New MIT Database Aims to Impact City of Boston’s Energy Policy

by Kevin Tidmarsh

A new project created by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology might just put Boston on the way to becoming a more energy-efficient city. The tool, which can estimate the gas and electricity demand of each of the roughly 100,000 buildings in the city for every hour of every day of the year, was developed by researchers at MIT’s Sustainable Design Lab and Lincoln Laboratory, along with members of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and aims to provide a comprehensive database of the city’s buildings and their energy and heat usage that can be provided to energy policy makers. Continue reading

Solar Powered Desalination for using Electrodialysis

by Maithili Joshi

A major problem across the world in developing and underdeveloped nations is the lack of access to clean drinking water. This has detrimental effects on general health, and also the ability to keep these rural communities going. This article was particularly interesting to me because issues of water in countries like India are so important for the health of people, and the health of the environment. Additionally, the use of solar power to reduce environmental effects was of particular interest to me because of its innovative use for other pressing environmental issues. Continue reading

MIT Energy Initiative

by Dylan Goodman

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has recently announced it will be giving away over $1.65 million in grants under its annual seed fund program. The money will go to support early-stage energy related projects on campus. Over the past 8 years MITEI Seed Funding has provided over $17 million dollars to 140 different energy related research projects spanning across MIT’s five schools. For 2015, there will be 11 companies each receiving $150,000 in seed funding. (Abraham) There are more applicants than can receive funding, so projects are chosen by their potential to contribute to increased energy research. Projects can vary across a wide array of fields ranging from hydraulic fracturing to new battery technologies. Continue reading

LiquiGlide: A Non-Stick Solution to Waste

by Alex Elder

LiquiGlide, a company founded by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed a new technology that enables sticky substances to flow easily across the surface of any container. This technology works by coating the container’s interior with a specialized lubricating liquid which then makes the surface permanently wet and slippery. This technology was initially marketed towards commercial uses such as glue and ketchup bottles as well as paint cans. Applying LiquiGlide’s technology to these sorts of containers would greatly reduce the amount of waste involved when remnants of these products are left over, unable to be used by the consumer due to their viscosity. Widespread implementation of this technology could have major environmental payoffs by reducing waste. In a few years, LiquiGlide expects this technology to be ubiquitous. Continue reading

Cut Down Energy Loss with Essess’s Infrared Technology

by Abigail Wang

In an age where most people strive to make our environment greener, it’s hard to know exactly what to do to be energy efficient. Essess, a start-up developed at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hopes to alleviate this issue by working with the United States government and utilities companies to cut down on energy loss with infrared technology.Co-founded in 2011 by Vinny Olmstead and Sanjay Sarma, a professor in Mechanical Engineering at MIT, Essess deploys cars that have thermal-imaging rooftop rigs that create heat maps of homes and buildings. This technology detects fixable leaks in places like windows, doors, and walls to point out where home and business owners are losing the most energy. The rigs have long-wave infrared and near-infrared radiometric cameras that capture heat signatures. In order to separate buildings from natural surroundings, a LiDAR system, which is technology used to create high-resolution maps, captures 3D images. Continue reading

Underground Storage of CO2 : Attempts to Eliminate Carbon Emissions

by Nour Bundogji

Postdoctoral researcher Yossi Cohen and Professor of Geophysics Daniel Rothman, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently published an article in the Royal Society Proceedings on the effectiveness of storing carbon dioxide underground in an effort to decrease carbon emissions in our atmosphere. When I first read this I immediately envisioned suction cups elevated high into earth’s atmosphere connected to long pipes extended deep within earth’s crust. Yet, you guessed it, the technology is quite different. Instead, greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired power plants would be pumped into salt caverns 7,000 feet underground where these gases would react with the salt water and solidify (Cohen and Rothman, 2015). The U.S. Environmental Protection agency estimated that this technology could eliminate up to 90 percent of carbon emissions from coal-fired facilities. Considering the current state of our ozone layer and the drastic climate changes we’ve been experiencing these past years, this seems like a promising step forward in saving our environment. However, commentators on this technology, like Christopher Martin from Bloomberg, pointed out a few flaws. I knew it was too good to be true. Continue reading

Undersea Ocean Renewable Energy Storage

Ocean Energy Storage

by Allison Kerley

Slocum et al. (2013) propose a new design for an energy storage and generation unit composed of underwater concrete spheres and offshore wind turbines. The proposed design utilizes pumped storage hydraulics (PSH). During times of low energy demand from the grid, the cylinder would contain water at equal pressure with the surrounding ocean. In the proposed design, the floating wind turbines generate energy and the excess energy is used to pump water out of the storage sphere, creating a vacuum. When energy is needed from the sphere, the turbine would open, allowing water to pass through into the sphere. The proposed sphere design would have an inside diameter of 25 m, and would retain a 1/20th-atm environment when fully discharged. The proposed design could be used without alteration in depths between 200 and 700 m, and would continue to be economically feasible to a depth of approximately 1500 m. The authors tested a small-scale dry version of the proposed design, with the test sphere having an inner chamber diameter of 75 cm, with a ten meter height difference from the top of the pump and wind turbine to the top of the sphere. The test unit was found to have a low round-trip efficiency of 11%, which the authors attribute to their inability to use the most efficient pump and turbine technology due to the small size of their test model. They calculated that in a full scale model, the lowest round-trip efficiency would be 70%. Continue reading

Membrane-Free Lithium/Polysulfide Semi-Liquid Battery for Large-Scale Energy Storage

by Allison Kerley

Yang et al. (2013) discussed their new proof-of-concept lithium/polysulfide semi-liquid battery as a potential solution to large-scale energy storage. The lithium/polysulfide (Li/PS) battery uses a simplified version flow battery system, with one pump system instead of the traditional two. The Li/PS battery was found to have a higher energy density than traditional redox flow batteries, with the 5 M polysulfide solution catholyte cell reaching an energy density of 149 W h L–1 (133 W h kg –1), about five times that of traditional vanadium redox battery. The Li/PS battery cells were also found to have a high coulomb efficiency peak around 99% before stabilizing at around 95%, even after 500 cycles. The authors conclude that the Li/PS cells maintain a steady rate of performance after 2000 cycles, and Continue reading

High Power Density from Extremely Thin Solar Panels

by Allison Kerley

Bernardi et al. (2013) investigated the absorbance of graphene and three different monolayer transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs)—MoS2, MoSe2, and WS2—alone and in various combinations as the active layer in ultrathin photovoltaic (PV) devices. In calculating the upper limits of the electrical current density (measured in mA/cm2), each material can contribute to the total absorption of a device. The authors found that subnanometer thick graphene and TMD monolayers can absorb the equivalent short-circuit currents of 2–4.25 mA/cm2, while 1 nm thick Si, GaAs, and P3HT (commonly used materials in current PV devices) were found to generate currents between 0.1–0.3 mA/cm2. Further testing suggested that the high absorption of the monolayer MoS2 is due Continue reading

Global Effects of Biofuel Expansion

by Chieh-Hsin Chen

According to various economic and environmental estimations, it is highly possible that future global energy demand will increase up to 250% by 2050, which will be impossible to achieve using current available natural fuel sources. Biofuels have been proposed as a potential low-carbon energy source that may help assist in meeting energy demands; as well as improving greenhouse gas emission problem from fossil fuel combustion. Hallgren et al. (2013) used various assessment models that link an economic model with climate, biogeochemistry, and biogeophysics models to examine the effects of possible land use changes from an expanded biofuel program over the first half of 21st century. Surprisingly, the results of this modeling effort show that overall, the biogeochemical and biogeophysical impacts are negligible from a global perspective; the models do show regional patterns of climate change in certain areas such as Amazon Basin and parts of Congo Basin. Considering the amount of land conversion that will be needed there will no doubt follow considerable debate about the accuracy of this conclusion. We would welcome your comments below, but more explanation follows. Continue reading