MITEI is committed to working on key elements of the complex energy challenge through multidisciplinary research activities shaped so as to address the linked supply and demand, security, and environmental challenges.


This software from MIT whiz kids is designed to electrify India

This software from MIT whiz kids is designed to electrify India

With a quarter of India's population still in the dark, Gridform could help rural electrification projects happen smarter and faster.

August 27, 2014Read more

Science and technology for a clean energy future

Enabling basic research is needed to underpin critical breakthroughs that can fundamentally alter energy systems, at large scale, several decades into the future, and to accelerate the implied transformations. Such pre-competitive research has a time scale well suited to the university environment, both because its impact is often beyond the time horizon for individual firms and because it prepares future leaders of forefront research. Many of the expressed faculty interests fall in this part of the portfolio:

  • Renewable energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal, waves, biofuels),
  • Electrochemical energy storage and conversion,
  • Core enabling science and technology (e.g., superconducting and cryogenic components, nanotechnology and materials, Transport phenomena); and
  • Nuclear fusion.

Improving today’s energy systems

Needless to say, the impact of MIT’s energy research activities, now and in the future, will be measured not only by how they contribute to the science and technology base for the long term energy system transformation, but also by how they help evolve today’s energy infrastructure towards lower cost, enhanced security, and less environmental impact over the next decade or two. This work is inherently closer to the marketplace and will need especially close coordination and partnership with industry. Again, many faculty are committed to enhanced efforts in this context:

  • Advanced nuclear reactors and fuel cycles that address cost, safety, waste, and nonproliferation objectives;
  • Affordable supply of fossil-derived fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) from both conventional and unconventional sources and processes;
  • Key enablers such as carbon sequestration;
  • Thermal conversion and utilization for dramatically enhanced energy efficiency, including in industrial uses;
  • Enhanced reliability, robustness, and resiliency of energy delivery networks; and
  • System integration in energy supply, delivery, and use.

In addition to technology advances, near term progress hinges critically on better understanding of societal and policy opportunities and barriers to energy system development. MIT has a strong faculty cadre experienced in the integration of technology, policy, and analysis that can help shape the public debate on energy system development and advance an “honest broker” role in complex societal decisions. Some policy work will be integrated directly with technology development programs, while other areas of interest include:

  • Learning from the past and understanding current public attitudes towards energy systems,
  • Sound economic analysis of proposed policies for energy development and greenhouse gas mitigation,
  • Understanding and facilitating the energy technology innovation process; and
  • In-depth integrative energy and technology policy studies that draw from faculty across the campus.

Energy utilization in a rapidly evolving world

The large projected increases in global population and energy demand, led by those in developing and emerging economies, are a defining need for new energy technology and policy and serve as a reminder that an international perspective is central to framing the research agenda. Issues such as functioning of oil markets or climate change are inherently global in nature. And yet, certain technology opportunities can be pursued most easily to good purpose in the least-developed economies, where limited infrastructure may pose less complication for new energy architectures – if solutions are advanced promptly enough. Demographic trends, such as significant urbanization, will also call for creative approaches to energy delivery. Examples of multidisciplinary faculty interest include:

  • Science and policy of climate change;
  • Advanced, energy-efficient building technologies;
  • Advanced transportation systems, from novel vehicle technologies and new fuels to systems design including passenger and freight networks; and
  • “Giga-city” design and development, particularly in the developing world.

These portfolio elements and specific areas of interest may not represent the full range of activity sometime down the road, but they do capture a range of capability and interest that augurs well for a heightened and sustained MIT focus on the energy challenge.