Students visit the rising city of Masdar as part of Terrascope.

Students visit the rising sustainable city of Masdar.

Spring break means exploring the exotic reaches of Abu Dhabi for students in MIT’s Terrascope Program, the academic program that tackles a fresh global problem each year. You can be there too by reading the student blogs this week, with posts that share visits to a resplendent mosque and walking magnificent sand dunes and, in later days, digging into the science and technology that underpin the experimental city of Masdar and the Masdar Institute, the world’s first graduate institution devoted to renewable energy and sustainability.

These students, all freshmen, are engaged in Terrascope’s Mission 2013, focusing on capture and storage of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere.

One student wrote: “Highlights from yesterday were seeing the technologies that we’ve been researching so extensively actually being implemented. We saw a 10 megawatt field of photovoltaic solar panels (5MW of thin-film and 5MW of crystalline cells) and the magnitude of such a proposition became clear. Row after row of sun-speckled panels lined the desert floor like engineered vegetation. The technology made the area flourish….”

Visit the Mission 2013 Web site for more information on the technologies involved in Masdar city. You can learn more about the development of the Masdar Institute, which is modeled on MIT and began offering classes last fall.

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MIT is a powerhouse when it comes to problem solving. Some of the world’s most talented scientists engineers study and work at the Institute, and breakthroughs across different disciplines are often a part of daily life.

However some problems, particularly in the energy sector, transcend the scope of a single discipline and require a systems-wide approach. A new video by AMPS and the Alumni Association focuses on that multidisciplinary strategy, showing how innovation in energy technology has to be combined with innovation in business models and policies in order to create and promote a sustainable energy system.

View the seven minute Energy Innovation video above or watch it on TechTV.

MIT Global Startup Workshop

Register today for the MIT Global Startup Workshop.

Considering innovative start-up ideas? Looking to expand your entrepreneurial network on a global scale? Attend the MIT Global Startup Workshop, the world’s premier learning and networking opportunity for entrepreneurs. This year’s workshop will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, March 24–26, to the theme of Conquering the Economic Crisis with Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Green Energy. Its focus will be to interactively explore how to harness the powers of entrepreneurship and green-energy technologies to recover from the current economic crisis and create long-term sustainability. Iceland, a world leader in the emerging field of green energy, is the only country generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The student-run three-day conference is geared to up-and-coming and established entrepreneurial leaders, financiers, professors, students, government agents, and private parties looking to stimulate discussion, generate ideas, and share best entrepreneurial practices. It features inspirational talks, expert panel discussions, interactive case studies, breakout sessions, an elevator pitch competition, a business plan competition workshop, and plenty of opportunities for facilitated networking with participants from more than 60 nations. You’ll leave with a global support network for all stages of entrepreneurial activity.

“Three power-packed days—fun, eye-opening, inspirational.”
—GSW attendee

This year’s confirmed keynote speakers include:

  • Alf Bjørseth (founder of Renewable Energy Corporation)
  • Robin Chase SM ’86 (founder of Zipcar and GoLoco)
  • Nader F. Darehshori (former CEO of Houghton Mifflin)
  • Kenneth P. Morse (founder of 3Com and five other companies).

Join this unique community, experience the dynamic forum, and help build the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Register today.

Guest Blogger Shan Wu, graduate student in biological engineering

I am in Beijing for five months interning with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) through the MIT-China Program. UNIDO works with various developing countries to develop more sustainable industrial practices while maintaining economic growth. My project in China will study carbon emissions standards for consumer products.

Shan Wu visiting China's Great Wall.

Shan Wu visiting China's Great Wall.

As global climate change awareness increases, consumers are becoming more and more environmentally conscious. From eating organic foods to recycling to purchasing responsible and green products, many of us are making deliberate life-style decisions and changes to reduce our personal carbon footprint. These changes in global spending patterns are also starting to take hold in developing countries like China. A bigger and more immediate impact, however, lies in how changing consumer sentiments in the West will affect China’s massive import and export industries, worth $1,133 and $1,428 billion dollars respectively in 2008.

Toward answering this question, one big challenge is the lack of global measurement standards for determining a product’s carbon footprint. This makes comparisons between Chinese products, Western products, and potential import and export restrictions based on environmental impacts difficult. My internship with UNIDO will be to develop recommendations for measuring product carbon emissions in China and how to apply them within the trade industry.

China, in collaboration with several frontrunner organizations in Asia and Europe, has already developed voluntary environmental certification standards for a variety of products ranging from household appliances to writing instruments. Thus, the first goal of my project is to evaluate how these standards compare to international ones as well as to determine how the standards can be expanded to include carbon emissions footprints in the certification process. The second goal of this project is to establish recommendations for what roles the environmental and carbon impacts of a product should play in China’s trade agreements with the rest of the world.

My long-term career interests are in science policy and particularly energy policy. I am extremely grateful to have this tremendous opportunity through MISTI and the MIT-China Program to be in Beijing and to work in an area immediately relevant to my career development.

In President Barack Obama’s address on American leadership in clean energy Oct. 23 at MIT, he challenged the nation to lead the world in developing and capitalizing on renewable energy. You can watch it and add your comments here on Slice.

“Energy supplies are growing scarcer and energy demands are grown larger and rising energy use imperils  the planet,” Obama told the MIT audience. “The world is engaged in peaceful competition to determine the technologies that will power the 21st century….The nation that wins this competition will lead the global economy—and I want America to be that nation.”

President Barack Obama; flickr, via creative commons

President Barack Obama; flickr, via creative commons

Naturally the campus was in a flurry—with secret service and parking chaos and a tremendous excitement about the presidential visit. However, this not the first time Obama has recognized MIT’s energy leadership. President Susan Hockfield stood alongside the President at a March press conference in DC where he announced stimulus bill funding for new energy technology and energy efficiency of $39 billion overall, including $6.5 billion for R&D.

MIT, of course, is a hotbed of energy research these days. Research and education focused through the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) is revolutionizing the generation, storage, and use of energy, from technologies that turn windows into highly efficient, cost-effective solar cells to quantum dot light bulbs with five times the efficiency of incandescent ones. MIT is also framing the national energy debate with seminal reports to Congress on the future of coal, geothermal, and nuclear power, as well as cap-and-trade policy. And the MIT Energy Conference – launched and run by the 1,700 members of our student-led Energy Club – ranks as one of the nation’s premier energy events.

View a slideshow of images shot on campus during the morning of Obama’s talk:

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Liquid metal batteries developed by Group Sadoway.

What's inside a liquid metal battery.

The Newshour with Jim Lehrer Sept. 22 explored the work of two MIT professors who are wrestling with fundamental problems in renewable energy – how to make sure energy is available when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

“One of the big problems in solar and wind is storage,” says Professor Donald Sadoway, who works in materials chemistry and materials engineering. “You can’t just go to the store and buy a bunch of lead acid batteries and lie them down in a field. You’ve got to have high-density, high-powered storage capability. The battery is the key enabling technology.”

New materials and the ability to scale up to massive megawatt storage are fundamental to the solution. Sadoway and his lab is experimenting with liquid metal batteries with new form factors. Professor Daniel Nocera, who works in energy and chemistry, takes a different approach. He and his lab use a well know method to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, but add a new catalyst to reduce the energy required in the process. Hydrogen stored with this method could be burned in a large fuel cell that could power a house or a small one to run a car, he says. This method is solves two major problems—storage and transportation— for what Nocera calls the Hydrogen Economy, the large-scale production and use of hydrogen as a fuel.

The MIT Faculty Newsletter is stretching its editorial wings, directing its content toward the Obama administration as well as the campus community. The Special Edition: Science and Technology for the Twenty-First Century, published this summer, was addressed to President Obama and distributed to members of Congress. Now the editorial team hopes for comments and future articles from faculty and alumni.

Energy Demand

Energy demand is a national issue.

The special issue praises administration moves such as the appointment of scientists to the cabinet, channeling stimulus funding to research and development, and eliminating barriers to stem cell research. Here are a few of the faculty topics:

• A new slant on taxing fossil fuels that redistributes monies to energy-conscious users.

• Redesigning buildings, which consume 40 percent of the primary energy.

• 21st century uses of mobile phones as catalysts for global economic growth.

• Defining whether the economic crisis was caused by a few rotten apples or a rotten barrel.

In the next issue, you can expect to find articles on biomedical research, chemistry and chemical engineering, science education, and social aspects of globalization. And maybe your article. Alumni comments and articles about these and other topics are welcome. Email the managing editor at fnl@mit.edu.