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If the goal is to transform the entire energy economy of the world, a series of posters and presentations in the back banquet room of a Boston hotel might not seem the most promising place to start. But add in the idiosyncratic energy of graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and the energy possibilities suddenly multiply exponentially.
Whether it was a Porsche 914 transformed to run on 18 batteries or the fusion experiment using magnetic levitation to confine into a small space a power source of the same type used by the sun, M.I.T. engineering creativity was on full display on March 6, 2009. The conference attracted a wide range of innovative technology companies, from growing start-ups like the producers of the solar Big Belly compacting public garbage can to major manufacturers such as Philips Electronics.
Slide Show: From Algae to Wind Turbines
According to physicist Ernest Moniz, co-director of M.I.T.'s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, the world must practically stop emitting CO2 in the next 25 years to avoid unpleasant climate change. "This is an issue of accelerating change [in the energy system] compared to the historical record," he said. "We need technology, policy and business model innovation."
Some businesses and governments are already on it. Swedish electric utility Vattenfall CEO Lars Josefsson noted, for example, that his company plans to become "carbon neutral" by 2050 by generating electricity from a mix of 20 percent nuclear power, 40 percent renewables like offshore wind and 40 percent fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.