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Foundation funds environmental research

The V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation has committed $1.35 million to MIT over two years to establish the MIT Venture Fund for a new energy choices program.

The Rasmussen Foundation has promoted environmental studies at MIT since 1993 -- funding, among other initiatives, the three-year Chlorine Project, which brought together faculty and students from engineering, science and policy areas to research the environmental effects of chlorine compounds.

"Under the foundation's sponsorship of the Chlorine Project, we were able to put together cross-disciplinary teams to create innovative and effective strategies for tackling an important and complex environmental issue," said President Charles Vest. "With this new grant, we expect to develop significant focused results regarding energy choices."

The MIT Venture Fund is designed to provide MIT with the flexibility it needs to ensure that the energy-choices research agenda is and remains cutting-edge. It will do this by adopting strategies used by venture capitalists: leveraging funds, exploring new ideas and considering societal impact. The program provides opportunity for progressive business partners to benefit from the rewards of such innovation and incorporate them into their strategic planning.

The Venture Fund will be managed by the new Center for Environmental Initiatives (CEI), directed by Professor David Marks of civil and environmental engineering.

The Venture Fund conducted a planning workshop last month at Endicott House to explore innovative projects for the new Consortium on Energy Choices for a Greenhouse Constrained World. The Energy Choices program will be directed by Professor Jefferson Tester, director of the Energy Laboratory, and Dr. Elisabeth Drake, associate director for new technologies at the Energy Lab.

The key message that emerged from the sessions was that MIT and enlightened industry leaders recognize that "new technologies will be the key to providing cost-effective, innovative energy choices for an environmentally friendlier future," said Dr. Drake. "The program will identify the most important areas for research and explore opportunities for innovation."

Sixty-six invited representatives from industry, academia, government and other institutions attended the workshop. Among them were 21 officials from 15 major companies, two representatives from the Department of Energy, three from foundations that support environmental programs at MIT, one from the International Energy Agency Greenhouse Gas Program, one from CRIEPI (the electric utility research institute in Japan) and one from the Global Environmental Facility (under the United Nations Development Program).

In addition, 32 MIT faculty and staff took part in the program, along with one Japanese and two Swiss colleagues from the MIT/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology/University of Tokyo Alliance for Global Sustaina-bility (AGS) and two graduate students involved in environmental research.

The keynote speaker was President Vest, who discussed a PCAST (President Clinton's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) review of US energy programs that led to recommendations on "how to ensure that the US has a research and development program that addresses its energy and environmental needs for the next century."

Professors Ronald Prinn and Henry Jacoby, co-directors of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change, opened the meeting with a discussion of climate change issues and policies evolving prior to a Kyoto meeting next month.

Other speakers at the workshop included Joseph Morabito, director of global R&D for Lucent Technologies; Walter Kreucher, manager of advanced environmental and fuels engineering for Ford Motor Co.; and James Katzer, vice president of technology, Mobil Oil Corp.

The V. Kann Rassmussen Foundation previously funded the MIT Initiative in Environmental Leadership program that led to the development of the Martin Family Society of Graduate Fellows for Sustainability and the AGS.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 17, 1997.

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