The MIT community assesses strategies for reducing carbon footprint on campus

Newman: “Our findings have implications far beyond our campus boundaries.”

In MIT’s climate action plan “Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade”, the Institute demonstrated its aim to decarbonize the campus by 2050. To achieve this aim, MIT launched a new Decarbonization Working Group — a new subset of the Climate Nucleus, a faculty committee responsible for directing and implementing the current climate action plan. 

The Decarbonization Working Group is composed of MIT faculty, staff, and students whose roles are to inform MIT’s efforts on decarbonization of the campus's centralized energy system. The group is led by co-chairs Julie Newman, the Institute’s Director of Sustainability and Christoph Reinhart, Professor in the Architecture Department. The rest of the group includes members who have extensive knowledge of sustainability technologies, grid-level strategies, and their uses. 

The Decarbonization Working Group aims to utilize the MIT campus as a testing ground to develop energy solutions before implementing them on a global scale. Ippolyti Dellatolas, PhD student in Mechanical Engineering and group member, said, “It’s clear how new energy-efficiency strategies and technologies could use campus as a living lab and then broadly deploy these solutions across campus for scalable emissions reductions.” Newman added, “We seek to study and analyze solutions for our campus, with the understanding that our findings have implications far beyond our campus boundaries.”

Starting Feb. 2024, members of the working group will use their expertise to assess current technologies for reducing carbon emissions. Newman said, “We are fortunate that there are constantly new ideas and technologies being tested in this space and that we have a committed group of faculty working together to evaluate them.”

The working group will also visit sites where decarbonization technologies are currently used or tested in order to evaluate their efficacy. It will explore university campuses that implement district geothermal and heat pumps as well as test sites of deep geothermal or microgrid infrastructure manufacturers. 

Reinhart said, "This is a unique moment for MIT to demonstrate leadership by combining best decarbonization practices," which include "nearly there" technologies such as deep geothermal, micronuclear, energy storage, and ubiquitous occupancy driven temperature control. He added that “as first adopters, we can find out what works, allowing other campuses to follow us at reduced risks.”

The working group’s findings and suggestions will be presented in a report to the MIT community by the end of this year. Opportunities to learn more about the Institute’s efforts to decarbonize will be available during community events on Mar. 14 and MIT’s Sustainability Connect forum on Feb. 8.