Research

Future Energy Systems Center

An industry research consortium providing insights on how best to navigate the energy transition based on multisectoral analyses of emerging technologies, changing policies, and evolving economics.

About the Center

The Future Energy Systems Center examines the accelerating energy transition as emerging technology and policy, demographic trends, and economics reshape the landscape of energy supply and demand. The Center conducts integrated analysis of the energy system, providing insights into the complex multisectoral transformations that will alter the power and transportation systems, industry, and built environment. Our work draws upon MIT research in traditional energy-related disciplines, as well as from cross-disciplinary fields such as energy and environmental policy, climate science, carbon management, energy economics, behavioral science, cybersecurity, information technology, and artificial intelligence.

Looking for the Low-Carbon Energy Centers? The Low-Carbon Energy Centers have been integrated into MITEI’s new Future Energy Systems Center, announced in spring 2021 as part of MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade. All existing consortium-based LCEC projects and memberships continue within the Future Energy Systems Center.

How it works

The Future Energy Systems Center serves as a single point of entry into MITEI and the MIT energy research community at large. As a member-supported consortium, the Center continues MITEI’s long history of working with companies throughout the energy sector. Member companies will include both energy suppliers and consumers demonstrating the impact decarbonization will have on a wide range of industries. The Center brings together ongoing technoeconomic and systems-oriented research from MITEI’s Low-Carbon Energy Centers into one unified center, creating a holistic energy system analysis capability with integrated research focus areas. These will initially include electric power, energy storage and low-carbon fuels, transportation, industrial processes, carbon management, and the built environment. Members are invited to participate in all focus area working groups without limit.

Our work rests on two pillars: MITEI’s world-class range of capabilities in energy system modeling and analysis; and the cutting-edge campus-wide energy technology research program overseen by MITEI, spanning all of MIT’s departments, as well as our affiliated policy research centers including the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) and the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Combining our deep knowledge of technology and modeling enables us to investigate the potential for emerging supply and demand-side technologies, along with policy to impact the energy system of the future—exposing new opportunities and threats within a host of industries, as well as unmet research needs.

Benefits

Help shape the Center’s research agenda

Engage with MIT research teams and other industry leaders

Receive timely analysis, including cutting-edge research findings and insights

Participate in monthly seminars addressing emerging technologies, energy policy, and sustainability issues

Attend MITEI’s Annual Research Conference, framing the latest technology, economic and policy drivers shaping the energy landscape

Attend MITEI’s Spring Symposium, offering a deeper understanding of a timely energy transition topic

Projects

To combat global warming, the electricity sector has to go through a rapid decarbonization to reach a clean power system by mid-century. Expected features of such a system are significantly more wind and solar generation, substantial storage resources, some carbon capture and storage capability, and much deeper coupling between the power grid and other sectors, such as electrified transportation.

This project is focused on:

  1. Understanding the potential and limitations of the existing operating methodologies in the new environment of power grids with high penetration of renewables
  2. Developing data-driven stochastic and robust optimization models for real-time dispatch and commitment, and machine learning capabilities for reducing wind and solar generation uncertainty and speed-up of real-time decision-making processes

Principal investigator: Andy Sun

Concerns over climate change along with rapidly falling costs of clean energy technologies have led to increased scrutiny over the role of fossil-fuels in a low-carbon energy future.

This project is focused on:

  1. Evaluating the role of natural gas-fired power plants (NG) in future electrical grids using an advanced, multi-period capacity expansion modeling framework with perfect foresight
  2. Modeling cost-optimal grid operations, investments, and retirements through 2050 using a detailed representation of the American Southeast’s electrical grid which includes inter-region transmission, variable renewable energy resource characteristics, brownfield capacity and lifetime and economic retirements
  3. Examining several pathways to a highly decarbonized grid, assuming rapid growth in energy demand through mid-century

Principal investigator: Dharik Mallapragada

Addressing climate change will require decarbonizing industrial processes, which accounted for 26% of global CO2 emissions in 2019.

This project is focused on:

  1. Studying alternate low-carbon routes for production of ethylene using a multi-scale analysis approach
  2. Utilizing techno-economic (TEA) and systems analysis to study the cost, scalability and life cycle environmental impact of four alternative decarbonization approaches for ethylene production
  3. Designing and characterizing a new class of active anode materials to enable an emerging decarbonization route via electrochemical oxidative coupling of methane

Principal investigators: Dharik Mallapragada, Elsa Olivetti, Bilge Yildiz

This project is focused on:

  1. Understanding the factors influencing consumer willingness to adopt MaaS as a substitute for private vehicle ownership
  2. Measuring the "option value" of owning a car separately from the utility of using a car in the U.S.
  3. Exploring the system-level attributes of MaaS that will be most important in determining its competitiveness with the private automobile

Principal investigators: David Keith, Joanna Moody

To transition to a carbon neutral building stock by 2050, the annual retrofit rate of less than 1% today will need to increase to 4-5% while all new construction will need to be carbon neutral by 2030.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing a techno-economic adoption model for various building retrofit packages
  2. Calibrating the model based on a combination of historic adoption costs of select technologies including photovoltaics, double pane windows and solid-state lighting, as well as new user surveys

Principal investigator: Christoph Reinhart

Buildings are a major source of carbon emissions. Their decarbonization demands two main actions: electrifying the heating loads to eliminate emissions from gas or oil burning, and implementing energy efficiency measures, particularly, weatherization to reduce the energy consumption.

This project is focused on:

  1. Improving MIT's DECARB model by characterizing heat pumps and batteries accurately
  2. Improving the thermal enclosure representation of buildings in the DECARB model
  3. Adding socioeconomic features into the model to compensate the energy transition "losers"—typically, low-income consumers

Principal investigators: Pablo Duenas-Martinez, Karen Tapia-Ahumada

Over 60% of hiring managers in the U.S. plan to increase the location and schedule flexibility of work arrangements on a permanent basis. This disruption of the status quo and uncertainty about future travel demand creates a need for a more responsive mobility system that adapts to constantly evolving demand patterns.

This project is focused on:

  1. Collecting primary data to understand the spatial and temporal changes in travel demand caused by a shift towards the future of work
  2. Developing a planning framework to design a transit-centric multimodal urban mobility system supported by shared mobility
  3. Generating insights into future travel demand evolution and developing the tools needed to support a transition towards sustainable urban mobility

Principal investigator: Jinhua Zhao

A promising geologic carbon sequestration strategy is CO2 mineralization, the conversion of gaseous CO2 into carbonate minerals. Basaltic rocks, because of their widespread occurrence and high reactivity have received great attention as an attractive sequestration approach. However, many challenges to geologic carbon sequestration in basaltic reservoirs remain regarding rock deformation, fluid flow and reaction rates.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing a better understanding of rock deformation of mineralization, and the concomitant volume, stress changes, and reaction rates
  2. Understanding the mechanical properties and pore structure changes that affect both geophysical parameters and fluid flow
  3. Developing and calibrating in a laboratory setting, sensitive monitoring methods for the geophysical and geochemical changes accompanying sequestration

Principal investigator: Matej Pec

Planning for the long-term evolution of the power system requires consideration of the uncertainty in key technology, economic, and policy drivers. Existing approaches to incorporate uncertainty in power system planning generally rely on formulating scenario-based stochastic programs, which are limited in the number of scenarios and investment stages that can be considered while maintaining computational tractability.

This project is focused on:

  1. Exploring new models for investment planning under uncertainty that use linear decision rules to incorporate multiple dimensions of uncertainty in a computationally scalable manner
  2. Demonstrating the value of the proposed multi-stage generation-planning formulation by exploring the collective impact of uncertainty in carbon policies, technology costs, and system demand on near-term investments in generation, networks and storage capacity

Principal investigator: Dharik Mallapragada

The potential growth in electricity demand in the building and transportation sectors would put pressure on local, low-voltage power networks causing significant grid operational challenges that will require mitigation measures and a better understanding the role of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs).

This project is focused on:

  1. Understanding the current landscape towards energy transition in terms of available technologies, business models, and evolving regulation
  2. Understanding the impacts of DERs in electricity distribution networks
  3. Investigating the role of efficient economic signals (cost-reflective electricity tariffs) in driving adoption of DERS and their operation

Principal investigators: Pablo Duenas-Martinez, Karen Tapia-Ahumada

In many countries most long-haul freight is carried by diesel trucks on highways, always with significant CO2 emissions and sometimes with significant particulate and NOx emissions.

This project is focused on:

  1. Assessing alternative powertrains and fuels combinations to see which offer significant advantages at reasonable cost
  2. Examining the emissions reduction potential of alternative powertrains and fuels
  3. Understanding the obstacles to deployment of alternative powertrains and fuels

Principal investigator: William Green

Hydrogen production is responsible for about 1% of global CO2 emissions, which predominantly come from steam methane reforming (SMR). To eliminate CO2 emissions, economically competitive approaches to making CO2-free hydrogen are needed.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing an extreme temperature methane pyrolysis process to achieve close to 100% single-pass conversion facilitated by an inert liquid metal (Tin) to avoid solid carbon plugging of the reactor
  2. Developing models of the pyrolysis reactor to better understand the conversion performance and temperature dependence
  3. Assessing the techno-economics and life cycle emissions of this pyrolysis process relative to alternative hydrogen production options

Principal investigators: Paul Barton, Asegun Henry

All transportation modes, including driving, walking, and cycling, have been impacted by the spread of COVID-19. Even when the virus is no longer a threat to public health, residual effects may influence activity, destination, and mode choices which in turn will impact transportation sector energy consumption.

This project is focused on:

  1. Quantifying the behavioral and preference change in the medium term after COVID-19
  2. Analyzing the change with sociodemographic data, built environment data, and different operational strategies of transportation
  3. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on mobility for different social groups, and what operational strategies, infrastructure and equipment changes may help them recover, and translate the behavioral changes into energy consumption estimates

Principal investigator: Jinhua Zhao

A promising pathway for decarbonization of heavy-duty transport includes the use of hydrogen directly, or producing synthetic fuels from electricity and/or H2 and captured CO2 streams that can directly substitute for current petroleum-based, hydrocarbon fuels such as diesel.

This project is focused on:

  1. Evaluating the system-wide greenhouse (GHG) emissions and cost impacts of pursuing transport decarbonization via different penetration levels of electricity, H2, and synthetic fuels
  2. Expanding energy systems modeling tools on electricity-H2 infrastructure planning to include alternative CO2 supply sources and synthetic fuel production pathways while accounting for their operating and investment costs as well as power system impacts
  3. Applying expanded energy systems modeling tools to investigate pathways for power and transport sector decarbonization for European countries near the North Sea

Principal investigator: Dharik Mallapragada

Mitigation of global warming trends caused by rapid CO2 accumulation in the environment requires carbon dioxide removal. There are potential opportunities for distributed smaller-scale capture units to be placed strategically where high CO2 concentration levels could provide enhanced thermodynamic and kinetic performance, and/or that take advantage of existing and planned infrastructure.

This project is focused on:

  1. Assessing the technical feasibility of carbon removal from urban and non-urban environments using distributed capture units, with consideration to logistics of collection and disposal/use of captured CO2, aesthetics, societal acceptance, and policy
  2. Developing a clear picture of the appropriate research and technology development needs, and an assessment of their relative merits, for collecting CO2 from a wide variety of locations (large-scale units, distributed units, off-shore or on-shore ocean water, rivers, lakes, and dams, etc.)
  3. Identifying materials and engineering needs to ensure acceptable capital and operational costs of such systems

Principal investigators: Betar Gallant, T. Alan Hatton

Decarbonization of the transportation sector through a transition to electric and hydrogen vehicles requires adequate infrastructure for electric vehicle (EV) fast-charging and hydrogen fueling.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing a novel energy distribution optimization tool (OP-EVH2) for local planning of EV fast-charging and hydrogen fueling stations to study the impact of investments on local electricity distribution networks
  2. Investigating the role of distributed energy resources such as solar PV, energy storage, and electrolyzers in decreasing the burden on the electricity distribution system
  3. Developing a planning and operation optimization framework accounting for the local electricity and hydrogen demands from the transportation sector, local renewables and energy storage investments, and on-site hydrogen production

Principal investigator: Audun Botterud

Hydrogen has the potential to play a central role in a future low-carbon energy system. However, realizing its full potential will require annual production of hydrogen at the gigaton scale, orders of magnitude higher than current production levels.

This project is focused on:

  1. Benchmarking the costs and life cycle emissions of hydrogen production via natural gas autothermal reforming (ATR) with carbon capture
  2. Performing techno-economic analysis of three types of existing electrolysis technologies (PEM, Alkaline, Solid-Oxide) and two emerging electrolysis approaches (anion exchange membranes (AEM) and intermediate temperature)
  3. Investigating the potential of intermediate temperature (200 to 500 °C) electrolysis technologies using nano-composite gel electrolytes

Principal investigators: Dharik Mallapragada, Yogesh Surendranath

In transitioning toward a low-carbon transportation system, refueling infrastructure is crucial for the viability of alternative fuel vehicles but requires significant government and private investment.

This project is focused on:

  1. Conducting research on travel patterns, electric vehicle charging demand, and electric vehicle adoption to develop a model of consumer vehicle and travel choices
  2. Utilizing the data to look for evidence of complementarity spillovers across space in refueling, which is the idea that one location may be more valuable to the rest of the refueling network than its own profits
  3. Simulating the profits of electric vehicle charging networks as well as adoption rates of electric vehicles with different pricing and location strategies of charging networks

Principal investigator: Jing Li

Recent work has shown that introducing 5-10% of actuated vehicles (e.g. autonomous vehicles (AVs)) can significantly alleviate congestion in idealized traffic scenarios. Teaching human drivers congestion-mitigation techniques, which are currently implementable by AVs, can have significant beneficial impact.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing a machine learning approach for designing driver guidance to enable improvements in congestion
  2. Studying the approaches, capabilities and implementation trade-offs using numerical experiments to derive theoretical performance guarantees, and perform a region-specific cost-benefit analysis
  3. Creating a personalized app that will provide drivers with basic suggestions to help modify their driving in real-time to improve congestion at scale and in resource-constrained contexts

Principal investigator: Cathy Wu

Replacing fossil fuels with biofuels is one of the major ways to decarbonize transportation.

This project is focused on:

  1. Assessing the scalability of biomass availability from dedicated land use and from waste and residues, and evaluating global and regional transportation demands, with a particular focus on aviation and shipping
  2. Quantifying the tradeoffs for biomass supply and demand, utilizing and enhancing the global multi-region multi-sector economy-wide MIT Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model, considering many complex physical and socio-economic relationships and feedbacks
  3. Developing an understanding of the opportunities for biomass feedstocks for fuels, chemicals, and other uses and assessing different sectors of the economy where biomass use will generate the highest value in terms of accelerating the energy transition

Principal investigators: Sergey Paltsev, Kristala Prather

There is growing interest among policymakers, regulators and utilities to expand electrification to an increasing number of end-use sectors as a way to meet long-term economy-wide decarbonization goals. Electrification effectively shifts the burden of emission reductions to the power sector, where the availability of multiple zero-carbon generation and storage technologies lowers barriers to decarbonization.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing scalable decision-support frameworks for joint infrastructure planning with adequate representation of temporal and spatial variability in cross-sectoral interactions in order to understand the merits of electrification of various end-uses
  2. Developing extensions to power system capacity expansion models (e.g. GenX) to include possible investment in alternative energy vectors for decarbonizing difficult-to-electrify sectors
  3. Examining modeling interactions between electricity and gas infrastructure and the possibility of retrofitting existing gas infrastructure to be compatible with hydrogen use

Principal investigator: Dharik Mallapragada

Use of electrification in space heating of buildings is attractive as it eliminates distributed sources of CO2 emissions, has associated efficiency benefits, leverages existing infrastructure and could provide a potentially flexible demand-side resource to support variable renewable energy (VRE) integration. However, it could also introduce significant seasonal fluctuations in electricity demand, lead to winter peaking electricity systems in cold climate regions like the U.S. Northeast and increase the complexity of planning low-carbon grids of the future, which are also resilient to extreme weather events.

This project is focused on:

  1. Understanding demand-side impacts of heat electrification under various technology adoption scenarios at sufficiently granular spatial and temporal resolution to support decision-making.
  2. Assessing distribution network operation and planning to quantify levels of beneficial electrification achievable across typical feeder architectures under a range of technology and policy scenarios, spanning alternative retail tariff design and DER deployment.
  3. Exploring the bulk energy system impacts of heating electrification vs. the use of other approaches, such as use of hydrogen produced from electricity or other low-carbon fuels, that is subsequently distributed via the existing gas infrastructure. Specific attention is on understanding system resiliency and its implication on cost of alternative decarbonization pathways.

Principal investigators: Christopher Knittel, Dharik Mallapragada

In urban areas, in particular, renewable energy can help develop sustainable low-carbon neighborhoods while maintaining the reliability of electricity supply for the end users. In the zero-emission neighborhood concept, both the generation and consumer sides are equally important when it comes to making robust and efficient energy planning decisions.

This project is focused on:

  1. Developing an interdisciplinary framework to analyze the electricity requirements of an existing or future urban area to find the optimal mix of generation, storage, and demand solutions that meet local energy needs with low-carbon resources
  2. Developing a computationally efficient energy optimization framework that can be plugged into the existing urban modeling interface software, enabling detailed analysis of energy supply, demand, and decarbonization scenarios for existing or future urban areas
  3. Generating cost-effective guidelines for the planning and operation of distributed energy resources in urban areas, based on a holistic assessment of both supply and demand-side options, requirements, and constraints to achieve future decarbonization goals

Principal investigators: Audun Botterud, Christoph Reinhart

People

Florian Allroggen Research Scientist Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Anuradha Annaswamy Senior Research Scientist Department of Mechanical Engineering

Robert C. Armstrong Director MIT Energy Initiative

Steven Barrett Associate Department Head and Professor Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Audun Botterud Principal Research Scientist Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems

Fikile Brushett Associate Professor Department of Chemical Engineering

Randall Field Executive Director, Future Energy Systems Center MIT Energy Initiative

Betar Gallant Associate Professor Department of Mechanical Engineering

Emre Gençer Principal Research Scientist MIT Energy Initiative

William Green Professor Department of Chemical Engineering

Bradford Hager Professor Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

T. Alan Hatton Professor Department of Chemical Engineering

Howard Herzog Senior Research Engineer MIT Energy Initiative

Christopher Knittel Professor Sloan School of Management

Dharik Mallapragada Principal Research Scientist MIT Energy Initiative

Raanan Miller Center Research Lead for Electric Power MIT Energy Initiative

Caitlin Mueller Associate Professor Department of Architecture

Elsa Olivetti Associate Professor Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Sergey Paltsev Senior Research Scientist MIT Energy Initiative

John Parsons Senior Lecturer Sloan School of Management

Desiree Plata Associate Professor Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Kristala Prather Professor Department of Chemical Engineering

Christoph Reinhart Professor Department of Architecture

Apurba Sakti Former Research Scientist MIT Energy Initiative

Yang Shao-Horn Professor Department of Mechanical Engineering

Robert Stoner Deputy Director for Science and Technology MIT Energy Initiative

Andy Sun Associate Professor Sloan School of Management

Yogesh Surendranath Associate Professor Department of Chemistry

Bilge Yildiz Professor Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering

Jinhua Zhao Associate Professor Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Current members

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