MITEI’s Future Energy Systems Center launches 12 new projects to accelerate the energy transition

At their Spring Workshop, the Center kicked off a new set of energy projects, with topics ranging from optimizing energy storage to transporting hydrogen energy.

Charlotte Whittle MITEI

The MIT Energy Initiative’s (MITEI) Future Energy Systems Center kicked off 12 projects committed to advancing a clean energy transition at their Spring Workshop in May. The projects explore optimizing energy storage, hydrogen transport, CO2 capture, and EV charging optimization, among other topics. These projects will continue the Center’s focus on systems-oriented research, allowing for holistic, multisectoral analyses of current energy challenges across a variety of disciplines.

MITEI Director William H. Green stressed the importance of this strategy: “A systems approach—where academia, industry, and government work together to provide many perspectives on a problem—allows us to see the whole problem as a system, hopefully leading to more optimal solutions for society.”

The Future Energy Systems Center—MITEI’s industry research consortium—seeks to provide insight on navigating the energy transition through analyses of evolving technologies, policies, and economics that are reshaping the energy landscape. The Center awards a new set of projects twice per year.

The projects now starting their research are:

Ammonia as a hydrogen carrier

Ammonia’s ability to be transported and stored in liquid form presents a significant advantage for its role as a hydrogen carrier, making ammonia a focus in hydrogen decarbonization strategies. This project will use techno-economic and lifecycle analyses—coupled with trade modeling between potential exporters and importers—to explore the creation of a global ammonia supply chain, eventually building a framework for optimizing costs and emissions in short-term (2030) and long-term (2050) scenarios.

PIs: Daniel Cohn, research scientist at MITEI; Leslie Bromberg, principal research engineer at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center; Guiyan Zang, research scientist at MITEI; and Ruaridh Macdonald, research scientist at MITEI

CO2 capture and conversion

Co-location of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and conversion allows for both processes to operate in the same plant, eliminating the need to compress and transport CO2 between locations and reducing energy and capital requirements. This project will analyze the where (geographic location), what (valuable product from conversion), and who (industry) of co-location across a spectrum of options, then use techno-economic models and case studies to identify the most optimal where/what/who application for co-location.

PI: Kripa Varanasi, professor of mechanical engineering

EV charging optimization

Electric vehicles (EVs) are gaining traction as a sustainable transportation solution, but widespread adoption will require strategic advancements in EV infrastructure. This project will leverage innovative AI-based methods to optimize the distribution and management of charging stations, estimate charging demand, and increase energy efficiency. Using machine learning–based methods, the researchers will develop time-of-use rates, incentivizing users to charge during off-peak hours and minimizing strain on the grid during high-demand periods.

PIs: Chuchu Fan, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems; Yossi Sheffi, director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics; Charles Fine, professor of operations management and engineering systems; and Elenna Dugundji, research scientist at the Center for Transportation and Logistics

Hydrogen separations

Leveraging existing natural gas distribution infrastructure is vital to expanding the access of hydrogen to unconventional end uses like passenger vehicles and building heating; however, this approach requires hydrogen to be blended with natural gas as transporting hydrogen alone would damage the infrastructure. In support of this approach, this project will evaluate the ideal separation system for hydrogen end-use applications and develop a framework for selecting new systems as technologies evolve.

PI: Zachary Smith, professor of chemical engineering

Maritime fuel supply chain

The International Maritime Organization has set a goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the maritime shipping sector—which currently accounts for 3% of GHG emissions—by 2050. This project aims to catalyze and inform global efforts to decarbonize this critical industry by building a maritime fleet model to compare the costs, emission impacts, and regional supply chain viability of alternative low-carbon fuel pathways. The researchers will also evaluate science-informed best-case limits of technologies and processes critical to the alternative pathways, and develop harmonized metrics to compare their GHG and non-GHG impacts. Using these assessments, the team can gauge the maritime transport sector’s ability to meet future demand while transitioning to low-carbon fuels.

PI: Elsa Olivetti, Associate Dean of Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering

Methane pyrolysis by-products

 Hydrogen—an increasingly important energy source for decarbonization—can be produced through methane pyrolysis, which converts methane into hydrogen and solid carbon. This project proposes that incorporating the carbon by-product of this process into the U.S. building and pavement sectors can reduce their GHG emissions, while improving the economic viability of hydrogen production. The GHG impact of carbon by-product incorporation in these sectors will be evaluated in two areas: reduction in the quantity of construction materials required to strengthen structures and improvement in the impact of pavement on fuel consumption.

PIs: Randolph Kirchain, principal research scientist at the Materials Systems Lab (MSL); Richard Roth, director of and research associate at MSL; and Hessam Azarijafari, research scientist in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Ocean carbon dioxide removal

 Anthropogenic CO2 sequestration has the potential to mitigate climate change, but quantifying CO2 removal—measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV)—will be a challenging, yet vital, aspect of this process to support a global carbon market. CO2 sequestration utilizing the ocean has profound mitigation potential, but the dynamic nature of the ocean adds complexity to reliable MRV. This project proposes that MRV operations must be monitored in close proximity to marine carbon dioxide removal (mCDR) sites to improve the reliability of data. The researchers hope to demonstrate the importance of this to the mCDR community and key national and international stakeholders.

PI: Thomas Peacock, associate professor of mechanical engineering

Solid-state batteries lifecycle

Solid-state batteries are energy dense, low risk, and have design flexibility, making them prime candidates for energy storage applications. This project aims to develop a consistent framework for comparing the performance, cost, emissions, and risks of various solid-state batteries—a framework that will become increasingly important as solid-state batteries move towards large-scale deployment. These findings will inform the evaluation of different solid-state batteries in real applications and the creation of guidelines for different applications.

PIs: Sili Deng, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Jianan Zhang, research scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Guiyan Zang, research scientist at MITEI

Stored energy market

Grid operators must ensure resource adequacy by maintaining a balanced supply and demand across the electric grid through optimal use of generation and storage assets, especially in anticipation of stressed events. This project will use a stochastic optimization model to explore the optimal investment and utilization of energy storage, informing capacity market rules for storage assets. The researchers aim to incentivize optimal investment and utilization in storage assets through energy reserve market design.

PI: John Parsons, deputy director for research at the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research

Terrestrial hydrogen sinks 

Atmospheric hydrogen (H2) is an “indirect” GHG—meaning that increases in its concentration increase the lifetimes of powerful GHGs, like methane. Bacteria in soil consume atmospheric H2, maintaining its concentration, but changes in climate and land use/management may reduce this consumption. This project will determine the extent of this change in consumption, assess the impact this has on the lifetime of powerful GHGs, and identify tipping points for the climate impacts of hydrogen leakages from hydrogen-based energy technologies.

PIs: Adam Schlosser, senior research scientist at the MIT Center for Global Change Science; Ron Prinn, professor of earth, atmosphere, and planetary sciences; and Sebastian Eastham, senior lecturer at the Imperial College of London

Thermal energy storage

Thermal energy storage (TES) has significant potential to decarbonize energy systems given its simple construction, low energy costs, and capacity for long duration storage. Despite the variety in concepts and designs of TES, capacity expansion planning tools—which show how new technologies and policies will impact the energy system—model most TES in the same way. This project will develop detailed models of TES and use case studies to highlight the impact these updated models have on operations and decarbonization strategies.

PIs: Ruaridh Macdonald, research scientist at MITEI; and Guiyan Zang, research scientist at MITEI

Unifying inverter control

 As the electric energy system accommodates increased use of renewables, there is increasing need for fast automatic control during faults and reconfigurations. This project aims to establish a systematic approach to managing these electromagnetic transient (EMT) operating problems fueled by inadequate inverter control, while also allowing for better utilization of grid capacity and renewables. The researchers propose that deploying automatic inverter control in bulk-, distribution-, and micro-grids can suppress EMTs.

PI: Marija Ilic, joint adjunct professor of electrical engineering and computer science and senior research scientist at the MIT Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems

These 12 projects were selected for funding in November 2023 and invited to discuss their project plans at the Spring Workshop in May 2024. These project selections are the culmination of the Center’s biannual selection process. In fall 2023, the Center received 89 project submissions. Of these, 48 project teams were invited to give lightning talk presentations and discuss their proposed projects with representatives from Center member companies, who then nominated projects for funding on behalf of their organization. Final selections are made by the MIT Steering Committee—comprised of MIT faculty—based on member nominations, project impact, and balancing of the Center’s portfolio.


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