Wednesday, October 24, 2007

MIT Solar Decathlon Team - Winning the Game Regardless of the Score

Last Friday, the results of the DOE's Solar Decathlon Competition, in which university teams build a portable energy self sufficient home and display it on the Washington Mall in DC for a week, were announced.

MIT, fielding its first Solar Decathlon Team, placed 13th in a field of 20, scoring 833 points relative to the 1025 racked up by the winner Technische Universistat Darmstadt, out of Germany. The MIT team made particularly strong showings in the judgement categories of "Energy Balance" (a metric for PV power generation) and "Getting Around" (the number of miles they drove their EV, powered by the PV panels on the house).

The press usually only recognizes MIT teams that officially win the competitions they enter, so I felt the need to put up this post.

I am damn proud of the MIT Solar Decathlon Team, regardless of the outcome. The team was created from nothing last year by force of will by Corey Fucetola and Kurt Keville. Quite unfortunately, the general MIT administration seemed unwilling to lift a finger or risk a cent for the team. However, from what I hear, MIT President Susan Hockfield and Beth Garvin, head of the MIT Alumni Association, stepped up at the last minute to provide as much support as they could for the Team. From what Corey says, the level of support provided to the Team from the MIT DC Alum Chapter was HUGE! And this came as a result of the support of Hockfield and Garvin.

I remember being present at the Muddy Charles Pub when the Team's founders were discussing whether they should go for it or not and a big concern was "what if we don't win"? In my opinion, this question keeps a lot of amazing MIT folks from realizing their full potential. IT'S OK TO LOSE. The world's best entrepreneurs, including those in the energy space, are some of the world's best losers as well! If we as an MIT Energy Community hope to have the world look back 30 years from now and say that MIT was the nexus of the modern energy revolution, (which is within our grasp) I think that we all need to learn how to leverage our amazing talents as far as possible by being willing to take a little more risk.

Here, here to the MIT Solar Decathlon Team. When the MIT Team finally does win the contest some time in the near future, we will have the entrepreneurial spirit of the 2007 Team to thank for it!

Who do you want to keynote the MIT Energy Conference?...

Hey folks,

Would love to have people share their view in comments here on who the MIT Energy Conference Directors should invite to keynote the conference. There will likely be three keynotes this year. Sound off!

Jim Rodgers, CEO of Duke Energy, is already set to speak. One down, two to go.

My favorites:

- Al Gore - I want to hear Al Gore's perspective on solutions the climate crisis. An Inconvenient truth did a great job convincing people that there is a problem, now let's hear his take on how to solve it.
- John Doerr - world renowned venture capitalist, John Doerr, has demonstrated a deep commitment to energy through Kleiner Perkin's major initiatives in energy investment and moved me with his emotional address at TED in Monterey. I would love to hear him speak.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

MIT Energy Initiative announces Ford as its first "Sustaining Member"...

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) announced this week that it has signed its second large corporate supporter/sponsor, the Ford Motor Company.

Ford is the first company to sign on as a "Sustaining Member" of MITEI, committing $1M/year for 5 years to the Initiative. (As blogged here previously, BP has signed on as the first "Founding Member" of MITEI - indicating a commitment of $5M/year for 5 years).

For reference, the levels/details of MITEI sponsorship can be found here:

- Founding Members: $5M/year for 5 years
- Sustaining Members: $1M/year for 5 years
- Associate Members: $100K/year for 5 years
- Affiliate Members: $5K/year (no multi-year commitment)

Ford and MIT have long had a productive research collaboration through the Ford-MIT Alliance, a partnership that began 10 years ago in 1997. The Ford-MIT Alliance was renewed this summer for three more years (Jan 2008 - Dec 2010) to the tune of $5M/year. (The last renewal was for 5 years from 2003-2007 at a level of support of $4M/year)

Including both its support of the Ford-MIT Alliance and the MIT Energy Initiative, Ford's support of the MIT energy community will rise to the level of $6M/year for sure for each of the next three years (a 50% increase over the total support it gave MIT through the Ford-MIT Alliance in 2007).

MIT Energy Initiative Announces Call for Proposals for "Seed Fund Program" for MIT Research

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has announced a call for proposals for the MITEI Seed Fund Program, a research fund set aside by MITEI to provide seed financial support to early stage MIT energy research projects.

The "Seed Fund Program" will be accepting proposals biannually over the next five years (the initial time frame of MITEI).

Next Spring (application deadline this Fall), the Seed Fund Program will be funding 5 seed projects $100-$200K for 1-2 years and five (let's call them "zygote") projects (junior faculty only) at $40K that are expected to be finished by the end of the summer (10 months).

Application deadline is Nov 13.

To put this in context, a graduate student researcher costs ~$100K per year on average. (this is a rough number, some students who focus on literature analysis/computation can be as low as ~$50K/year, whereas some students doing equipment heavy experimental research can be as high as $150K/year)

Assuming the average distribution per call for proposals (twice a year for 5 years) is $150K/year for the "seed projects" and $40K/year for the "zygote projects", this comes out to a distribution of ~$1.9M/year (I don't know the exact details on whether most of the seed projects will be one year or two years so this is rough).

$1.9M/$100K = 19 full graduate students per year every year for the next 5 years. NOT TOO BAD.

I wish that an MIT MS student or UROP would take on the challenge of trying to quantify how many graduate students on campus are currently working on energy research and how much research money MIT is currently getting for energy research. Without such statistics, it is very difficult to 1.) put numbers such as those above in context (i.e is this a 5% bump or a 20% bump?) and 2.) how well are we doing going forward in getting more energy research funding through MITEI and MIT efforts to get more funding from existing sources?

Tiffany Groode, MIT Energy Club member and soon to be Mech Eng PhD alum, performed the definitive MIT Carbon Emissions Study for her master's thesis and this now appears to be THE de-facto official data for MIT, so this is definitely possible - an ideal project for a TPP or ESD'er....

If a go-getter MIT student interested in doing this, I'd be very happy to do anything I could to get them support.

- Dave Danielson, Founder/MIT Energy Club (dtdaniel(att)mit(dott)edu)

Energy Club Discussion Recap: A Battery Revolution?

Thanks to everyone who attended/participated in the recent Battery Discussion ('A Battery Revolution?', Oct 3, '07). There was a ton of participation for a diverse number of people with great backgrounds/perspectives.

I've been requested to follow up the discussion with this blog to encourage continued discussion on this topic. I'll first summarize some of what we talked about, then try to stimulate more discussion.

I've uploaded a slideshow and the handout I put together for the discussion:


-Batteries are appealing because they have a low enough cost, long lifespan, are very reliable, and have enough power-to-energy suitable for most portable applications. Batteries were really enabled by portable applications - otherwise, electronic devices can simply run off of grid power, or generator power.

-Fuel cells have higher energy/power density that batteries, but their round-trip efficiency is ~35%, compared to >90% for Li-ion batteries, and they are more expensive.

-Neither batteries nor fuel cells, in of themselves, are 'renewable energy sources', but rather, they could play a role in the energy infrastructure, enabling renewable energy sources (like wind, solar, hydro, nuclear (?)) to charge the batteries/create hydrogen, which in turn, could power our cars. This could break the CO2 cycle and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

-Flywheels and capacitors can supply a lot of power, but do not have good energy density (or cost per unit energy, $/kWh).

-There is a company in Texas (EESTOR) making some pretty revolutionary claims about new ultracapacitors with higher 'energy' density that lithium-ion batteries (not to mention, longer lifespan, lower cost, and high power density). I would be very excited if this becomes a reality, but I am skeptical until I see a working model.

-There was much discussion about the use of batteries in hybrid electric vehicles (HEV's) /plug-in (PHEV's). Batteries are certainly pushing towards these markets, but they have more challenges to overcome, including safety, cost, and energy density.

-Lastly, the talk shifted towards other applications, such as renewable energy (i.e. wind power) support. Such a storage device must cost ~$100/kWh, have moderate efficiency (>70%), and very long lifespan (>3000 deep cycles). It's a very tough market to enter, but if a battery can do it, it's a 'game changer'. Some utilities in the US are already installing sodium-sulfur (NAS) or flow batteries (Premium Power) for this (and other) grid power applications. The cost of the NAS battery alone is ~$170/kWh, vs. $100/kWh for lead-acid batteries (which don't have the cycle-life required for these applications), vs. $1000/kWh for Li-ion batteries.


There were a couple of areas that we touched upon but didn't have any good answers to. I'd like to finish this post by posing the following questions:

1) What makes up the cost of a battery? I've heard that ~30% is materials related - but what are the other cost components? (i.e. manufacturing, transportation, labor, disposal of toxic chemicals?)

2) Is there a "Moore's Law" equivalent for batteries? How has the cost/energy density/power density improved over time?


(Also note - this blog was also posted in the 'energy storage' section of this blog site - feel free to comment on whichever one gets more responses!)