40 Student Projects Displayed to Public At MIT Energy Night

Last Friday night, the MIT Energy Night lit up Cambridge as students, faculty, and enthusiasts alike flocked down Massachusetts Avenue toward the MIT Museum. Forty MIT energy projects populated each and every corner of the museum, displaying topics from sustainability to efficiency.

Even before the doors opened at 5:30 p.m., people lined up outside the museum doors in anticipation of the night. Parked outside the museum sat a “Zero-Emission Hydrogen-Powered” Honda FCX Clarity and the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team’s solar racer, nicknamed “Eleanor.”

Just five minutes after the opening, visitors packed the museum, jazz resonated through the air, and various gourmet pizzas were served. The night lasted until 8:30 p.m., which gave presenters adequate time to convince observers that their projects showed promise in future energy applications.

Do you like Porsches? How about one that runs on an electric battery? Well, the Electric Vehicle Team made just that. President Joshua E. Siegel ’11 and Irene M. Berry G exhibited their two-year-old project, which converted a Porsche 914 into a Battery Electric Vehicle.

The Porsche was taken for its first test drive in March 2008. Currently, the Electric Vehicle Team is making some final safety improvements before they take it out again for a second test drive. The team plans to do this “before it snows,” said Berry.

Meanwhile, the Solar Electric Vehicle Team, first organized in 1985, designed a solar-powered vehicle of their own. Team president Michael P. Roberts ’11, a mechanical engineering major, said that they expect their most recent solar vehicle “Eleanor” to travel at speeds close to 80 mph.

The planning for Eleanor lasted two years, and the team began its construction in January. For the next two months, the team will spend most of its time testing Eleanor and preparing the vehicle for the World Solar Challenge, a race across Australia next October.

Roberts is optimistic that MIT will place first, but notes that they must overcome tough competitors in the University of Michigan and Delft University of Technology. The Dutch university’s Nuna series of vehicles have won the competition four times.

Other projects presented at MIT Energy Night included thin-film fuel cell technology, coal and biomass gasification, floating wind turbine systems, nanofluids, photovoltaics, micro-energy grids, and nuclear energy development.

Kendra D. Johnson ’09, a Civil And Environmental Engineering major and co-founder of the Bicycle Powered Laptop project, exhibited the device that she started building as a sophomore. According to Johnson, the amount of energy that a laptop consumes is surprisingly close to the energy an exerciser expends on a stationary bike at the gym. Taking this fact into account, Johnson developed her project and implemented it in the Stata Gym, where it now operates. Admitting that she is not much of an entrepreneur, Johnson said she would love to see her project “go into the commercial industry.”

Johnson’s project is one of twenty-five student projects organized by the MIT Generator, which aims to guide and fund students who wish to pursue energy-related projects. Chris Kempes G, leader of the Generator, described it as a student run coalition that acts as a “club of clubs” for many of the MIT student energy projects. His goal, said Kempes, was “to turn MIT into a microcosm of what the world should look like.”

The Energy Night was organized by the MIT Energy Club, which has over 800 members. Melissa J. Webster G, a member of the executive committee of the MIT Energy Club, explained that planning for the event started back in May. Every week, the club hosts events including energy-related lectures, information sessions, and discussions. The club’s largest event is the MIT Energy Conference, which will occur on the first weekend in March.