Foundation Gift Puts MIT Solar on the Map
Promising to transform solar power from a "boutique" option to an affordable, dependable, mainstream energy solution, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Chesonis Family Foundation launched a "solar revolution" with the ultimate aim of making solar energy America's primary carbon-free fuel.
The Solar Revolution Project (SRP), funded by a $10 million gift from the foundation, will explore new materials and systems that could dramatically accelerate the availability of solar energy. The SRP will complement and interact closely with other large solar projects at MIT, creating one of the largest solar energy clusters at any research university.
MIT will focus on capture, conversion and storage.
"Solar is thought of as an ultimate energy technology off in the distant future. The goal of SRP is to move this timeframe nearer to the present. The SRP will make solar a practical alternative, by committing a 10-year timeframe for establishing the new base of scientific knowledge it will take to draw a market-competitive energy supply from the sun," said Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT, who will direct the SRP. "With SRP, think 'solar' and think 'now.' This is the revolution that is implied in the project name."
A unique feature of the SRP is its flexibility: The gift's unrestricted funding is aimed at creating a "no holds barred" research environment that will inspire innovations in the field.
The SRP will initially support 30 energy fellowships for students on a range of solar-related studies, from the development of novel materials for energy conversion and storage to using solar energy to produce hydrogen fuel from water.
Each fellowship will span five years, which allows for significant continuity and greater impact. The gift will also help support an integrated study on the future of solar energy, building on the success of two earlier MIT interdisciplinary reports on the future of coal and of nuclear energy in a carbon-constrained world.
"We are at a breakpoint, both in energy supply and environmental consequences. Solar energy has enormous promise as the ultimate answer to our energy problems," said Arunas Chesonis, benefactor of the foundation. "Solar energy is widely distributed and the fuel cost for solar power is zero. It is our hope that by investing in the people at MIT and giving them the freedom to take risks in the lab, we will enable them to be true game-changers—advancing the state of the art to a point where solar power is cheaper and more reliable than electricity from coal."
The Chesonis Family Foundation is a private philanthropic organization that targets environmental and energy research projects.