Wired magazine just did a wonderful short review on some of the hot technology areas being worked on at MIT. MIT changed presidents last year and the new president, Susan Hockfield, has made energy her key focus area for the next several years (just like biotech was for President Vest). As a member of the MIT Energy Club, a student run initiative, I get to see at least some of the activity that is happening within MIT. Its fascinating to see th einterest at all levels within MIT, from administration to faculty to students. Scientists at MIT are undertaking this ambitious effort under the auspices of the university’s Energy Research Council. As Wired reported, “Inaugurated last year, the project is likened by Hockfield to MIT’s contribution to radar — a key technology that helped win World War II.”
Below are some examples of the MIT research projects the Energy Research Council will be sponsoring and developing:
- Spinach solar power: Tapping the secrets of photosynthesis — engineering proteins from spinach — to make organic solar cells whose efficiency could outstrip the best silicon photovoltaic arrays today.
- Silicon superstrings: A novel approach to manufacturing conventional silicon photovoltaic arrays by pulling the chips in stringy ribbons out of a molten stew like taffy rather than slicing them from silicon ingots.
- Laptop-powered hybrids: Using a new generation of lithium-based batteries (which power most portable electronics today) to cut the price and charge-time of hybrid and electric car batteries.
- Tubular battery tech: Using “supercapacitors” made from carbon nanotubes to store charge — rather than the chemical reactions that power most batteries — resulting in a lightweight, high-capacity battery that could someday give even the laptop battery a run for its money.
- Hold the A/C: Optimizing air and heat flow on a new computer-aided design system, before a building’s construction begins, allowing for the building’s air conditioning costs to be cut by as much as 50 percent.
- Hybrid without the hybrid: Turbocharging an automobile engine with plasma from a small ethanol tank (which would need to be refilled about as often as the oil needs changing), reportedly increasing fuel efficiency almost to the level of a hybrid — but only adding $500-$1000 to the car’s sticker price.
- More light than heat: Generating a car’s electricity photoelectrically (using a gas-powered light and a small, specially designed solar panel) rather than mechanically (using an alternator), substantially increasing fuel efficiency.
- Coal-powered biofuels: Bubbling exhaust from a coal-fired power plant through a tank of algae that’s been bred to siphon off much of the exhaust’s carbon-dioxide — in the process, fattening the algae that can then be harvested as biodiesel.