Top Ten Highlights of Cleantech in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

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Universities house the future, no one will deny that. Universities house the next generation of thinkers and doers, the ones that will work to make the planet better for the following generations to come. One of the primary universities that is taking clean technology to heart, understanding that its development is key for the future of not just the United States, but the world, is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT as it is more commonly known across the globe. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT is a powerhouse when it comes to clean technology. Below are just ten of the highlights associated with MIT and all it has done for the clean technology sector.

1 ) MIT Clean Energy Prize. The MIT Clean Energy Prize is one of the foremost university competitions in the world that provides applicants with the opportunity to demonstrate new and exceptional ways to effectively make clean energy a cost-effective concept that will bring about positive environmental impacts. Its mission statement says thus, “The MIT Clean Energy Prize will catalyze a new generation of clean energy solutions to meet the world’s energy challenge through innovation and entrepreneurship.” Since established in 2008, this innovation and venture creation competition has aided in the startup of a number of energy ventures, including Covalent Solar and Levant Power.

2 ) Sustainable Design. MIT has long been integrating various innovative systems and technologies into renovations of current buildings and creation of new buildings. This has put the university at the very head of sustainable building. MIT created a number of standards and goals to ensure that all new capital projects as well as renovations earn the LEED Silver Plus certification from the US Green Building Council. Two recent projects, the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Building and the Stata Center are LEED registered and are planning for certification. For example, the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Building uses heat recovery techniques that are incorporated into all HVAC systems, thereby reducing energy consumption.

3 ) MIT Finds New Way to turn Heat from the Sun to Electricity. In May of 2011, a number of MIT researchers and collaborators determined a way to create a high performance, and even less expensive way of creating electricity from the heat of the sun. This new system is able to produce power with a level of efficiency that is approximately eight times higher than what has been reported in the past for solar thermoelectric devices. While this new system cannot substitute current solar photovoltaics, it will be another way to tap into solar energy in an inexpensive fashion.

4 ) Creating New Opportunities in Renewable Energy. MIT understands that developing renewable energy sources to provide power to the campus and all campus operations is crucial for their sustainable energy portfolio. MIT has explored a number of practical, viable options for the development of new innovative projects for renewable energy. For instance, departmental collaboration between Health and Safety, the Environmental Programs Office, Environment, Lab for Energy and the Environment, and the Bates Laboratory are looking at the feasibility associated with installing technology for wind turbine power generation at the Middleton, Massachusetts MIT Bates Laboratory.

5 ) Increase in Solar Photovoltaic Power Systems. Just recently, the MIT Community Solar Power Initiative finished the installation of 25 advanced solar photovoltaic systems throughout the campus as well as the surrounding community. The initiative is supported by a grant given by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The three systems on the campus at MIT has led the university to reach a very important milestone – this is the very first large scale renewable power systems that are inter-connected to the power grid at MIT. This project has showcased MITs capabilities in providing renewable energy to the campus in a practical and reliable fashion.

6 ) MIT Receives Recognition for their Energy Programs. In 2011, the energy programs supported by MIT have garnered recognition from two separate organizations. For example, MIT was awarded the 2011 Go Green Award from the City of Cambridge for its numerous campus programs that address climate and energy concerns. As well, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership named the university a Business Leader for its partnership with NSTAR, a local utility provider, in creating the innovative MIT Efficiency Forward program.

7 ) MIT Energy Initiative. The MIT Energy Initiative, abbreviated as MITEI, was created in 2006. It is a campus-wide initiative that was designed to aid in the transformation of the global energy system into one that can meet future energy needs and improve current energy systems for tomorrow. Susan Hockfield, MIT president, said at her inaugural address in relation to the initiative, “[It is] our institutional responsibility to address the challenges of energy and the environment…Tackling the problems that energy and the environment present will require contributions from all our departments and schools…bringing scientists, engineers, and social scientists together to envision the best energy policies for the future.”

8 ) MIT and NSTAR Partner up for an Energy Efficiency Program. In 2010 MIT and NSTAR partnered together to create the MIT Efficiency Forward project to cut electricity use throughout the university by 15 percent in three years. It will be done through new and innovative programs, engagement by the staff, faculty, and students, as well as creating new approaches and technologies throughout MIT. In this three year time span, the university looks to save 34 million kilowatt hours.

“MIT Efficiency Forward will capitalize on one of MIT’s core strengths: the passion of our faculty, staff and students to tackle the world’s most challenging problems,” said MIT President Susan Hockfield. “Through this exciting new program, right here on the MIT campus, we will pursue one of the major opportunities to reduce energy consumption: finding smart, sensible, economic approaches to energy efficiency. Our participation in the program signals that the solutions for today’s climate and energy challenges will come not only from our research laboratories and classrooms, but also from practice-based management innovations.”

9 ) MIT Enhances their Bio-Based Energy Innovations. Recently, MIT has been hosting a new and innovative algae group at the roof of the Central Utility Plant. The algae being used is actually sequestering a portion of emitted carbon dioxide coming from the emission stream at the power plant. The algae also removes some of the nitrogen oxides, also known for polluting. The algae feeds on the carbon dioxide as well as the other pollutants, producing a type of biomass that may be converted into a number of biofuels, including biodiesel.

10 ) Turning MIT into a Learning Laboratory. A lot of MIT’s operations, including transportation fleets, systems for power generation, programs for recycling, and the building initiatives provide great opportunities to test and study new energy and environmental solutions. For instance, the Education Program of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment and the Environmental Programs Office teamed together to develop the Campus Sustainability UROP program. This program looks to increase educational involvement of all MIT undergraduate in terms of sustainability initiatives throughout the campus.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at shawn@watershedcapital.com

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.