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    Phonon catalysis could lead to a new field

    Batteries and fuel cells often rely on a process known as ion diffusion to function. In ion diffusion, ionized atoms move through solid materials, similar to the process of water being absorbed by rice when cooked. Just like cooking rice, ion diffusion is incredibly temperature-dependent and requires high temperatures to happen fast.

    This temperature dependence can be limiting, as the materials used in some systems like fuel cells need to withstand high temperatures sometimes in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius. In a new study, a team of researchers at MIT and the University of Muenster in Germany showed a new effect, where ion diffusion is enhanced while the material remains cold, by only exciting a select number of vibrations known as phonons. This new approach — which the team refers to as “phonon catalysis” — could lead to an entirely new field of research. Their work was published in Cell Reports Physical Science.

    In the study, the research team used a computational model to determine which vibrations actually caused ions to move during ion diffusion. Rather than increasing the temperature of the entire material, they increased the temperature of just those specific vibrations in a process they refer to as targeted phonon excitation.

    “We only heated up the vibrations that matter, and in doing so we were able to show that you could keep the material cold, but have it behave just like it’s very hot,” says Asegun Henry, professor of mechanical engineering and co-author of the study.

    This ability to keep materials cool during ion diffusion could have a wide range of applications. In the example of fuel cells, if the entire cell doesn’t need to be exposed to extremely high temperatures engineers could use cheaper materials to build them. This would lower the cost of fuel cells and would help them last longer — solving the issue of the short lifetime of many fuel cells.

    The process could also have implications for lithium-ion batteries.

    “Discovering new ion conductors is critical to advance lithium batteries, and opportunities include enabling the use of lithium metal, which can potentially double the energy of lithium-ion batteries. Unfortunately, the fundamental understanding of ion conduction is lacking,” adds Yang Shao-Horn, W.M. Keck Professor of Energy and co-author.

    This new work builds upon her previous research, specifically the work of Sokseiha Muy PhD ’18 on design principles for ion conductors, which shows lowering phonon energy in structures reduces the barrier for ion diffusion and potentially increases ion conductivity. Kiarash Gordiz, a postdoc working jointly with Henry’s Atomistic Simulation and Energy Research Group and Shao-Horn’s Electrochemical Energy Laboratory, wondered if they could combine Shao-Horn’s research on ion conduction with Henry’s research on heat transfer.

    “Using Professor Shao-Horn’s previous work on ion conductors as a starting point, we set out to determine exactly which phonon modes are contributing to ion diffusion,” says Gordiz.

    Henry, Gordiz, and their team used a model for lithium phosphate, which is often found in lithium-ion batteries. Using a computational method known as normal mode analysis, along with nudged elastic-band calculations and molecular dynamics simulations, the research group quantitatively computed how much each phonon contributes to the ion diffusion process in lithium phosphate.

    Armed with this knowledge, researchers could use lasers to selectively excite or heat up specific phonons, rather than exposing the entire material to high temperatures. This method could open up a new world of possibilities.

    The dawn of a new field

    Henry believes this method could lead to the creation of a new research field — one he refers to as “phonon catalysis.” While the new work focuses specifically on ion diffusion, Henry sees applications in chemical reactions, phase transformations, and other temperature-dependent phenomena.

    “Our group is fascinated by the idea that you may be able to catalyze all kinds of things now that we have the technique to figure out which phonons matter,” says Henry. “All of these reactions that usually require extreme temperatures could now happen at room temperature.”

    Henry and his team have begun exploring potential applications for phonon catalysis. Gordiz has been looking at using the method for lithium superionic conductors, which could be used in clean energy storage. The team is also considering applications such as a room-temperature superconductor and even the creation of diamonds, which require extremely high pressure and temperatures that could be triggered at much lower temperatures through phonon catalysis.

    “This idea of selective excitation, focusing only on the parts that you need rather than everything, could be a very big kind of paradigm shift for how we operate things,” says Henry. “We need to start thinking of temperature as a spectrum and not just a single number.”

    The researchers plan to show more examples of targeted phonon excitation working in different materials. Moving forward, they hope to demonstrate their computational model works experimentally in these materials.  More

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    3Q: The socio-environmental complexities of renewable energy

    Caroline White-Nockleby is a PhD student in MIT’s doctoral program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS), which is co-sponsored by the History and Anthropology sections, and the Program in Science, Technology and Society (STS). White-Nockleby’s research centers on the shifting supply chains of renewable energy infrastructures. In particular, she is interested in the interfaces between policymaking, social dynamics, and tech innovations in the sourcing, manufacture, and implementation of energy storage technologies. She received a BA in geosciences and American studies from Williams College and an MPhil in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge, England. MIT SHASS Communications spoke with her for the series Solving Climate: Humanistic Perspectives from MIT about the perspectives her field and research bring to addressing the climate crisis.  Q: How has research from the HASTS doctoral program shaped your understanding of global climate change and its myriad ecological and social impacts?A: MIT HASTS alum Candis Callison [PhD ’10], now an anthropologist and professor of journalism, wrote her first book, “How Climate Change Comes to Matter” about the different discursive frameworks — what she terms “vernaculars” — through which scientists, journalists, Indigenous communities, sustainable investment firms, and evangelical Christian environmental organizations understand climate change.Through ethnographic research, Callison shows that although these understandings were grounded in a shared set of facts, each drew from different cultural and ethical frameworks. These variations could silo conversations, even as they illustrated the pluralities of the climate crisis by highlighting different challenges and compelling different actions.

    HASTS faculty member and environmental historian Megan Black, an associate professor in the MIT History Section, is currently researching the history of the first Landsat satellites launched in the 1970s. The technical capacities of Landsat’s visualization mechanisms were influenced by the political context of the Cold War. Black’s investigation has revealed, among other findings, that Landsat’s imaging devices were particularly well-suited to surfacing geological features and thus to minerals exploration, which was a key application of Landsat data in its inaugural decade. The historical context of the satellite’s initial design has thus shaped — and limited — the information accessible to the many investigations that today use early Landsat imagery as a vital indicator of decadal-scale environmental changes. 

    Climate change is not only a scientific and technological matter, but also a social, political, and historical one. It stems from centuries of uneven geographies of energy extraction and distribution; related historical and geographical processes today distribute climate vulnerabilities unevenly across places and people.The dimensions of today’s promising interventions have, in turn, been configured by past funding and research agendas — and the many technologies employed have a wide variety of implications for equity, ethics, and justice. The parameters of public opinion and policy debate on the nature and risks of climate change, as well as its conceivable solutions, are similarly shaped by socio-historical contexts.MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society (HASTS) supports research that attends to the social and historical facets of climate change. Just as importantly, the HASTS program equips scholars with the tools to develop nuanced understandings of the scientific and technological mechanisms of its causes, impacts, and proposed solutions. Such technical and social attunement makes the program well-situated — perhaps particularly so — to unravel the myriad social and ecological dimensions of the climate crisis.

    Q: Technology offers hope for addressing climate change, and it also presents challenges. The renewable energy industry, for example, relies on the mining of lithium and other metals — a process that is itself damaging to the environment. What has your research revealed about the trade-offs humanity is facing in its efforts to combat global climate change, and, how would you suggest we begin to grapple with such trade-offs?

    A: Renewable energy can sometimes be positioned as immaterial and inherently redistributive. In some sense these characterizations arise from physical qualities: the sun and wind don’t require extraction, won’t run out, and are distributed across space.

    Yet renewable energy must be collected, stored, and transported; it requires financing, metals extraction, and the processing of decommissioned materials. Energy access, mining, and waste deposition are material, geographically situated dynamics. Not everyone stands to benefit equally from renewable energy’s financial and environmental potentials, and not everyone will be equally exposed to its socio-environmental impacts.The distribution of burdens is in some cases already mapping onto existing inequities in power and privilege, disproportionately impacting BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] and low-income individuals, as well as communities in the Global South — often in locales also on the front lines of climate change or other forms of environmental injustice.None of these challenges should stall renewable energy implementation; renewables are an absolutely crucial part of climate mitigation and can also increase climate resilience and reduce environmental contamination, among other co-benefits.

    Moreover, neither the parameters of these challenges nor the potential interventions are clear-cut. Minerals extraction is key for many local economies.Different metals also have distinct environmental and social footprints. Cobalt mining, which takes place largely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under environmentally and economically precarious conditions, poses different socio-ecological challenges than copper extraction, which takes place around the world, primarily at large scales via increasingly remote methods. Lithium, meanwhile, can be found in salt flats, igneous rocks, geothermal fluids, and clays, each of which requires different mining techniques.Minimizing the localized burdens of renewable energy implementation will be complex. Here at MIT, researchers are working on technical approaches to develop less-intensive forms of mining, novel battery chemistries, robust energy storage technologies, recycling mechanisms, and policies to extend energy access. Just as important, I think, is understanding the historical processes through which the benefits and burdens of different energies have been distributed — and ensuring that the ethical frameworks by which current and future projects might be mapped and evaluated are sufficiently nuanced.I’m still in the planning phase of my own research, but I hope it will help surface, and offer tools with which to think through, some of these socio-environmental complexities.

    Q: In confronting an issue as formidable as climate change, what gives you hope?   A: In college I did an interview project to learn about collaborations between student environmental groups and a local church to address climate change. Toward the end of each interview, I found myself coming back to the same question: What gives you energy in your work on climate change? What keeps you going?The question wasn’t strictly necessary for my project; I was asking, mostly, for myself. Climate change can be truly overwhelming, in part because it so dramatically dwarfs the scope, in space and in time, of a single human life. It is also complex — intertwined with so many different ways of knowing the world.My interviewees gave different answers. Some told me they were careful to mentally segment the issue so as to keep “climate change,” as a paralyzing totality, from sapping a sense of purpose from their daily research or advocacy endeavors. Others I spoke with took the opposite approach, conceptually linking their own efforts — which could feel insufficiently quotidian — to a sense of the broader stakes. But almost everyone I talked to highlighted the importance of being part of a community — of engaging in and through collaborative efforts.That’s what gives me hope as well: people working together to address climate change in ways that attend to both its scientific and its social complexities. Intersections between climate change and social justice like the Sunrise Movement or the Climate Justice Alliance give me hope.Climate-related collaborations are also happening all across MIT; I find the initiatives that have emerged from the Climate Grand Challenges process particularly inspirational. In STS, individuals such as HASTS alum Sara Wylie [PhD ’11], who has researched the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, have built deep relationships with the communities they work within, leveraging their research to support relevant climate justice initiatives.For my part, I’ve been energized by my involvement in a project led by MIT MLK Scholar Luis G. Murillo [former minister of environment and sustainable development in Colombia] that convenes policymakers, community advocates, and researchers to advance initiatives that foment racial justice, conservation, climate mitigation, and peace.

    Prepared by MIT SHASS CommunicationsSeries editor and designer: Emily HiestandCo-editor: Kathryn O’Neill More

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    A graduate student who goes to extremes

    When he entered the Museo Galieo, Theo Mouratidis was not expecting to make a life-changing decision. Having recently graduated from a high school outside Melbourne, Australia, and looking forward to undergraduate studies at nearby Monash University, he had joined his family for a holiday in Florence, Italy. Stepping inside a museum devoted to the genius of Galileo, one of his “scientific heroes,” Mouratidis was stirred.

    “I saw all of his works, his inventions, at that museum,” he recalls, “and that changed it for me. I remember sitting in a café after, and my parents were wondering at how quiet I was. And at some point I just spurted out, ‘I’m going to MIT.’”

    The determination, drive, and pure will needed to change course and pursue a transfer to MIT, an institute he had only learned about from his chemistry tutor during his senior year of high school, are qualities evidenced in the way Mouratidis attacks every challenge. Now a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, he works daily on what is considered one of the world’s most difficult science and engineering efforts — making fusion energy a viable source of plentiful carbon-free energy for coming generations. Supported by the MIT Energy Initiative as an MIT Energy Fellow, sponsored by Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), Mouratidis is focused on creating special magnets for a future fusion pilot plant called ARC.

    Fusion, the energy source of the sun and stars, occurs when two atomic nuclei in a plasma collide and fuse, forming a heavier nucleus and releasing energy in the form of neutrons. Because this plasma responds to magnetic fields, researchers use a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak to contain it. Wrapped with magnets, a tokamak is designed to keep the hot plasma away from the walls of the toroidal vacuum chamber while fusion reactions take place.

    Re-imagining magnets

    At MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), where Mouratidis works under the direction of Director Dennis Whyte and Senior Research Scientist Brian LaBombard, scientists have been working with tokamaks for decades, most recently concentrating on SPARC, a fusion experiment that will pave the way for the ARC fusion pilot plant Mouratidis has chosen as his focus.

    The magnets for SPARC are revolutionary, made from high-temperature superconducting (HTS) tape so much more compact than previous coils that they will be able to produce significantly higher magnetic fields, consequently increasing the economic success of the tokamak. Moreover, building on concepts developed by LaBombard and PSFC Head of Mechanical Development Bill Beck, the magnet design makes it possible for the conductors to be jointed. Unlike a continuous superconducting coil, these magnets might be able to be disassembled and reassembled while still retaining the electrical characteristics of a continuous coil. This would be a major breakthrough in the assembly and maintenance strategy of tokamaks made with HTS.

    Mouratidis has tasked himself with finding a way to build joints for these magnets, which surround the torus of the tokamak at spaced intervals. The key is obtaining the requisite joint resistance and geometry. He is giving himself what he calls “a hell of a challenge.”

    “Can I design a demountable joint that will satisfy the electrical requirements I need for this magnet to behave as a stable superconducting coil? And how can we make the design practical for an actual fusion power plant?”

    Such a technological advance would allow the magnets to be removed in order to access internal components, which are subject to damage from neutrons created in the fusion process, reducing the need to shut down the tokamak for extended periods of time.

    A new path, or two

    When Mouratidis first approached the PSFC, he was not expecting to get involved in tokamak research. He was pursuing a master’s degree at MIT in the Department of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, interested in advanced rocket propulsion technology. Although Whyte was receptive to the student’s interest in fusion propulsion, he and Mouratidis eventually realized the funding for such an effort would not be immediately forthcoming.

    “Over two years, Dennis and I had been trying to get some funding. But all the avenues were fruitless. I think what he was doing was he was slowly poking SPARC on to me. He told me ‘None of this is going to happen if you haven’t gotten fusion to work first. Don’t worry about fusion propulsion; worry about fusion!’”

    This was not the first time Mouratidis had needed to redirect his path. As a high school student excelling in soccer, he had envisioned for himself a professional sports career. That was before he tore his meniscus, not once but three times. After the third operation to repair his knee, the surgeon informed him that this time he could not simply suture the meniscus; he had to remove it. He advised the student to quit soccer.

    “That’s tough to hear as a 17-year-old,” says Mouratidis. “But I will say, that was my turning point. That was when I really recognized that, OK, I’ve got a brain, I need to use it for good.”

    Though now determined to test his academic strengths, Mouratidis never gave up on testing himself physically. When he arrived at MIT he spent some time rowing. Then, one day in the gym, lifting a dead weight from the floor, he realized he had a talent and the strength for weight-lifting. His decision to commit time and energy to improving his lifting led him to compete in powerlifting tournaments, in the process setting some records. His personal best for the deadlift is 770 pounds.

    Balancing his physical drive is a creative spirit, currently employed in coauthoring an educational fiction series for middle school students. The three books planned will provide comprehensive lessons in the fundamentals of physics, including relativity, astrophysics, and his favorite topic — fusion rockets.

    While the need to isolate due to Covid-19 has perhaps been a boon to his writing, it has made it impossible for him to compete in powerlifting for the past year. Still, he continues to train, while cultivating a new test of his endurance: climbing mountains.

    He admits to having already had a close call or two on the mountain side.

    “I always ask myself a question — why do these guys climb the most dangerous mountains in the world and put themselves in the most precarious positions? I think there is an indescribable beauty and freedom in such a challenging endeavor, and an unquenchable thirst within the human condition to want to explore places where few have been. For good or worse, I have a little bit of that. I think there is a necessary amount of risk that you have to take on to grow as a person.”

    Taking calculated risks and setting fusion records is something he looks forward to while working on the SPARC tokamak, and ultimately ARC. Crediting the increased magnetic fields that will be available with ARC’s HTS magnets, he observes, “I think that puts us in a position where I could be part of this team that is going to be the first to create a pilot fusion plant and produce net energy.” 

    On every path in his life he is determined to reach the summit. More

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    Startup improving chemical separations wins MIT $100K competition

    In America’s quest to slash greenhouse gas emissions, many have cited the chemical industry as one of the hardest to decarbonize. It’s a significant roadblock: Chemical separation alone is responsible for up to 15 percent of the U.S.’s total energy usage.

    Osmoses, a startup trying to dramatically increase the efficiency of chemical separations, got a major boost Thursday when it won the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. The company has developed a molecular filtration solution containing tiny channels that can be precisely sized to separate even the smallest molecules. The company claims its membranes can form channels that are 1/100,000 the width of a human hair, allowing the separation of molecules that differ in size by a mere fraction of an angstrom — less than the size of an atom.

    “This is one of the greatest challenges of the century for our society, but also one of the biggest opportunities for companies that can innovate in this space,” Francesco Maria Benedetti, a postdoc at MIT, said in the winning pitch. The company is also led by PhD candidate Katherine Mizrahi Rodriguez ’17, Zachary P. Smith, the Joseph R. Mares Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and Holden Lai, a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania and former researcher in Smith’s lab.

    Many chemical separation processes, such as distillation, use huge amounts of energy in the form of heat. Membrane filtration offers a promising alternative form of separation, but Osmoses says most membranes today have poor performance, leading to low adoption rates among chemical plants and higher operating costs.

    Osmoses’ membranes come in a module that fits in existing separation systems. The company has tested its lab prototype in industrial-like environments, including in high-pressure, variable temperature conditions. The company says its results show a marked improvement over existing membrane filtration technologies.

    “We’ve completely redesigned the materials these membranes are made of, lowering the energy consumption to a minimum and generating unprecedented performance,” Benedetti said.

    The company is starting by targeting gas and vapor separations in the traditional and renewable natural gas processing space. Osmoses says by switching to its solution, companies in the market can reduce product loss by 85 percent, generating added fuel that could power 7 million additional homes in the U.S. for a year.

    Osmoses also believes it can bring efficiencies to oxygen and nitrogen generation, hydrogen purification, and carbon capture.

    The company will use the prize money to purchase equipment and scale its prototype later this year. Next year, it hopes to test an early version of its product with potential customers.

    Osmoses’ first customers will be natural gas plants that produce hundreds of millions of standard cubic feet of gas per day. The team believes it can reduce up to 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from each plant of that size.

    The MIT $100K is MIT’s largest entrepreneurship competition. It began in 1989 (with a much smaller grand prize value) and is organized by students with support from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the MIT Sloan School of Management. Each team must include at least one current MIT student.

    The second place, $25,000 prize went to Mach 9, which is building a suite of tools to help companies locate and analyze underground utilities.

    “We’re helping you look at what’s underground right now by creating the Google Maps for subsurface information,” said CEO Alex Baikovitz. “We’re making subsurface mapping as easy as driving a car through the city on a nice summer day — not like right after a Red Sox game.”

    Baikovitz says many companies currently rely on painted lines to locate underground utilities, an error-prone solution that leads to billions of dollars in losses.

    Mach 9 is developing a digital visualization tool to help utility locators interpret field data and save their results in the cloud for future reference. The solution automatically interprets radar data in real-time without an internet connection. It is also building a complementary tool to simplify ground surveys for large-scale construction projects. The software integrates with commonly used design and mapping tools in the industry.

    “We’re creating geospatial postprocessing software that just makes sense and is intuitive,” Baikovitz said. “We create 3-D models of the subsurface environment, where we can overlay ground penetrating radar data for interpretation. We can show a digital twin of utilities identified by the Mach 9 system.”

    Mach 9 is already in negotiations with the largest utility locating company in the U.S. and is collecting over 1,000 miles of ground-penetrating radar data from surveying firms. The company has also already acquired over $250,000 worth of mapping equipment to construct a proof of concept. It plans to make its first sales in 2022.

    In the future, the Mach 9 team plans to offer underground mapping solutions in agriculture and mining. It estimates subsurface mapping to be a $90 billion industry.

    This year’s event was hosted by Carly Chase, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Scott Stern, the David Sarnoff Professor of Management and chair of the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. It also featured an interview with Payal Kadakia ’05, the CEO and founder of exercise scheduling platform ClassPass.

    The competition was the culmination of a process that began in the winter with more than 80 applicants from all five of MIT’s schools pitching their ideas. Thursday’s winning teams were two of eight finalists. The other finalist teams were:

    Azeki Road, which is building technology solutions to help consumer brands in Africa scale around the world;

    Candelytics, an analytics company building solutions to make 3-D data created by technologies like LIDAR sensors more accessible, intelligent, and impactful;

    UltraNeuro, which is building a wearable ultrasound transducer to activate damaged nerves and reduce pain caused by a condition called peripheral neuropathy;

    Resolute, which is creating a line of natural sunscreens that is suited for people of all skin tones;

    Synthera Health, which is developing a testing, analytics, and iron supplement platform to help people maintain optimal iron levels in their blood; and

    Volt, which is creating a marketplace for companies to buy and sell printed circuit boards, reducing procurement times and costs. More

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    The future of the IoT (batteries not required)

    When Ben Calhoun and Dave Wentzloff co-founded Everactive in 2012, analysts and tech companies were forecasting a massive increase in the number of internet-connected devices, collectively referred to as the internet of things (IoT). IBM, for example, predicted a staggering 1 trillion IoT-connected devices by 2015.

    But Calhoun and Wentzloff knew better. The pair, who’d met as graduate students researching ultra-low-power circuits in Anantha Chandrakasan’s research group at MIT, recognized that 1 trillion devices meant the near-impossible task of managing 1 trillion batteries to sustain all of the sensors needed to continuously collect, analyze, and send data.

    “Ben and I recognized that there was no way those IoT projections could happen if all of the devices had to run on batteries,” says Wentzloff. “We started Everactive with the collective vision of ridding the IoT world of batteries while ushering in the next era of self-powered computing systems.”

    Within an industrial environment like a manufacturing plant, there are often thousands of assets that require careful attention to ensure efficient operation. An effective real-time monitoring solution must continuously stream data from each of these points to keep information flowing in a timely fashion so that stakeholders can react quickly to any issues that might interrupt operation, damage equipment, or cause safety risks and environmental harm.

    But this is tough to do at scale. Existing solutions that rely on wired sensing are cost-prohibitive to deploy at all of the locations necessary to make them useful. The same is true for battery-powered solutions, especially considering our collective struggle with short battery life.

    “We’ve had customers in the industrial manufacturing context say they currently have a maintenance problem, but if they employ battery-powered solutions they’re just replacing their existing maintenance problem with a different maintenance problem of constantly replacing batteries across thousands of devices,” says Calhoun.

    Now imagine that issue spread across a world where we have 1 trillion IoT devices. Even if we do get to a point where we have an IoT battery with a 10-year lifespan (the current industry goal), we’d be looking at changing more than 270 million batteries every day.

    In addition to battery limitations, the scaling issues are compounded by existing wireless networking technology. To effectively address the needs of a manufacturing plant — let alone a 1 trillion-node world — we need extremely high-density sensor networks to communicate at relatively long range throughout environments that are notoriously inhospitable to wireless signals.

    Everactive’s innovation solves both of these problems, simultaneously getting rid of the battery and reinventing low-power wireless networking with its differentiating technology: ultra-low-power integrated circuits.

    Yes, the same technology Calhoun and Wentzloff researched as graduate students at the Institute. The same field they continued to work on as professors at their undergraduate alma maters, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan, respectively. In fact, after completing their doctorates at MIT — Calhoun in 2006 and Wentzloff in 2007 — they maintained close ties and eventually began to cooperate across those university boundaries.

    Calhoun’s research group focused on low-power digital systems, and Wentzloff’s group explored low-power communication. “Our specific areas of interest dovetail quite nicely to form complete solutions, so our groups started to collaborate — it became a very close connection,” explains Wentzloff.

    When the two technical co-founders looked to expand their startup, they tapped a collection of their newly minted PhD students who had the expertise of developing wireless system-on-chip technologies in the lab. Today, Everactive has expanded into a team of nearly 90 industry veterans and technical experts, including talented minds like Alice Wang, who joined up with Calhoun and Wentzloff in 2018 after successful stints with industry giants Texas Instruments and MediaTek. Another MIT alum, she now serves as VP of hardware for Everactive, directing both silicon and hardware systems design.

    “We’re exceptionally proud of the team that we’ve developed,” says Wentzloff. “I think a large part of why we continue to succeed is that we’ve done a great job of surrounding our core technology students with a broad set of talented industry leaders.” 

    Thanks to their advances in ultra-low-power circuits and wireless communication, Everactive sells full-stack industrial IoT solutions powered by their always-on Eversensors, harvesting energy exclusively from the surrounding environment. The sensors can be deployed at a larger scale than battery-powered devices, and they cost less to operate. At the other end of their system, the Evercloud transforms new data into high-value, actionable insights.

    Their first product is a steam trap monitor. In a small factory, there might be hundreds of these mechanisms, while large oil and chemical refineries are often home to thousands of them.

    Steam may be an old technology, but it’s ubiquitous from an energy standpoint. We still use it in our power plants to generate electricity and it’s a common source of heat for our homes and buildings.

    “Steam is a great way to move energy around a large area, which is why it’s still used across so many application verticals and marketing segments,” explains Calhoun. In a steam distribution network, as energy is extracted from the steam it turns back into water. Steam traps function as valves that allow the condensed water to exit the system while keeping the steam inside.

    Their failure can lead to wasted energy, costly downtime if the process has to be taken offline, or even dangerous explosions. And monitoring thousands of steam traps for malfunctions is not that simple. “Some steam traps are buried in the ground, and some of them are located two or three stories up,” says Wentzloff. “It can be difficult to reach them. Hence, the manual inspection problem.”

    But Everactive’s solution can be deployed on every single steam trap in a steam distribution network for real-time assessment of the state of the system. This is why top industry players like Armstrong International, the second-largest steam trap manufacturer globally, has chosen to partner with them. “Armstrong was so impressed with what we have to offer that we’re now working together to bring Everactive’s monitoring services to market, in conjunction with Armstrong’s excellent steam traps,” says Calhoun.

    Successful case studies abound, which is a key factor in their being named to MIT STEX25. Just last year they deployed their sensors in an industrial facility with 1,200 steam traps. They saved that customer close to $2.5 million in energy costs and around 34,000 metric tons of CO2, “which is equivalent to about 7,000 passenger cars per year being taken off the road,” says Wentzloff. They also averted the loss of 60 million gallons of wastewater that would otherwise be leaking through failed traps.

    But the industrial space isn’t the beginning and the end for Everactive. Consumer electronics, particularly wearables, is often talked about when discussing the IoT, and it’s very much on Everactive’s radar. Logistics is another area they are exploring. By adding localization technology to their next generation of sensors, Everactive could help provide the ability to track assets anywhere across the globe. “There’s an unbounded list of industries and applications where we can apply this technology. We’re really excited about what’s coming ahead,” says Wentzloff.

    In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are reevaluating how they operate and how they will function going forward. With workforces reduced, especially in factory settings where Everactive’s clients are building products essential to the economy, it has become even more important to understand what’s going on in places that aren’t easily accessible.

    Intent on filling that need, Everactive expects to play an essential role in driving self-powered solutions to make ubiquitous remote monitoring possible. “At Everactive, we believe in a future where all of our environments and assets are monitored and smart, capable of providing information to computing systems to make our world more efficient, safer, and just better for the way we live,” says Calhoun. “We want to be a part of that, and we think our batteryless solution is the right path forward.” More

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    MIT unveils a new action plan to tackle the climate crisis

    MIT has released an ambitious new plan for action to address the world’s accelerating climate crisis. The plan, titled “Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade,” includes a broad array of new initiatives and significant expansions of existing programs, to address the needs for new technologies, new policies, and new kinds of outreach to bring the Institute’s expertise to bear on this critical global issue.

    As MIT President L. Rafael Reif and other senior leaders have written in a letter to the MIT community announcing the new plan, “Humanity must find affordable, equitable ways to bring every sector of the global economy to net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2050.” And in order to do that, “we must go as far as we can, as fast as we can, with the tools and methods we have now.” But that alone, they stress, will not be enough to meet that essential goal. Significant investments will also be needed to invent and deploy new tools, including technological breakthroughs, policy initiatives, and effective strategies for education and communication about this epochal challenge.

    “Our approach is to build on what the MIT community does best — and then aspire for still more. Harnessing MIT’s long record as a leader in innovation, the plan’s driving force is a series of initiatives to ignite research on, and accelerate the deployment of, the technologies and policies that will produce the greatest impact on limiting global climate change,” says Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, who led the creation and implementation of MIT’s first climate action plan and oversaw the development of the new plan alongside Associate Provost Richard Lester and School of Engineering Dean Anantha Chandrakasan.

    The new plan includes a commitment to investigate the essential dynamics of global warming and its impacts, increasing efforts toward more precise predictions, and advocating for science-based climate policies and increased funding for climate research. It also aims to foster innovation through new research grants, faculty hiring policies, and student fellowship opportunities.

    Decarbonizing the world’s economy in time will require “new ideas, transformed into practical solutions, in record time,” the plan states, and so it includes a push for research focused on key areas such as cement and steel production, heavy transportation, and ways to remove carbon from the air. The plan affirms the imperative for decarbonization efforts to emphasize the need for equity and fairness, and for broad outreach to all segments of society.

    Charting a shared course for the future

    Having made substantial progress in implementing the Institute’s original five-year Plan for Action on Climate Change, MIT’s new plan outlines measures to build upon and expand that progress over the next decade. The plan consists of five broad areas of action: sparking innovation, educating future generations, informing and leveraging government action, reducing MIT’s own climate impact, and uniting and coordinating all of MIT’s climate efforts.

    MIT is already well on its way to reaching the initial target, set in 2015, to reduce the Institute’s net carbon emissions by at least 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. That goal is being met through a combination of innovative off-campus power purchase agreements that enable the construction of large-scale solar and wind farms, and an array of renewable energy and building efficiency measures on campus. In the new plan, MIT commits to net-zero direct carbon emissions by 2026.

    The initial plan focused largely on intensifying efforts to find breakthrough solutions for addressing climate change, through a series of actions including the creation of new low-carbon energy centers for research, and the convening of researchers, industry leaders, and policymakers to facilitate the sharing of best practices and successful measures. The new plan expands upon these actions and incorporates new measures, such as climate-focused faculty positions and student work opportunities to help tackle climate issues from a variety of disciplines and perspectives.

    A long-running series of symposia, community forums, and other events and discussions helped shape a set of underlying principles that apply to all of the plan’s many component parts. These themes are:

    The centrality of science, to build on MIT’s pioneering work in understanding the dynamics of global warming and its effects;
    The need to innovate and scale, requiring new ideas to be made into practical solutions quickly;
    The imperative of justice, since many of those who will be most affected by climate change are among those with the least resources to adapt;
    The need for engagement, dealing with government, industry, and society as a whole, reflecting the fact that decarbonizing the world’s economy will require working with leaders in all sectors; and
    The power of coordination, emphasizing the need for the many different parts of the Institute’s climate research, education, and outreach to have clear structures for decision making, action, and accountability.

    Bolstering research and innovation

    The new plan features a wide array of action items to encourage innovation in critical areas, including new programs as well as the expansions of existing programs. This includes the Climate Grand Challenges, announced last year, which focus on game-changing research advances across disciplines spanning MIT.

    “We must, and we do, call for critical self-examination of our own footprint, and aspire for substantial reductions. We also must, and we do, renew and bolster our commitment to the kind of paradigm-shifting research and innovation, across every sector imaginable (and some perhaps still waiting to be discovered), that the world expects from MIT,” Lester says. “An immediate and existential crisis like climate change calls for both near-term and extraordinary long-term strokes. I believe the people of MIT are capable of both.” 

    The plan also calls for expanding the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium, created earlier this year, to foster collaborations among companies and researchers to work for solutions to climate problems. The aim is to greatly accelerate the adoption of large-scale, real-world climate solutions, across different industries around the world, by working with large companies as they work to find ways to meet new net-zero climate targets, in areas ranging from aerospace to packaged food.

    Another planned action is to establish a Future Energy Systems Center, which will coalesce the work that has been fostered through MIT’s Low-Carbon Energy Centers, created under the previous climate action plan. The Institute is also committing to devoting at least 20 upcoming faculty positions to climate-focused talent. And, there will be new midcareer ignition grants for faculty to spur work related to climate change and clean energy.

    For students, the plan will provide up to 100 new Climate and Sustainability Energy Fellowships, spanning the Institute’s five schools and one college. These will enable work on current or new projects related to climate change. There will also be a new Climate Education Task Force to evaluate current offerings and make recommendations for strengthening research on climate-related topics. And, in-depth climate or clean-energy-related research opportunities will be offered to every undergraduate who wants one. Climate and sustainability topics and examples will be introduced into courses throughout the Institute, especially in the General Institute Requirements that all undergraduates must take.

    This emphasis on MIT’s students is reflected in the plan’s introductory cover letter from Reif, Zuber, Lester, Chandrakasan, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Glen Shor. They write: “In facing this challenge, we have very high expectations for our students; we expect them to help make the impossible possible. And we owe it to them to face this crisis by coming together in a whole-of-MIT effort — deliberately, wholeheartedly, and as fast as we can.”

    The plan’s educational components provide “the opportunity to fundamentally change how we have our graduates think in terms of a sustainable future,” Chandrakasan says. “I think the opportunity to embed this notion of sustainability into every class, to think about design for sustainability, is a very important aspect of what we’re doing. And, this plan could significantly increase the faculty focused on this critical area in the next several years. The potential impact of that is tremendous.”

    Reaching outward

    The plan calls for creating a new Sustainability Policy Hub for undergraduates and graduate students to foster interactions with sustainability policymakers and faculty, including facilitating climate policy internships in Washington. There will be an expansion of the Council on the Uncertain Human Future, which started last year to bring together various groups to consider the climate crisis and its impacts on how people might live now and in the future.

    “The proposed new Sustainability Policy Hub, coordinated by the Technology and Policy Program, will help MIT students and researchers engage with decision makers on topics that directly affect people and their well-being today and in the future,” says Noelle Selin, an associate professor in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “Ensuring sustainability in a changed climate is a collaborative effort, and working with policymakers and communities will be critical to ensure our research leads to action.”

    A new series of Climate Action Symposia, similar to a successful series held in 2019-2020, will be convened. These events may include a focus on climate challenges for the developing world. In addition, MIT will develop a science- and fact-based curriculum on climate issues for high school students. These will be aimed at underserved populations and at countering sources of misinformation.

    Building on its ongoing efforts to provide reliable, evidence-based information on climate science, technology, and policy solutions to policymakers at all levels of government, MIT is establishing a faculty-led Climate Policy Working Group, which will work with the Institute’s Washington office to help connect faculty members doing relevant research with officials working in those areas.

    In the financial arena, MIT will lead more research and discussions aimed at strengthening the financial disclosures relating to climate that corporations need to make, thus making the markets more sensitive to the true risks to investors posed by climate change. In addition, MIT will develop a series of case studies of companies that have made a conversion to decarbonized energy and to sustainable practices, in order to provide useful models for others.

    MIT will also expand the reach of its tools for modeling the impacts of various policy decisions on climate outcomes, economics, and energy systems. And, it will continue to send delegations to the major climate policy forums such as the UN’s Conference of the Parties, and to find new audiences for its Climate Portal, web-based Climate Primer, and TILclimate podcast.

    “This plan reaffirms MIT’s commitment to developing climate change solutions,” says Christopher Knittel, the George P. Shultz Professor of Applied Economics. “It understands that solving climate change will require not only new technologies but also new climate leaders and new policy. The plan leverages MIT’s strength across all three of these, as well as its most prized resources: its students. I look forward to working with our students and policymakers in using the tools of economics to provide the research needed for evidence-based policymaking.”

    Recognizing that the impacts of climate change fall most heavily on some populations that have contributed little to the problem but have limited means to make the needed changes, the plan emphasizes the importance of addressing the socioeconomic challenges posed by major transitions in energy systems, and will focus on job creation and community support in these regions, both domestically and in the developing world. These programs include the Environmental Solutions Initiative’s Natural Climate Solutions Program, and the Climate Resilience Early Warning System Network, which aims to provide fine-grained climate predictions.

    “I’m extraordinarily excited about the plan,” says Professor John Fernández, director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative and a professor of building technology. “These are exactly the right things for MIT to be doing, and they align well with an increasing appetite across our community. We have extensive expertise at MIT to contribute to diverse solutions, but our reach should be expanded and I think this plan will help us do that.”

    “It’s so encouraging to see environmental justice issues and community collaborations centered in the new climate action plan,” says Amy Moran-Thomas, the Alfred Henry and Jean Morrison Hayes Career Development Associate Professor of Anthropology. “This is a vital step forward. MIT’s policy responses and climate technology design can be so much more significant in their reach with these engagements done in a meaningful way.”

    Decarbonizing campus

    MIT’s first climate action plan produced mechanisms and actions that have led to significant reductions in net emissions. For example, through an innovative collaborative power purchase agreement, MIT enabled the construction of a large solar farm and the early retirement of a coal plant, and also provided a model that others have since adopted. Because of the existing agreement, MIT has already reduced its net emissions by 24 percent despite a boom in construction of new buildings on campus. This model will be extended moving forward, as MIT explores a variety of possible large-scale collaborative agreements to enable solar energy, wind energy, energy storage, and other emissions-curbing facilities.

    Using the campus as a living testbed, the Institute has studied every aspect of its operations to assess their climate impacts, including heating and cooling, electricity, lighting, materials, and transportation. The studies confirm the difficulties inherent in transforming large existing infrastructure, but all feasible reductions in emissions are being pursued. Among them: All new purchases of light vehicles will be zero-emissions if available. The amount of solar generation on campus will increase fivefold, from 100 to 500 megawatts. Shuttle buses will begin converting to electric power no later than  2026, and the number of car-charging stations will triple, to 360.

    Meanwhile, a new working group will study possibilities for further reductions of on-campus emissions, including indirect emissions encompassed in the UN’s Scope 3 category, such as embedded energy in construction materials, as well as possible measures to offset off-campus Institute-sponsored travel. The group will also study goals relating to food, water, and waste systems; develop a campus climate resilience plan; and expand the accounting of greenhouse gas emissions to include MIT’s facilities outside the campus. It will encourage all labs, departments, and centers to develop plans for sustainability and reductions in emissions.

    “This is a broad and appropriately ambitious plan that reflects the headway we’ve made building up capacity over the last five years,” says Robert Armstrong, director of the MIT Energy Initiative. “To succeed we’ll need to continually integrate new understanding of climate science, science and technology innovations, and societal engagement from the many elements of this plan, and to be agile in adapting ongoing work accordingly.”

    Examining investments

    To help bring MIT’s investments in line with these climate goals, MIT has already begun the process of decarbonizing its portfolio, but aims to go further.

    Beyond merely declaring an aspirational goal for such reductions, the Institute will take this on as a serious research question, by undertaking an intensive analysis of what it would mean to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050 in a broad investment portfolio.

    “I am grateful to MITIMCO for their seriousness in affirming this step,” Zuber says. “We hope the outcome of this analysis will help not just our institution but possibly other institutional managers with a broad portfolio who aspire to a net-zero carbon goal.”

    MIT’s investment management company will also review its environmental, social, and governance investment framework and post it online. And, as a member of Climate Action 100+, MIT will be actively engaging with major companies about their climate-change planning. For the planned development of the Volpe site in Kendall square, MIT will offset the entire carbon footprint and raise the site above the projected 2070 100-year flood level.

    Institute-wide participation

    A centerpiece of the new plan is the creation of two high-level committees representing all parts of the MIT community. The MIT Climate Steering Committee, a council of faculty and administrative leaders, will oversee and coordinate MIT’s strategies on climate change, from technology to policy. The steering committee will serve as an “orchestra conductor,” coordinating with the heads of the various climate-related departments, labs, and centers, as well as issue-focused working groups, seeking input from across the Institute, setting priorities, committing resources, and communicating regularly on the progress of the climate plan’s implementation.

    The second committee, called the Climate Nucleus, will include representatives of climate- and energy-focused departments, labs, and centers that have significant responsibilities under the climate plan, as well as the MIT Washington Office. It will have broad responsibility for overseeing the management and implementation of all elements of the plan, including program planning, budgeting and staffing, fundraising, external and internal engagement, and program-level accountability. The Nucleus will make recommendations to the Climate Steering Committee on a regular basis and report annually to the steering committee on progress under the plan.

    “We heard loud and clear that MIT needed both a representative voice for all those pursuing research, education, and innovation to achieve our climate and sustainability goals, but also a body that’s nimble enough to move quickly and imbued with enough budgetary oversight and leadership authority to act decisively. With the steering committee and Climate Nucleus together, we hope to do both,” Lester says.

    The new plan also calls for the creation of three working groups to address specific aspects of climate action. The working groups will include faculty, staff, students, and alumni and give these groups direct input into the ongoing implementation of MIT’s plans. The three groups will focus on climate education, climate policy, and MIT’s own carbon footprint. They will track progress under the plan and make recommendations to the Nucleus on ways of increasing MIT’s effectiveness and impact.

    “MIT is in an extraordinary position to make a difference and to set a standard of climate leadership,” the plan’s cover letter says. “With this plan, we commit to a coordinated set of leadership actions to spur innovation, accelerate action, and deliver practical impact.”

    “Successfully addressing the challenges posed by climate change will require breakthrough science, daring innovation, and practical solutions, the very trifecta that defines MIT research,” says Raffaele Ferrari, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Oceanography. “The MIT climate action plan lays out a comprehensive vision to bring the whole Institute together and address these challenges head on. “Last century, MIT helped put humans on the moon. This century, it is committing to help save humanity and the environment from climate change here on Earth.” More

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    Ekotrope makes building energy-efficient homes easier

    These days homebuilders might have several reasons to make new homes energy-efficient. They may be required to hit efficiency goals by local building codes. They may want to take advantage of financial incentive programs offered by governments, lenders, and utilities. They may just want to appeal to the growing segment of home buyers who prioritize sustainability and want lower energy bills.

    But the process of building energy-efficient homes and then getting certifications requires cooperation across a complex ecosystem of players. For the last 10 years, Ekotrope has worked to simplify that process.

    The company’s software was inspired by system optimization work done for NASA by Ed Crawley, Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT and co-founder of Ekotrope. It brings together disparate systems used by builders, home energy raters, and utilities to calculate the efficiency and costs of different designs. Energy raters can then use Ekotrope’s system to apply for home energy certifications. If the criteria aren’t met, the system gives reasons why. If the submission is successful, Ekotrope completes the accreditation process instantaneously.

    “The problem we are trying to solve is that information does not flow very well,” co-founder and CEO Ziv Rozenblum SM ’07 says. “For example, previously, if a builder wanted to participate in an energy efficiency program, they’d send a file, it could take months to get feedback, they’d make corrections, and many hands would touch that file. We automated almost everything.”

    Today Ekotrope is one of the leading energy-accreditation systems in the country. The company says its software has been used to certify more than half a million homes and is used in the construction of one in every five new homes in the U.S.

    The company’s success translates to major impact in a home energy sector responsible for a fifth of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. For the founders, the success affirms their belief that the U.S. can make huge strides in reducing carbon emissions using today’s technologies — as long as the right systems are in place.

    “I see all this interest in inventing new technologies and building energy-efficient solutions, but we think a lot of progress can be achieved with existing solutions,” Rozenblum says. “You just need to help people make the right choices at the right time. All the stakeholders want to make the right decisions; they just don’t always have the right information.”

    Building a better system

    The idea for Ekotrope, like so many successful businesses, came from a bad experience. Crawley was working with a contractor and architect to build a new home and was disappointed that neither person could project the impact different materials and appliances would have on the overall energy efficiency of the home. At MIT, Crawley had worked with NASA and BP on projects in which researchers had to determine the impact of different parts on efficiency, performance, cost, and more.

    “He had a light bulb go off that designing a home is a similarly complex process,” Ekotrope co-founder and lead engineer Nick Sisler ’11 says. “There are a lot of options. Specifically around energy efficiency, there are all these different components of a home that affect energy consumption and cost — whether it’s insulation, heating and cooling systems, solar panels on the roof, light bulbs — all of those things have an impact on energy and cost.”

    In 2010, Cy Kilbourn, a visiting researcher at MIT from Brown University, and Rozenblum, who had been a research assistant for Crawley as a graduate student, worked with Crawley to understand how different home construction decisions impacted energy efficiency. The following year Rozenblum quit his job to run Ekotrope full time. Sisler, who had researched the home energy preferences of buyers with Crawley as an undergraduate, joined shortly after graduation in 2011. The other founders are software engineer Ben DeLillo and Kenneth Lazarus SM ’89, PhD ’92.

    The founders initially began building a software solution for architects and builders, calculating the costs associated with different design options and their impact on efficiency and emissions. A key component of the solution was an algorithm that measured hourly energy use in different scenarios.

    Around 2016, Ekotrope pivoted to selling to home energy raters. Raters sit at the heart of home energy accreditations, working with builders, utilities, accreditation agencies, mortgage lenders, and governments, and providing an energy score for climate-conscious buyers.

    “The [energy raters] will work with the builder, get their building plans, put that data into Ekotrope, and see what energy consumption is predicted to be, what energy codes the home will need, what programs it qualifies for, like Energy Star or tax credit or utility rebate programs,” Sisler explains. “All that stuff is integrated into our solution.”

    The system streamlines a process the founders say had prevented energy efficiency programs from reaching their full potential.

    “People are making worse decisions because they lack information, and there’s lot of double data entry and inefficiencies,” Rozenblum says. “We try to solve that by making systems that provide people with the information they need to make better choices.”

    Leaving a large footprint

    The founders say about 75 percent of new energy-efficient homes in the U.S. are accredited with help from Ekotrope’s software. Most of those homes are single-family.

    The company has partnered with some of the largest programs promoting home energy efficiency in the country. Ekotrope has also partnered with mortgage lenders, material suppliers, and about 40 utilities.

    That progress has put Ekotrope in a unique position to help different players in the industry understand what kind of incentives improve sustainability and what other trends they need to prepare for.

    “We probably have the most inclusive database of information on new homes,” Rozenblum says. “We have information like who’s building new homes, where, what kind of materials they’re using, how far they are from an energy goal, how much CO2 they will add to the atmosphere, what’s the projected performance, what kind of incentives are working and not working.”

    Ekotrope also sees opportunities to work more closely with utilities, and has seen strong results from pilot programs that let utilities make suggestions to raters and builders.

    “It’s exciting to show that energy efficiency and economic decisions aren’t different,” Rozenblum says. “You can make money and be efficient at the same time.” More

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    Can US states afford to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2050?

    The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently passed a climate bill that sets a target of net-zero emissions for the state by the year 2050. The bill is one of several successful legislative efforts in Northeastern states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 to 100 percent by mid-century. To achieve these ambitious targets — which align with the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change — will require a significant ramp-up of zero-carbon, intermittent, renewable energy technologies.

    Hydropower is a particularly appealing renewable energy option for policymakers in the region; substantial hydro resources available in nearby Quebec could be used to dispatch power to consumers in Northeastern states during periods of low wind and solar generation. But environmental and aesthetic concerns have mobilized communities along proposed hydro transmission line routes to nip that notion in the bud. To stand a chance of overcoming these concerns, policymakers in the U.S. Northeast and Quebec will need to demonstrate compelling benefits to consumers and transmission line abutters alike.

    To that end, researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and MIT Energy Initiative have conducted a study to assess the economic impacts of expanding hydropower transmission capacity from Quebec to the Northeast. Using a unique modeling framework that represents both regional economic behavior and hourly electricity operations, they project these impacts under three scenarios. In each scenario, transmission capacity is expanded by 10, 30, or 50 percent above existing capacity into New York and all New England states starting in 2026, and carbon emissions are capped in alignment with regional climate goals.

    Compared to a reference scenario in which current and projected state renewable energy technology policies are implemented with carbon emissions capped to achieve mid-century regional goals, the researchers estimate that by 2050, electricity imports enabled by these three transmission expansions save the New York state economy 38-40 cents per kilowatt hour (KWh) and the New England economy 30-33 cents per kWh. The results appear in the journal Energy Policy.

    “These economy-wide savings are significantly higher than the cost of the electricity itself,” says Joint Program research scientist Mei Yuan, the lead author of the study. “Moreover, the carbon limits that we impose in these scenarios raise fuel prices enough to make electricity cost-competitive in multiple economic sectors. This accelerates electrification in both New England and New York, particularly between 2030 and 2050.”

    The overall economic impact of the three transmission capacity expansion scenarios is a significantly lower cost of meeting the emissions reduction goals of all states in the region.

    The study is an outgrowth of an Energy Modeling Forum effort, EMF34, which aims to improve understanding of how energy markets affect one another throughout North America. The researchers were supported by sponsors of the MIT Joint Program sponsors and the MIT Energy Initiative Seed Fund Program. More