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Solar power, clean energy inspire Norwegian entrepreneur

The fact that darkness prevails over northern Norway for months at a time did not stop Norwegian entrepreneur Alf Bjørseth from starting a solar energy company.

Norway, a leading oil exporter, is putting enormous resources into emerging, clean and renewable energy technologies. Connecting with MIT and Massachusetts--like Norway, a hotbed of private sector energy-related innovation--is high on the agenda of the Norwegian government.

In conjunction with his first visit to Boston, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre spoke at a March 1 MIT seminar on clean technology and renewable energy. The event was sponsored by Innovation Norway, a state-owned company that promotes Norwegian industrial development and a member of the MIT Industrial Liaison Program.

Bjørseth and other innovation experts were part of a panel during the event, "Innovation Clusters in Massachusetts and Norway: New Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation in the Transition to a Clean Energy Economy."

Norway's version of NASA's Apollo project involves diversifying into natural gas from reserves at the Bering Sea, continuing to tap into rich oil reserves and developing carbon sequestration technologies in underground storage reservoirs. "Norway has ambitious goals for capture and storage of CO2. We aim to build the largest CO2 capture and storage facility off the west coast of Norway by 2014," Gahr Støre said.

Gahr Støre and Robert C. Armstrong, associate director of the MIT Energy Initiative, outlined existing cooperative programs between MIT and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway's leading technical university. Other ongoing collaborations exist between MIT and the International Research Institute of Stavanger, the Research Council of Norway and the Norwegian oil and gas industry.

Collaborations around marine science and a university chair alternating between MIT and a Norwegian university are among the other potential joint projects.

At a panel discussion moderated by Torger Reve, former president of the Norwegian School of Management, panelists Bjørseth, president of Scatec and former CEO and founder of Renewable Energy Corp.; Olav Bolland of the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at NTNU; Richard Lester, director and founder of the Industrial Performance Center at MIT; and David Marks, co-director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT, addressed models for transatlantic collaboration and how to leverage industry and knowledge clusters in Massachusetts and Norway.

Human ingenuity applied to "better ways to extract, store and transport energy is the only chance we have to break out of the triple straitjacket of security, climate and cost-and-supply problems," Lester said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 7, 2007 (download PDF).

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