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2018 Bruce A. Finlayson Lectures

Robert C. Armstrong

Director, MIT Energy Initiative
Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Global Energy Challenge: What's Ahead
Public Lecture - Monday, May 21 | 4:00 - 5:00 p.m. (reception at 3:30 p.m.)
Physics and Astronomy Auditorium (PAA) A118

The Future of Solar Energy
Lunch and Lecture - Tuesday, May 22 | 12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
​Husky Union Building (HUB) 334


Robert Armstrong directs the MIT Energy Initiative, an Institute-wide initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linking science, technology, and policy to transform the world's energy systems. A member of the MIT faculty since 1973, Armstrong served as head of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1996 to 2007. His research interests include energy, the rheology of complex materials, and polymer fluid mechanics.

In 2008, Armstrong was elected into the National Academy of Engineering for conducting outstanding research on non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, co- authoring landmark textbooks, and providing leadership in chemical engineering education. Armstrong received the Warren K. Lewis Award and the Professional Progress Award in 1992, both from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the 2006 Bingham Medal from the Society of Rheology, which is devoted to the study of the science of deformation and flow of matter. Armstrong was a member of MIT’s Future of Natural Gas and Future of Solar Energy study groups and co-edited Game Changers: Energy on the Move with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.


The Global Energy Challenge:  What’s Ahead
The world is confronted by a two faceted energy challenge: on the one hand global energy demand is projected to grow significantly by mid-century and beyond, driven primarily by population growth and by economic growth in developing countries. At the same time, meeting the threat of climate change requires removal of greenhouse gas emissions from the entire energy system. In this presentation, I focus primarily on the power sector to illustrate addressing this dual energy/climate challenge. Two examples of major changes in generation in the power sector – shale gas and solar energy – are used to illustrate what has been done to date in growing and decarbonizing electricity system. Each of these comes with its own challenges that together help define a long term strategy captured at MIT in a set of eight low-carbon energy centers. I give examples of game changing energy technologies emerging in these areas as illustrations of what needs to be done. Finally, developing countries present a unique set of challenges associated with additional economic and other constraints. The Tata Center for Technology and Design at MITEI provides a model for what can be done in these critical regions of the world.

The Future of Solar Energy
The world is confronted by a two faceted energy challenge: on the one hand global Solar energy holds the best potential for meeting humanity’s future long-term energy needs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions – but to realize this potential will require increased emphasis on developing lower-cost technologies and more effective deployment policy. This talk presents results of a comprehensive study on The Future of Solar Energy by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), which is part of a series of multidisciplinary reports that examine the role various energy sources could play in meeting future energy demand under carbon dioxide emissions constraints. The Future of Solar Energy study reflects on the technical, commercial and policy dimensions of solar energy today and makes recommendations to policymakers, illustrated in the US context, regarding more effective support for research and development, technology demonstration, and solar deployment. Among its major themes is the need to prepare our electricity systems, both technically and from a regulatory standpoint, for very large-scale deployment of solar generation – which is inherently intermittent. To this end, the study emphasizes the need for research and development support to advance low-cost, large-scale electricity storage technologies. The analysis finds that in the US, today’s federal and state subsidy programs designed to encourage investment in solar systems should be reconsidered, to increase their cost-effectiveness, with greater emphasis on rewarding production of solar energy. The study also recommends that state renewable portfolio standards, which are designed to increase generation of electricity from renewable resources, be brought under a unified national program that would reduce the cost of meeting set mandates by allowing unrestricted interstate trading of credits. The study concludes by pointing to the urgent need for an ambitious and innovative approach to technology development, with federal research and development investment focused on new technologies and systems with the potential to deliver transformative system cost reductions. For more information or a downloadable copy of The Future of Solar Energy study, visit of solar.