Sustainability and Environment

Climate change is one of the great crises of our time and the transportation sector is a currently a major contributor of carbon emissions. MIT research has contributed to major advances in the design of mobility systems, vehicles and policies from a sustainability perspective. Research labs at MIT are working on such diverse problems as the design of sustainable neighborhoods, organizational culture change to reduce air travel and circular supply chains.

The research labs and faculty working in this area are shown below. You can see a full listing of the people and labs involved with the MIT Mobility Initiative by navigating to the people page and the labs page.

Researchers

Eran Ben-Joseph

Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning

Research Interests:

Environmental Planning and Management, Healthy Communities and Active Living, Transportation and Mobility, Urban Design

Bill Green

Hoyt C. Hottel Professor in Chemical Engineering

Research Interests:

Fuel Chemistry, Evaluation of Alternative Fuels & Engines

David Mindell

Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Research Interests:

Autonomy in Human Environments; Precision Navigation; Ultra-Wideband for Urban Transit

Fred Salvucci

Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Associate

Research Interests:

Infrastructure, Urban Transportation, Public Transportation, Institutional Development in Decision-Making.

Sarah Williams

Associate Professor of Technology and Urban Planning

Research Interests:

Semi-formal Transportation, Urban Information, Technology, Media Design, Data Action, Urban Design, Data Visualization and Privacy

Steven Barrett

Director, Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment

Research Interests:

Climate Impacts of Aviation, Aircraft Emissions, Biofuels, Electric Aircraft Design, Low Emission and Noise Aircraft Propulsion

David Keith

Assistant Professor, System Dynamics

Research Interests:

Autonomous Vehicle, Supply Chain Management, Energy Consumption

Joanna Moody

Research Program Manager for the MIT Energy Initiative's Mobility Systems Center

Research Interests:

Advanced Technologies, Alternative Fuels, Service Models, Consumer Choice, Government Policy

Sanjay Sarma

Vice President for Open Learning at MIT

Research Interests:

Automotive Technologies, Batteries, Digital Learning, Design, Manufacturing

Siqi Zheng

Samuel Tak Lee Professor, CRE, DUSP and SA+P

Research Interests:

Urban and Environmental Economics and Policy; Environmental Sustainability

Fábio Duarte

Principal Research Scientist and Lecturer of Transportation Policy and Planning

Research Interests:

Urban Technologies, Transportation and Planning, Social Construction of Technologies

Valerie Karplus

Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management

Research Interests:

Biotechnology, Climate Change, Economic Modeling, Economic Development, Energy, Globalization, Sustainability

Sergey Paltsev

Deputy Director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Research Interests:

Energy Transition, Policy Scenarios, Climate Policy, Regional Analysis

Jessika Trancik

Associate Professor of Energy Studies

Research Interests:

Storage Technologies, Environmental Analysis, Energy Technologies

Randall Field

Executive Director, MIT Energy Initiative’s Mobility Systems Center

Research Interests:

Decarbonization of Transportation, Energy Efficiency in Mobility, Low-Carbon Technologies, Energy Systems Integration

Jing Li

William Barton Rogers Career Development Professor of Energy Economics

Research Interests:

Industrial Organization, Environmental & Energy Economics

Tom Reynolds

Group Leader, Air Traffic Control Systems, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Research Interests:

Air Traffic Management, Aircraft Operations, Aviation Weather Decision Support, Environmental Impacts

Andrew Whittle

Edmund K. Turner Professor of Civi & Environmental Engineering

Research Interests:

Geomechanics and geomaterials,
urban infrastructure,
environmental sensing

Labs

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Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research

Since 1977, the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) has been a focal point for research on energy and environmental policy at MIT. CEEPR promotes rigorous, objective research for improved decision making in government and the private sector, and secures the relevance of its work through close cooperation with industry partners from around the globe. Drawing on the unparalleled resources available at MIT, affiliated faculty and research staff as well as international research associates contribute to the empirical study of a wide range of policy issues related to energy supply, energy demand, and the environment.

Director:

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Center for Ocean Engineering

Today, MIT is at the forefront of ocean science and engineering, with significant efforts in fluid mechanics and hydrodynamics, acoustics, offshore mechanics, marine robotics and sensors, and ocean sensing and forecasting. In addition, the Naval Construction program provides advanced graduate education on the design of naval ships and vehicles. The Center is a focal point for interdepartmental collaborations, interactions with other MIT schools, as well as outside the Institute.

Director:

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Center for Real Estate, and Sustainable Urbanization Lab

The goal of the Sustainable Urbanization Lab (SUL) is to establish behavioral foundations for urban and environmental planning and policies aimed at sustainable urbanization in the most rapidly urbanizing regions of the world.

The SUL will be defined by three ‘blocks’: two of which are inter-related research themes: Environmental Sustainability and Place-based Policies and Self-Sustaining Urban Growth; the third block, an educational program the China Future City Program, will continue to serve as the teaching and research center of China’s urbanization on MIT campus.

Director:

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Electric Aircraft Initiative

The MIT Electric Aircraft Initiative draws together efforts across MIT aimed at long-term research on electric aircraft. Research spans fundamental propulsion technology development for small drones through to overall aircraft configuration assessment for all-electric commercial aircraft. The focus is on the very long term: technologies that could result in near-silent propulsion and low or no emissions. You can learn more about the overall research areas or read our publications.

Director:

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Energy-at-Scale Center

MIT’s Energy at Scale Center seeks to address the massive scaling requirements necessary for low-carbon technologies to make a substantial contribution to future global energy needs, in collaboration with industry, government, and nonprofit members. We examine economic, technical, environmental, political, and public opinion barriers for deployment. We explore these risks using our Integrated Global System Modeling (IGSM) framework that combines the Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model, MIT Earth System Model (MESM), as well as a portfolio of impact assessment models that focus on life‑sustaining resources (e.g., managed water systems, crop production, ecosystem/forest services, wind/solar/hydropower, and air quality). These linked computer models allow us to analyze a wide range of development pathways in the global energy, agricultural, transportation, and other key sectors.

Director:

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Engineering Systems Laboratory

A part of the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Engineering Systems Laboratory (ESL) studies the underlying principles and methods for designing complex socio-technical systems that involve a mix of architecture, technologies, organizations, policy issues and complex networked operations. Their focus is on aerospace and other systems critical to society such as product development, manufacturing and large scale infrastructures.

Director:

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International Center for Air Transportation

The mission of the MIT International Center for Air Transportation is to undertake research and educational programs which discover and disseminate the knowledge and tools underlying a global air transportation industry driven by new technologies. Airline management, airport security, air transportation economics, fleet scheduling, traffic flow management and airport facilities development represent areas of great interest to the MIT faculty and are of vital importance to international air transportation. ICAT is a physical and intellectual home for these activities. The ICAT, and its predecessors, the Aeronautical Systems Laboratory (ASL) and Flight Transportation Laboratory (FTL), have pioneered several concepts in air traffic management and flight deck automation and displays that are now in common use.

Director:

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JTL Urban Mobility Lab

The JTL Urban Mobility Lab at MIT brings behavioral science and transportation technology together to shape travel behavior, design mobility systems, and improve transportation policies. They apply this framework to managing automobile ownership and usage, optimizing public transit planning and operation, promoting active modes of walking and cycling, governing autonomous vehicles and shared mobility services, and designing multimodal urban transportation systems.

Director:

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Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

The MIT Joint Program combines scientific research with risk and policy analyses to project the impacts of, and evaluate possible responses to, the many interwoven challenges of global socioeconomic, technological and environmental change. The program also cultivates and educates the next generation of interdisciplinary researchers with the skills to tackle ongoing and emerging complex global challenges.

Director:

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Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment

The Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment is a research lab in the MIT Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics. The team is interdisciplinary, covering expertise in Aeronautical, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering, Atmospheric Science and Economics.

Director:

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Lincoln Laboratory - Transportation

The Transportation mission area at Lincoln Lab develops technology to enhance transportation safety and efficiency, supporting government sponsors in several domains, including flight safety and collision avoidance, unmanned aircraft systems, advanced air mobility, air transportation simulation, air traffic control and air traffic management, environmental impact of air traffic, weather sensing for air traffic control, aviation cyber security, and military logistics.

Director:

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Mobility Systems Center

The Mobility Systems Center, an MIT Energy Initiative Low-Carbon Energy Center, brings together MIT's extensive expertise in mobility research to understand current and future trends in global passenger and freight mobility. Approaching mobility from a socio-technical perspective, we identify key challenges, understand potential trends, and analyze the societal and environmental impact of new mobility solutions. Through developing, maintaining, and applying a set of state-of-the-art scientific tools for the mobility sector, the Center aims to assess future mobility transformations from a technological, economic, environmental, and socio-political perspective. Executive Director: Randall Field

Director:

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Resilient Infrastructure Systems Lab

The Resilient Infrastructure Systems Lab seeks to improve the robustness and security of critical infrastructure systems by developing tools to detect and respond to incidents, both random and adversarial and by designing incentive mechanisms for efficient infrastructure management. They are working on the problems of cyber-physical security, failure diagnostics and incident response, network monitoring and control, and demand management in real-world infrastructures. They mainly focus on cyber-physical infrastructure systems for electric power, transportation, and urban water and natural gas networks.

Director:

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Senseable City Lab

The real-time city is real! As layers of networks and digital information blanket urban space, new approaches to the study of the built environment are emerging. The way we describe and understand cities is being radically transformed, as are the tools we use to design them. The mission of the Senseable City Laboratory, a research initiative at MIT, is to anticipate these changes and study them from a critical point of view.

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Courses

Solving Big Engineering Problems

1.008

Introduction to big engineering problems that span our built infrastructure and natural environment. Topics promote high-level thinking and basic problem-solving skills for societal problems in domains of civil and environmental engineering. Lectures based on case studies that emphasize key challenges and opportunities in areas of digital cities, cyber-physical infrastructure systems (transportation, logistics, power), engineering of natural resources (land, water, energy), and sustainable and resilient design under the changing environment. Students collaborate to identify basic modeling issues, explore analysis tools, and engage in teamwork to discuss the design and implementation of new technologies, policies, and systems in the real-world. Laboratory and field visits illustrate interesting natural phenomena and new engineering applications. Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first year students.

Planning and Design of Airport Systems

1.231

Focuses on current practice, developing trends, and advanced concepts in airport design and planning. Considers economic, environmental, and other trade-offs related to airport location, as well as the impacts of emphasizing "green" measures. Includes an analysis of the effect of airline operations on airports. Topics include demand prediction, determination of airfield capacity, and estimation of levels of congestion; terminal design; the role of airports in the aviation and transportation system; access problems; optimal configuration of air transport networks and implications for airport development; and economics, financing, and institutional aspects. Special attention to international practice and developments.

Transportation Policy, the Environment, and Livable Communities

1.253/11.543

Examines the economic and political conflict between transportation and the environment. Investigates the role of government regulation, green business and transportation policy as a facilitator of economic development and environmental sustainability. Analyzes a variety of international policy problems, including government-business relations, the role of interest groups, non-governmental organizations, and the public and media in the regulation of the automobile; sustainable development; global warming; politics of risk and siting of transport facilities; environmental justice; equity; as well as transportation and public health in the urban metropolis. Provides students with an opportunity to apply transportation and planning methods to develop policy alternatives in the context of environmental politics. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Global Energy: Politics, Markets, and Policy

11.167

Focuses on the ways economics and politics influence the fate of energy technologies, business models, and policies around the world. Extends fundamental concepts in the social sciences to case studies and simulations that illustrate how corporate, government, and individual decisions shape energy and environmental outcomes. In a final project, students apply the concepts in order to assess the prospects for an energy innovation to scale and advance sustainability goals in a particular regional market. Recommended prerequisite: 14.01. Meets with 15.219 when offered concurrently. Expectations and evaluation criteria differ for students taking graduate version; consult syllabus or instructor for specific details. Preference to juniors, seniors, and Energy Minors.

Economics of Energy, Innovation, and Sustainability

14.43/15.020

Covers energy and environmental market organization and regulation. Explores economic challenges and solutions to transforming energy markets to be more efficient, accessible, affordable, and sustainable. Applies core economic concepts - consumer choice, firm profit maximization, and strategic behavior - to understand when energy and environmental markets work well and when they fail. They also conduct data-driven economic analysis on the trade-offs of real and proposed policy interventions. Topics include renewable generation sources for electricity, energy access in emerging markets, efficiency programs and fuel efficiency standards, transitioning transportation to alternative fuels, measuring damages and adaptation to climate change, and the effect of energy and environmental policy on innovation. Expectations and evaluation criteria differ for students taking graduate version; consult syllabus or instructor for specific details.

Aerospace, Energy, and the Environment

16.715

Addresses energy and environmental challenges facing aerospace in the 21st century. Topics include: aircraft performance and energy requirements, propulsion technologies, jet fuels and alternative fuels, lifecycle assessment of fuels, combustion, emissions, climate change due to aviation, aircraft contrails, air pollution impacts of aviation, impacts of supersonic aircraft, and aviation noise. Includes an in-depth introduction to the relevant atmospheric and combustion physics and chemistry with no prior knowledge assumed. Discussion and analysis of near-term technological, fuel-based, regulatory and operational mitigation options for aviation, and longer-term technical possibilities.

Air Transportation Systems Architecting

16.886

Addresses the architecting of air transportation systems. Focuses on the conceptual phase of product definition including technical, economic, market, environmental, regulatory, legal, manufacturing, and societal factors. Centers on a realistic system case study and includes a number of lectures from industry and government. Past examples include the Very Large Transport Aircraft, a Supersonic Business Jet and a Next Generation Cargo System. Identifies the critical system level issues and analyzes them in depth via student team projects and individual assignments. Overall goal is to produce a business plan and a system specifications document that can be used to assess candidate systems.

Energy Systems and Climate Change Mitigation

IDS.521

Reviews the contributions of energy systems to global greenhouse gas emissions, and the levers for reducing those emissions. Lectures and projects focus on evaluating energy systems against climate policy goals, using performance metrics such as cost, carbon intensity, and others. Student projects explore pathways for realizing emissions reduction scenarios. Projects address the climate change mitigation potential of energy technologies, technological and behavioral change trajectories, and technology and policy portfolios.

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