MIT is taking a major step to strengthen its commitment to tackling energy and environmental problems that cross disciplinary boundaries. On July 1, MIT will merge two groups -- the Energy Laboratory and the Center for Environmental Initiatives (CEI) -- to form a new entity, the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE).
The LFEE will bring together collaborating faculty and staff in 14 departments to address not only the complex interrelationships between energy and the environment but also the technological, economic and social aspects of sustainable energy development and use.
LFEE will be home to more than a dozen existing centers, groups and programs, and will serve as a focal point for energy and environmental activities throughout MIT. Educational and outreach programs coordinated by LFEE will serve MIT students as well as other academic researchers, industry professionals and policy makers worldwide.
The new lab aims to enhance synergy among MIT's diverse energy and environmental activities. The increasing overlap of the goals and personnel of the Energy Laboratory (founded in 1972) and the CEI (founded in 1997) was another driving force behind the merger.
In announcing the new lab, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow said, "We are approaching the science, technology and policy of addressing energy and environmental problems in an integrated, coherent way. Tough problems like energy and the environment do not respect disciplinary boundaries. We've tried to create a new organization to deal with those tough problems."
Director of the new LFEE is David H. Marks, currently director of the CEI and the Morton '42 and Claire Goulder Family Professor of Engineering Systems and Civil and Environmental Engineering.
"What distinguishes this program from other universities' programs that look at energy and the environment is that the technologic expertise is here at MIT and here in spades," he said. "The expertise is such that we can look not just at single technologies in depth but also across technologies; and we can study interactions between the technology side and economics, management and policy issues."
Jefferson W. Tester, the H.P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering who will be stepping down as Energy Lab director after 11 years, said, "Combining the intellectual resources and research network capabilities of the Energy Lab and the CEI will strengthen the Institute's capacity for carrying out world-class multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research linking energy technologies and important environmental issues. With the coalescence of these two centers, everyone wins -- the faculty, research staff, students and theInstitute as a whole." Professor Tester will continue his research on renewable and alternative energy technologies through LFEE.
LFEE's initial areas of focus are energy supply, demand and use technologies; integrated assessments of alternative technology portfolios; improved methods of modeling, monitoring and measuring impacts of human activity on environmental systems; and improved understanding of the economic, political and institutional dimensions of energy- and environment-related problems and solution options. There will be particular emphasis on forming links between technical and economic and policy groups.
To support exchange among experts in various fields, MIT is moving key LFEE researchers and administrative staff onto a single floor of Building E40. The space will house not only current Energy Lab and CEI personnel but also collaborators in the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
The international focus of LFEE's environment and sustainability initiatives will continue to be rooted in the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS). Through this global partnership, some of the world's leading technical institutions collaborate in multidisciplinary research addressing critical global concerns that lie at the intersection of environmental and economic issues.
LFEE will also have a strong education and outreach program that manages the Program on Environmental Education and Research (PEER), graduate and postgraduate fellowship programs, and AGS's Youth Environmental Summit, a two-week summer workshop on sustainable development for international graduate and undergraduate students. Other activities include a research fellowship and seminar program for teachers and students from the Cambridge public schools, and education and communication programs with government and private-sector partners.
LFEE will be home to several organizational units that now fall under the auspices of the Energy Lab and the CEI. The Energy Lab brings with it the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, the Sloan Automotive Laboratory, the Building Technology Program, the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, the Center on Airborne Organics, the Carbon Management and Sequestration Program, the Analysis Group for Regional Electricity Alternatives and the Competitive Power Systems Group. Under the auspices of the CEI are the international AGS, MIT/AGS (formerly the Consortium on Environmental Challenges), PEER and the Venture Fund for Energy Choices.
LFEE will also work closely with other MIT programs to further enhance the holistic approach of LFEE-based initiatives. Such programs include the Materials Systems Laboratory and the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory for the 21st Century, which focuses on the technology of small fossil-fuel and alternative-fuel energy systems.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 23, 2001.