The development of sustainable energy and transportation systems addresses the global challenge of providing critical services to increasingly urban populations under significant resource constraints. Through sustainable energy and transportation systems research projects, the MIT Portugal Program aims to enhance the sustainability of social activity as well as the natural and built environments. We focus on the challenges of regional sustainability, and are developing new tools, such as urban metabolism, to evaluate and design complex local systems.

About Our Research

Our diverse portfolio of projects concerns high-speed rail and related intermodal issues, biofuels and new energy systems, integrated renewables coupled with smart grids, and the overall urban metabolism. We focus on research designed to contribute to specific technologies and strategies (such as vehicle-to-grid), as well as large, integrated initiatives that serve the needs of multiple stakeholders and complex governmental and business alliances. One example of the latter is our Green Islands project, in which we partner with private sector, academic and government entities in an effort to increase significantly the Azores Islands’ use of renewable energy, reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Research is grouped in three main areas: (i) Sustainable Urban Systems (Urban Metabolism; Sustainable, Smart and Efficient Energy Systems); (ii) Transportation and Mobility Systems (Intelligent Transport Systems; High-Speed Rail); and (iii) Bioengergy.

1. Sustainable Urban Systems

a) Urban Metabolism

  • Assessing resource efficiency and resilience in urban building and transport systems, infrastructure, and land use patterns through the development of appropriate and practical sustainability indicators based on regional material and energy flows.
  • Assessing the transport modal preferences associated with various settlement patterns, and of the costs associated with land use and transportation policies to improve energy and ecological impacts.
  • Developing innovative transport services, for passengers and goods for low-density applications, such as small islands.
  • Characterizing building stock dynamics incorporating assessments of indoor and outdoor environmental conditions as related to urban land use policy for better green buildings.

b) Sustainable, Smart and Efficient Energy Systems

  • Advanced techniques for energy and material demand characterization, including approaches to renewable resource assessment, which take into consideration daily, seasonal, inter-annual, and climate-related uncertainties across multiple renewable resources, and energy and material demands.
  • Development of new active power systems management and control solutions and tools that enable large-scale integration of distributed renewables, microgeneration and poly-generation, electricity storage and large electric vehicle-to-grid deployment, dealing with security-of-supply considerations in addition to total system energy and environmental performance and management.
  • Design and evaluation of technological portfolios at a building or neighborhood level, based on dynamic, renewable, or microgeneration controllable energy supplies and demands, including active demand approaches, and models for coherent projections of socio-economic and behavioral drivers to local energy and materials demands.
  • Identification and evaluation of novel “Green Business” opportunities for economic development (data centers, green capital development, export potential, etc.) especially opportunities which help the network balance dynamic supplies and demands; decision support approaches for energy sustainability multicriteria evaluation.

2. Transportation and Mobility Systems

a) Intelligent Transport Systems

  • Development, evaluation, and/or pilot applications of sustainable urban and/or inter-urban mobility services (passenger and/or freight/logistics) that fully capitalize upon the value created by information and communication technologies, including dimensions such as: innovative public–private institutional configurations and business models for service management, implementation, and regulation; integration with urban/regional development goals and objectives, including via improved tactical or operational planning support systems; and new and/or enhanced travel modes, vehicle control systems, traffic management systems, and information services.

b) High-Speed Rail (HSR)

  • Development of approaches to assess long-term planning, finance, operations and maintenance strategies for HSR systems, including dimensions such as: life-cycle cost analysis or related techniques; uncertainties in demand, material life-spans, maintenance strategies and practices; HSR integration with urban and/or regional development goals and objectives; HSR integration with the networks and operations of other modes, including conventional railways (passenger and freight), air, road, etc.; and relevant business and financial models.

3. Bioenergy

  • Extended life-cycle assessment of potential bioenergy products, including economic and environmental assessment of liquid biofuels for transportation.
  • Development of efficient technologies to be integrated into synthetic fuel plants; focus on feedstock gasification, syngas production and syngas quality improvements.
  • Development of process simulation systems for advanced thermo-chemical processes that enable the optimization of energy integration, yield improvement of different bioproducts, and economic optimization; development of bioproduct upgrading from synthetic crude; upgrade and experimental end-use testing of upgraded bioproducts.
  • Evaluation of the multi-functionality of bioenergy systems toward the optimization of biofuel by- (and co-) product use, and residues valorization, including economic and environmental optimization of novel biodiesel production and distribution systems, exploring their compatibility with current fuel distribution systems.
  • Traditional and alternative methods of biodiesel production including trans-esterification and processing of energy crop oils, valorization of biodiesel by-products, improvements to operating facilities, intensive low-energy production of microalgae, large-scale extraction of oils from microalgae, and valorization of microalgae solid wastes.