MIT issues call to arms on energy

University issues report calling for accelerated move to cleaner, more efficient energy sources.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--The Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a preliminary report on Wednesday that calls for technology development and government policies to avert a "perfect storm" forming around energy.

MIT's Energy Research Council report (click here for PDF) was the result of a year-long study. It concluded that industrialized nations need to accelerate a switch to cleaner and more efficient sources of fuel, a transition that could take 50 years.

During a presentation at the university on Wednesday, MIT President Susan Hockfield said that addressing the world's energy problems "is one of the most urgent challenges of our time."

Susan Hockfield
Credit: MIT
Susan Hockfield,
President, MIT

The university intends to create a permanent energy laboratory or center within five years, which it will do over several phases. Its report calls for the creation of several multidisciplinary programs, each requiring up to several million dollars in funding per year.

Hockfield said that interest in energy is higher than it has been in a generation, and she expects that interest to remain high in the coming years.

She said a combination of rising energy demand around the world, security issues related to energy, and environmental problems--notably global warming and climate change--from pollution "are not going away."

"I think the energy challenge is far more pressing than the energy challenge that presented itself 20 years ago," Hockfield said.

In her inaugural university address last May, Hockfield called for the creation of the 16-member Energy Research Council, which involves all of MIT's schools.

Council co-chair Ernest Moniz, from MIT's physics and engineering systems divisions, said that the worldwide energy picture is very complex and resists a single solution.

Instead, during a presentation on Wednesday, he called for research in a broad range of topics, including nanomaterials to improve the conductivity of fuel cell catalysts as well as improvements in renewable energy and energy storage.

"There is no silver bullet," said Moniz. "All of this is really about options, technologies and policies to provide to the marketplace to respond."

Moniz said the council will involve faculty from several different disciplines and will work with both government and industry partners.

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