Energy Futures

Winter 2024

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Letter from the director

Dear friends,

We have experienced an exceedingly busy—and inspirational—fall semester at MITEI. As we work to reform our energy system to address climate change—an effort that will require overcoming many challenges—here at MIT, there is hope. You will find that hope in these pages.

In September, MITEI hosted the Women in Clean Energy Education and Empowerment (C3E) Symposium, and it delivered on its topic: “Clearing hurdles to achieve net zero by 2050: Moving quickly, eliminating risks, and leaving no one behind.” Also in September, our Annual Research Conference highlighted strategies for large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In a keynote address, Jonah Wagner, chief strategist of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, said, “Most of the technologies that we need to deploy to stay close to the international target of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming are proven and ready to go.”

This edition of Energy Futures overflows with reporting on ground-breaking research from across the Institute. Our cover story addresses a major concern in designing promising nuclear power reactors based on molten salt—that radiation inside a nuclear reactor may increase the rate at which the salt corrodes and weakens metal components. In a specially designed experimental setup, the researchers found that radiation can decelerate corrosion in some metals under some conditions.

We also explore the development of an online model that enables users to determine the lowest-cost strategy for decarbonizing a selected U.S. regional power grid. In case studies, the researchers confirmed that the best strategy differs widely from region to region, and they uncovered an unexpected benefit of having both solar and wind resources available.

This year’s MITEI Seed Fund Program awarded $900,000 in grants to six novel projects that show promise for high-impact, transformative energy research. Among the projects is one that will assess the environmental, sustainability, and governance metrics now used by financial institutions to measure the impacts of mining for minerals needed for clean energy technologies. To date, the Seed Fund Program has supported 209 energy-focused projects with grants totaling $28.7 million.

As always, education is a central focus of MITEI and Energy Futures. You’ll read about fourth-year dual-degree MBA and chemical engineering PhD student Sydney Johnson, who has been modeling and analyzing ways to decarbonize steel manufacturing. You will also learn about a new MITEI series of online courses in sustainable energy, design, transportation, and policy. And don’t miss the story about the MIT Electric Vehicle Team’s work to build and track-test a hydrogen-powered electric motorcycle—with an eye on a future hydrogen-based transportation system.

We visit with Catherine Wolfram, the William F. Pounds Professor of Energy Economics at MIT Sloan, who is exploring ways to decarbonize global energy systems while also recognizing that energy plays a central role in spurring economic development. While serving in the U.S. Treasury Department from 2021 to 2022, Wolfram played a key role in setting a price cap on Russian natural gas after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The MIT-spinoff energy startup ecosystem also serves as a source of hope. We feature two startups in this edition. Form Energy is leveraging MIT research to manufacture batteries based on iron and air to help incorporate renewables into the grid. And Antora Energy is commercializing a thermal battery that stores electricity as heat when wind and solar generation is high and delivers either heat or electricity to large-scale manufacturers to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

I hope you will enjoy reading more about our work here at MITEI, MIT’s hub for energy research, education, and outreach. As we push forward with our urgent efforts to transform the energy system, I thank you for your interest and your support.

With best wishes,

Robert Stoner, PhD

In This Issue

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Decarbonizing the U.S. power grid

A new MIT online model for regional planning calculates the cost-optimized strategy for specific regions under a variety of constraints and assumptions.

Promising designs for nuclear power reactors using molten salt

Selecting the right metal can alleviate the corrosion problem.

Six innovative energy projects received MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund grants

Annual MITEI awards support research on carbon removal, novel materials for energy storage, improved power system planning, and more.

Study suggests energy-efficient route to capturing and converting CO2

The findings, based on a single electrochemical process, could help cut emissions from the hardest-to-decarbonize industries, such as steel and cement.

To improve solar and other clean energy tech, look beyond hardware

MIT study finds system deployment processes have been slow to improve over time—but must be addressed to lower clean energy costs in the future.

A delicate dance

Economist Catherine Wolfram balances global energy demands and the pressing need for decarbonization.

Embracing the future we need

MIT Sloan Professor Andy Sun works to improve the electricity grid so it can better use renewable energy.

Moving past the Iron Age

Graduate student Sydney Johnson looks at how to achieve greener steel.

Introducing new students to MIT’s energy landscape

Pre-orientation program for incoming first-year students provided an overview of energy-related activities and research.

Empowering the globe to mitigate climate change through MIT courses

MITx and MIT Energy Initiative launch new series in sustainable energy, design, transportation, and policy.

Power when the sun doesn’t shine

With batteries based on iron and air, Form Energy leverages MIT research to incorporate renewables into the grid.

MIT alumnus’ thermal battery helps industry eliminate fossil fuels

Antora Energy is commercializing a thermal battery that lets manufacturers use renewable energy around the clock.

3 Questions: How are cities managing record-setting temperatures?

Professor of urban and environmental planning David Hsu explains what municipal governments are doing as climate change accelerates.

The future of motorcycles could be hydrogen

MIT Electric Vehicle Team builds a unique hydrogen fuel cell–powered electric motorcycle.

No time to spare

At Clean Energy Education and Empowerment (C3E) symposium, women rally to beat the clock on climate change.

How to decarbonize the world, at scale

The MIT Energy Initiative’s Annual Research Conference highlights strategies for implementing large-scale reductions in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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