Energy Futures: Spring 2014

Read about energy-related research, education, campus activities, and outreach programs across the Institute.

MIT Energy Initiative

Energy Futures is published twice yearly by the MIT Energy Initiative.

Energy Futures
Main cover photo: Stuart Darsch
Design: Tim Blackburn

Updates on the MIT Energy Initiative

Robert C. ArmstrongA letter from the director
An update on activities of the MIT Energy Initiative. MITEI’s research, education, campus energy, and outreach programs are spearheaded by Professor Robert C. Armstrong, director.

Research Reports

Novel bromine batteryNovel bromine battery: Small-scale demo, large-scale promise
Left to right: William Braff PhD ’14, now of Exponent, Inc., Martin Z. Bazant of chemical engineering and mathematics, and Cullen Buie of mechanical engineering are developing a low-cost, high-capacity, rechargeable battery that could one day enable widespread adoption of intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Ocean microbes display a hidden talentOcean microbes display a hidden talent: releasing countless tiny lipid-filled sacs
Steven Biller (left) and Sallie (Penny) Chisholm of civil and environmental engineering have discovered that abundant ocean-dwelling bacteria continually release tiny, never-before-observed spherical structures that contain lipids—a finding that could one day lead to new approaches for manufacturing biofuels.

Boosting solar efficiency: less wasted heat, more useful current Boosting solar cell efficiency: Less wasted heat, more useful current
Troy Van Voorhis of chemistry (left) and Marc Baldo of electrical engineering and computer science are designing and building solar cells that take advantage of a phenomenon first observed decades ago to generate more electricity and less waste heat from sunlight than had previously been thought possible.

A new way to capture CO2 emissions: Lower costs, easier installation
Aly Eltayeb of chemical engineering (left), Michael C. Stern PhD ’13, now at Exponent, Inc. (right), and T. Alan Hatton of chemical engineering are demonstrating an efficient, low-cost approach to capturing carbon dioxide from exhaust gases that is especially suited for installation at existing power plants as well as in manufacturing plants and confined spaces such as submarines and space shuttles.

New approach to emissions auditing: More honest reports, lower emissions
In a two-year study of environmental auditing in India, Nicholas Ryan MIT PhD '12, now of Harvard and JPAL (above), Esther Duflo and Michael Greenstone of MIT, and Rohini Pande of Harvard found that independent auditors gave more accurate reports on pollution than did auditors hired by firms—and in response, highly polluting plants cut their emissions.

Research News

MITEI Seed Fund Program MIT Energy Initiative announces latest seed grant awards
The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has announced its latest round of seed grants to support early-stage innovative energy projects. A total of more than $1.6 million was awarded to 11 projects. Topics include new methods of designing and using catalysts; novel design concepts for batteries, energy harvesters, and capacitors; and assessment of natural gas technologies.

Focus on Faculty

Kerry Emanuel: Bringing global warming science from the classroom to the world
For decades, Professor Kerry Emanuel has educated students, politicians, the media, and even climate skeptics about the science behind climate change.


Energy alumni: Where are they now?
We check in on Cristina Botero PhD ’14, Lara Pierpoint SM ’08, PhD ’11, and Yogesh Ramadass SM ’06, PhD ’09.

Morals matter: New class explores energy and ethics
Lucas Stanczyk of political science (left) and Nathan Lee of the Technology and Policy Program are now developing The Ethics of Energy Policy, a new class scheduled to launch in fall 2015.

IAP students workingMIT community samples rich menu of 2014 Energy IAP offerings
This winter’s Energy Independent Activities Period, sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative, featured hands-on, student-led, interactive workshops; visits to local businesses; and informal networking events.

MIT faculty energize launch of Skoltech curriculum
The first-ever classes taught at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) brought an MIT-inspired energy curriculum to Russia in fall 2013 while offering MIT faculty the chance to try new ways of teaching.

Tata Center students seek innovative, affordable solutions to real-world problems in India
In January 2014, 49 graduate students from the Tata Center for Technology and Design spent four weeks meeting with companies, community members, and policy makers in India to identify projects for ongoing collaboration.

Campus Energy Activities

International Sustainability ConferenceMIT, Harvard host international sustainability conference
This June, MIT and Harvard University will jointly host the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) conference—an annual gathering of university officers, faculty, and others working to address critical challenges in sustainability both on campus and beyond.

MIT Generator launches campus sustainability projects
The MIT Generator event held February 26, 2014, brought nearly 40 students together with MIT facilities and sustainability staff to find practical ways to advance the Institute’s goals of integrating sustainability into all facets of operations.


MITEI at CERAWeek 2014 MIT researchers describe “energy game changers” at CERAWeek 2014
MIT Energy Initiative Director Robert Armstrong and other MIT researchers presented their research and insights at the annual IHS CERAWeek conference.

City grid at night MITEI analysis: Grid reliability and the role of natural gas
MIT Energy Initiative analysis suggests approaches to make the electricity system more resilient by improving its interdependency with natural gas.