Initiative leadership guides energy goals


The buzz around energy--new ways of making it, saving it, using it--is whirring in Washington, in corporate boardrooms, in governments around the world and out on the street. At MIT, the buzz is closer to a roar.

In late 2006, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) was formed. The initiative resulted from MIT President Susan Hockfield's aspiration to marshal MIT's capabilities to address global energy challenges.

In a Boston Globe op-ed piece in December 2006, Hockfield distinguished the global energy challenge from the space race. Like Project Apollo, she wrote, the energy challenge will require a "similar commitment in funding, policies and passion," but "more than a discrete undertaking with a single goal, the energy project will have to deliver a broad portfolio of solutions, playing out on timetables measured over a few years to several decades."

Hockfield is convinced that MIT has the expertise to help deliver those solutions.

Director Ernest J. Moniz, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, Deputy Director Robert C. Armstrong, the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering, and a six-member faculty Energy Council lead the initiative.

The initiative will channel the talents of MIT students and faculty to help meet the global energy challenge by enhancing energy research opportunities and outcomes, supporting the educational needs of MIT students, promoting sustainable energy values and technologies on the MIT campus and establishing a major campus dialogue on energy and associated environmental challenges.

The initiative will support these objectives by pursuing substantial new funding. "We have been able to utilize initial funding from diverse sources--from the Institute, from industry and from private donors--to seed early-stage activities for each of the initiative's focus areas," Moniz said.

The initiative has funded innovative energy research projects involving four MIT schools. It has supported several graduate fellowships in various energy-related disciplines, supported development of a new energy-focused undergraduate course, established a student fund for campus energy projects, sponsored colloquia and launched a new web site to spotlight MIT energy activities.

Moniz expressed excitement about the initiative and the growing interest in energy at MIT. "These activities complement many others taking root across the campus. We are deeply engaged in discussions with a range of energy companies--developing research collaborations that will meet both the strategic needs of industry and the educational and research needs of the Institute," he said.

Moniz acknowledged that a lot of work remains. "We are in the building stage, but six months after its launch, the initiative's building blocks are in place and we're getting traction. These early successes point to a robust, well-rounded program by the fall," he said.

New MITEI research seed programs involve novel approaches, such as self-assembling materials for solar conversion, as well as understanding the role of the automobile in global systems and exploring the wide-ranging economic impacts of climate change. "These seed fund programs demonstrate the art of the possible for the initiative by providing the faculty with resources they need to launch exciting research based on new ideas and new capabilities," Moniz said.

The excitement on campus is catching. This year, MIT student energy groups and activities went into overdrive. Students hosted conferences headlined by big names on the local and national energy scenes. They spearheaded efforts to make the MIT campus more sustainable-energy-friendly, winning a national competition to help fund a biodiesel station on campus. MIT students also went global, leading an international consortium on sustainable transportation technologies.

In March, the student-organized 2007 MIT Energy Conference, "Energy 2.0: Solving Tomorrow's Energy Challenges Through Entrepreneurship, Technology & Policy," attracted 550 energy professionals, investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, academics and graduate students.

In the past two years, student groups have coordinated events to boost recycling, create a car capable of traveling 200 miles on a single gallon of fuel or build a house powered entirely by the sun.

The members of the Energy Council are: Angela M. Belcher, Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering; John M. Deutch, Institute Professor (chemistry); Leon R. Glicksman, George Macomber Professor of Construction Management Professor of Building Technology and Mechanical Engineering; Rebecca H. Henderson, George Eastman Kodak LFM Professor of Management; Paul L. Joskow, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics and Management; Emanuel M. Sachs, Fred Fort Flowers '41 and Daniel Fort Flowers '41 Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 9, 2007 (download PDF).


Topics: Energy, Environment, Administration, Faculty

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