MIT Energy Initiative Forum Notes

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Notes from MIT Energy Initiative Forum Luncheon - 1/11/2007

by User:Roadrunner - feel free to ask me any questions about this transcript

Part of page on Topic:MIT Energy Initiative

Held with in conjunction with Petroleum Club on the 43rd floor of the Exxon Mobil headquarters in Houston, Texas with the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Talk given by Robert Armstrong - Associate Director of MIT Energy Initiative - Head of Chemical Engineering Department

Intro to MIT Enterprise Forum. Founded in 1978 by MIT alumni. No restriction on membership.

President Hockfield set up energy as one of two priorities for MIT (the other was merging life and physical sciences).

Set up Energy Research Council - from all schools in MIT

ERC started Energy Initiative in 9/2006

Why it is complicate

  • Few people interested in technical
  • Most people interested in energy services
  • US household 3-4% spend on energy services
  • Energy Council - included two former US Undersecretaries of Energy
  • Why MIT - MIT founded on using tech to benefit society, good at cross discipline, good at moving technology to industry, good at partnering with governments

Perfect storm

  • Energy - supply and demand
  • Energy and security
  • Energy and the environment

World use of energy 450 EJ/years 14 Terawatts

Will double next century

1.4 billion no electricity next century

50 year time scale for change

Developing world. As GDP increases energy will increase but....

Efficiency is important. US uses more energy per GDP than Europe

It will make a big difference (10% of world energy usage) if China uses energy like US or Europe

It takes about 50 years to replace energy use. Because it is a *big* infrastructure..

Renewables 4% of energy use

Solar photovolatics 1 part per million now.

Need to start research now to change by mid century

Energy and security

  • geopolitics
  • oil and gas may not be enough - oil companies have 20 year estimates of supply. No one is willing to give 50 year estimates
  • delivery systems are vulnerable
  • nuclear has proliferation issues
  • natural disasters

Oil and gas and security

Core issue: Demand is inelastic

What we can do - increase diversity of supply - weaken demand - efficient vehicles, coal and natural gas, hydrogen economy ???

Energy and environment

The scientific debate is no longer about whether man made climate change is happening. The question is how much CO2 levels will need to rise before some really catastrophic happens. Best guess is that CO2 can raise another factor of 2.

How do we decarbonize energy....

Average temperature of earth is rising. 19 or 20 warmest winters since 1980. It is almost the warmest it has been in the last million years.

Impact of climate change

- rising sea levelsre

- great ocean conveyor belt keeps C02 in ocean for 1000 years

what to do...


low carbon or carbon less and CO2 capture

50 year time frame

  • What is energy infrastructure like in 50 years
  • resource availablity?
  • science and technology advances
  • geopolitics

Energy Research Council recommendation:

  • Work on multiple technology and scenarios to maximize number of policy options

MIT - a phased initiative

  • It all depends on what faculty want to work on
  • three themes
    • Work on breakthrough technology
    • Work on improving today's energy systems
    • Work on systems design and public policy for emerging world

Example of what MIT is doing

Biomass as a major source of liquid fuelds. 1.3B tons of biomass -> 45 B fuel

What changed? Why is this now viable

1995-2005 hydrolysis costs $1/gal -> 0.10/gal

1990-2005 - new field of metabolic engineering, you can now program cells to generate a given product

Example: Survey of public attitudes

Large shift in global warming attitudes 2003-2006

global warming now top concern

people who want something to be done is now 71%

  • and people are willing to pay for it*

What are you willing to pay to stop global warming

2003 - $14/month 2006 - $21/month

Might not sound like much, but that works out to $20B/year, more than DOE energy research budget $2B/year

Carbon free energy 14 TW

difficult problem. Nukes not the only solution. We'd have to build one new nuclear plant *each day* to keep up with increase in energy demand

What people are working on

MIT - multiple technologies GE - fuel cells DuPont - biofuel conversation Eastman Kodak - sulfur based carbon sequestration


Do you think that global warming is caused by human activities?


I'm optimistic that problem can be solved

Demand side - light vehicles with nanomaterials

supply side - renewables - however it will take lots of effort and time to scale renewables up to current energy level, and we need to understand consequences