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Group leads 'greening' of Institute

Professor Leon Glicksman and Vice President Theresa Stone are heading up the 'Walk the Talk' task force on energy issues.
Professor Leon Glicksman and Vice President Theresa Stone are heading up the 'Walk the Talk' task force on energy issues.
Photo / Donna Coveney

MIT has launched a plan for greening the campus that enlists the help of the entire community, including the campus itself. The goal: major reductions in campus-wide energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the activities are energy system upgrades, student-run projects to reduce energy use and emissions, on-campus testing of specific innovative measures, a major multidisciplinary study to look at all options and web postings of resulting guidelines for use by other universities and institutions.

"We're taking a new, wide-ranging approach that includes some important pieces that we think haven't ever been done before," said Leon R. Glicksman, professor of architecture and mechanical engineering, director of MIT's Building Technology Program and co-director of the new Campus Energy Task Force.

The task force, also known as "Walk the Talk," was established under the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), the Institute-wide effort aimed at addressing the global energy crisis. The Energy Education Task Force, also part of MITEI, will coordinate MIT-wide educational initiatives.

As part of MITEI, the Campus Energy Task Force is well positioned to draw on the newest technologies and approaches as well as to engage leading faculty researchers.

"But tackling MIT's own energy challenge is going to take contributions from an army of people in all departments and offices," said Steven M. Lanou, a deputy director in the Environmental Programs Office and a task force member.

The task force includes faculty from all five of MIT's schools; representatives of MIT's administrative staff; undergraduate and graduate students; and administrators responsible for essentially all of MIT's major energy-producing and energy-consuming units, from the cogeneration plant and other central facilities to the dorms, the athletic center, teaching labs and computing equipment.

Theresa M. Stone, MIT's executive vice president and treasurer, serves as task force co-chair. "I'm a member in part because I manage all of MIT's new building projects and the maintenance and operations of all of our campus," she said. "I hope my presence demonstrates MIT's strong institutional commitment to energy initiatives here on campus."

That commitment includes opening the campus as a learning laboratory, permitting students, faculty and staff to use it as a tool for teaching and research. MIT's cogeneration plant has already been the subject of class study, and a detailed picture of MIT's energy situation is being developed so that research teams can test the impacts of promising energy-saving measures.

Task force member Ariel M. Esposito, a sophomore in civil and environmental engineering, noted the importance of such incentives. "Students are sensitive to energy issues, but it takes encouragement for them to take time out of their busy lives to make a difference in campus energy use," she said.

Students are already enthusiastic and creative contributors to the effort. A gathering called the Generator spawned about a dozen undergraduate and graduate student projects aimed at reducing the Institute's environmental footprint. Esposito herself helped organize an electricity-reduction competition among MIT dorms, and a student team developed a prize-winning business plan for turning MIT's used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel for campus vehicles.

Near-term measures: This group will identify and promote measures that can be taken in the next few years. Possibilities include installing occupancy sensors and compact fluorescent light bulbs, maintaining and upgrading heating and air conditioning systems and increasing cogeneration capacity.

New construction: During the coming decade, MIT will be spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on new construction. This group aims to ensure that best practices are incorporated. Among the plans: gathering detailed data on the best buildings on and off campus and establishing new metrics and standards to be met.

Long-range campus-wide plan: A major multidisciplinary study of campus energy production and use will examine not just technology options but also economic, institutional and motivational issues. Engineers, architects, economists and urban studies experts will together produce an MIT energy roadmap for the next 20 years, as well as guidelines for other institutions to use.

Next-generation research: Major integrated research projects will focus on components and designs for next-generation buildings and energy systems. A new, flexible research building will be specially designed to permit testing of advanced window systems, new control systems, alternative office designs and other approaches.

Education: This team is working to excite and engage students by increasing the number of energy-related Undergraduate Research Opportunities, encouraging energy-related class projects and assisting with student-led energy groups and activities. The team will collaborate with the MITEI Energy Education Task Force.

Outreach: Plans include launching a web site that will present guidelines and best practices resulting from task force activities--much as MIT's OpenCourse-Ware makes classes available to the public.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 9, 2007 (download PDF).

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