Vol. 3, No. 4, July 2006Welcome to Engineering Our World, the MIT School of Engineering's free bulletin for alumni and friends. Updated six times yearly, Engineering Our World describes some of the work we're doing at the leading edge of technological change, providing news and articles of the School's major initiatives.Past Issues
"Energy" for Energy in the School of Engineering
The need for workable energy options is perhaps the greatest single challenge facing our nation and the world in the 21st century.
– MIT Energy Research Council
The energy conundrum
In a recent short course on energy for our faculty and several alumni, I noted the following: over the past 100 years, energy consumption has grown by about an order of magnitude, with consumption per capita growing roughly 2.5 fold and population increasing almost four fold. So we have seen and will continue to see the multiplicative effect of increasing population and increasing consumption per capita. Could we deal with another order of magnitude in consumption in the century ahead?
Indeed, this is only one of the extremely daunting and complicated questions we must answer as the world addresses future energy needs. A few of the major critical challenges involved in this arena include:
- a projected doubling of energy use and tripling of electricity demand within a half century, calling for a substantial increase in fossil fuel supplies or dramatic transformation of the fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure;
- geological and geopolitical realities concerning the availability of oil and, to some extent, natural gas – specifically the concentration of resources and political instability in the Middle East - underlie major security concerns; and
- increasing consideration of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion in decisions about how the global energy system evolves - either carrying on with a "business as usual," overwhelming dependence on fossil fuels, or choosing to introduce technologies and policies that greatly improve efficiency, dramatically expand use of less carbon-intensive or "carbon free" energy, and implement large-scale carbon dioxide capture and sequestration.
In her May 2005 inaugural address, MIT President Susan Hockfield called on the Institute to renew its commitment to energy-related research and education. Stating that MIT has a responsibility to address the world's energy problems, she established the MIT Energy Research Council (ERC). The ERC set out to assess the scope of MIT energy research, explore how to best match MIT expertise with global needs, and produce a plan for a cohesive initiative to tackle the world's energy crisis through science, engineering, and education. More than 100 faculty submitted white papers to the ERC with faculty from all schools and most departments participating, and this past May, the ERC produced a major report for consideration and discussion by the MIT community. [See sidebar for link to Report.]