Confronting the World's Energy Crisis

MIT launches an initiative on energy and the environment.

“MIT must step up to the great global challenges of our day,” said President Susan Hockfield in her inauguration address on May 6. Foremost among them, she said, are energy and the environment. “Over the last 30 years, these two words – energy and the environment – have gotten a little tired, tired not from overuse but from lack of progress. I believe that the time for that progress is now,” said Hockfield. A few weeks later, she and former provost Robert Brown announced a new Institute-wide initiative to reshape energy-related research, education, and policy at MIT.

The heart of the new initiative is the Energy Research Council – 16 faculty members drawn from all of MIT’s schools. Last summer, the members met weekly in small groups with other faculty to learn about energy-related opportunities, needs, and obstacles. They also solicited opinions from undergrads and graduate students about energy research and curricula.

The council will present its final report in February. “We’re aimed toward making an impact on a 10-year time frame,” says Robert Armstrong, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, who cochairs the council with Ernest Moniz, codirector of energy studies at the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment. Council members hope that by next fall MIT will be well on its way to a plan for change.

“I think they have to create a differentiated program that does not go after the traditional energy-related programs of oil, gas, and coal,” says Don Paul ‘67, SM ‘69, PhD ‘77, vice president and chief technology officer at Chevron, which has had a long-standing partnership with MIT. A new approach might involve developing better ways of extracting, converting, and using fossil fuels, as well as advancing research in hydrogen, solar, biomass, and wind.

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