MANHASSET, N.Y. The Massachussets Institute of Technology is expanding its solar power research from a "boutique" option to an affordable, mainstream energy solution.
To that end, the Chesonis Family Foundation is helping MIT launch the Solar Revolution Project (SRP) with a $10 million gift. The project will explore new materials and systems that could dramatically accelerate the availability of solar energy. SRP will work with other solar projects at MIT, creating one of the largest unversity research efforts dedicated to solar energy.
The gift will allow MIT to focus on three elements—capture, conversion and storage—that could help make solar power a viable, near-term energy source. "Think 'solar' and think 'now. This is the revolution that is implied in the project name," said Daniel Nocera, a professor of energy and chemistry at MIT, who will direct SRP.
"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," added MIT professor Ernest Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative (Mitei). The program is committed to 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."
Mitei has so far attracted more than $100 million from donors to fund energy research.
Most solar research focuses on known materials and systems, but many of these approaches cannot be implemented on a large scale. SRP will allow researchers to explore new materials and systems.
SRP's structure will be flexibile: The gift's unrestricted funding is aimed at creating a "no-holds barred" research environment to promote innovation, officials said. It will initially support 30, five-year energy fellowships for students for projects ranging from new materials for energy conversion and storage to using solar energy to produce hydrogen fuel from water.
"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," Foundation benefactor Arunas Chesonis said in a statement.