framework can help by calculating the total cost of various options, taking into account not only capital costs but also operating expenses over the lifetime of the battery. We also look at a new low-cost battery architecture that uses three inexpensive, readily-available components: aluminum, sulfur, and salts.

Other articles focus on our education activities. In one interview, MITEI Director of Education Antje Danielson shares her vision for education as an energy transition accelerator—giving the learner the knowledge, skills, practical experience, and courage to jump into action. MITEI Deputy Director for Policy Christopher Knittel, a professor in the MIT Sloan School, is leading a promising new initiative called Climate Action Through Education; learn how Chris and his team are designing an interdisciplinary climate change curriculum in several core disciplines for U.S. high schools. Read about an MIT professor who brought eight students from Malden Catholic High School in Massachusetts to her lab last summer to develop electrodes for energy-generating bioreactors. And in this issue you’ll also find a profile of MIT undergraduate mechanical engineering major Sylas Horowitz, who has minors in energy studies and environment and sustainability. Sylas assembled and retrofitted a high-performance underwater drone to measure greenhouse gas emitted by thawing permafrost; the drone was deployed in the summer of 2022 on a field run in the Canadian high Arctic.

Our Focus on Faculty highlights Assistant Professor Michael Howland of civil and environmental engineering. He and his team have developed a model that predicts the power produced by individual wind turbines in a wind farm. The quantitative understanding of the wakes generated by front-row turbines—like the wakes that boats create in water—allows the team to intentionally misalign upwind turbines so downwind turbines face less wake turbulence, increasing the overall energy output of the wind farm.

And please don’t put this edition down before reading stories on six novel energy research projects receiving MITEI Seed Fund grants, as well as nine new projects from MITEI’s Future Energy Systems Center. They all share a common goal: to advance decarbonization.

I thank you as always for reading Energy Futures and for your support. Please stay in touch.

Yours in the energy transition,

Professor Robert C. Armstrong
MITEI Director

In This Issue

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Flow batteries for grid-scale energy storage

Guiding future research pathways

Using combustion to make lithium-ion batteries

Electricity storage for the energy transition

The MIT Energy Initiative’s Future Energy Systems Center funds nine new projects to propel research advancing decarbonization
A new concept for batteries made from inexpensive, abundant materials

Low-cost backup storage for renewable energy sources

Energy transition could leave fossil energy producers and investors with costly stranded assets
Michael Howland gives wind energy a lift
Sylas Horowitz: Responsive design meets responsibility for the planet’s future
3 Questions: Antje Danielson on energy education and its role in climate action
New multidisciplinary climate change curriculum for high schools aims to engage and mobilize teachers and students
Shrinky Dinks, nail polish, and smelly bacteria

High school students spend their summer building a low-cost fuel cell

MIT spinout Quaise Energy: Working to create geothermal wells made from the deepest holes in the world
3 Questions: Janelle Knox-Hayes on producing renewable energy that communities want
The MIT Energy Initiative creates joint framework to educate students with South Korean energy university KENTECH
One of the six novel energy research projects to win an MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund award will explore the use of space-based remote sensing to monitor energy infrastructure and emissions. Six novel energy research projects win MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund grants
Decarbonization amid global crises

At the MIT Energy Initiative Fall Colloquium, Philip R. Sharp highlighted dramatic steps the U.S. government has recently taken to combat climate change.

Reversing the charge

Battery power from electric vehicles to the grid could open a fast lane to a net-zero future

Unpacking U.S. climate and infrastructure laws

MIT Energy Initiative Deputy Director Robert Stoner takes stock of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and Inflation Reduction Act, and their potential impacts on the energy transition.

Advancing the energy transition amidst global crises

MIT Energy Initiative Annual Research Conference highlights both opportunities and obstacles in the race to a net-zero future

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