Guest blogger: Francesca McCaffrey, MIT Energy Initiative
The future of energy was the topic addressed by MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) members in February at IHS Energy’s CERAWeek, one of the world’s largest energy conferences. This year, MIT participants discussed the new MITEI Low-Carbon Energy Centers, originally announced in the MIT Plan for Action on Climate Change in fall 2015.
“Because a large part of MITEI’s mission is to work closely with industry to help catalyze the transition to a low-carbon energy economy through research collaborations, it’s important for us to be here,” said Louis Carranza, associate director of MITEI. “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution in this regard, and MITEI is getting ahead of the curve by developing eight Low-Carbon Energy Centers.”
MIT’s week-long clean energy agenda culminated in an MIT faculty panel. Other MIT speakers included Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, Co-Director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy Andrew McAfee, MITEI Deputy Director for Science and Technology Robert Stoner, and MITEI Director of Research and Analysis Francis O’Sullivan SM ’04, EE ’06, PhD ’07.
O’Sullivan’s outlook for solar technologies—one of the focal areas of the Low-Carbon Energy Centers—was very positive: “Solar is the most abundant resource we have available to us, and significantly improved technology and cost have brought solar energy to a place where it’s finally at the big table.”
At the MIT plenary session, MITEI Director Robert Armstrong SM ’97 and IHS Vice Chair Dan Yergin moderated a panel that included two MIT professors of materials science and engineering, Yet-Ming Chiang ’80, ScD ’85 and Jeffrey Grossman, who showed the audience how new openings in materials design are allowing researchers to change chemical structures to achieve better energy storage and more efficient filtering in desalination, to name a few advancements.
On the same panel, Kristala Jones Prather ’94, associate professor in the department of chemical engineering, discussed advancements in synthetic biology, including the creation of new biofuels. “We consider all of biology to be our playground,” she said. “Anything nature uses, we try to engineer to use in the same way.” Yogesh Surendranath PhD ’11, assistant professor of chemistry, talked about how chemists are able to reverse classic energy reactions to use CO2 as a fuel, which could advance energy cycling.
Discussing MITEI’s role, Grossman said, “What MITEI really does so well is help bring people from science and industry together so we, as scientists, can understand how what we’re doing can have the most impact. We want to do research that’s going to be relevant, and there’s no way we can do that unless we have really strong partnerships with industry.”
Zuber added, “Participating in conferences like this one gives us at MIT the opportunity to lay out our ideas for a low-carbon future and encourage more partners to get involved with bringing those ideas to fruition. Rapidly transforming the global energy system to address the dangerous risks of climate change is a formidable challenge, and we need to bring as much talent and expertise to the table as we possibly can.”
MITEI also hosted a well-attended alumni event during CERAWeek. “There was so much energy among the alumni at the MITEI reception,” says Catherine Qin Shi, associate director of regional programs for the MIT Alumni Association. “It was exciting to see so many local MIT alumni and faculty, many of whom are also MIT alumni, together discussing the future of energy and connecting with one another.”