The funds of massive power companies and the minds of academia have been collaborating on the world’s energy problems for years. Here’s an impressive collaboration centered on solar and clean energy R&D that was announced on Tuesday: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Italian oil and energy company Eni are creating a research program to work on the latest solar technologies, like nanotech solar PV, solar concentrators, solar energy storage technologies and solar thermal.
Eni plans to invest $50 million into a partnership with MIT over five years. Half of that will go into the solar R&D program the groups are establishing — the Eni-MIT Energy Initiative Solar Frontiers Research Program — and the other half will go into MIT’s Energy Initiative, which already focuses on a variety of renewable energy technology. Eni says that in terms of general energy research, it will work on everything from “traditional oil and gas to methane hydrates to global change to transportation options,” and will create “a large research project in multi-scale reservoir science for enhanced oil recovery.” Hmmm, that one doesn’t sound so renewable.
The energy company plans to also support 10 “Eni-MIT Energy Fellows” for each year of its five-year commitment, and will support research that can be turned into energy technology startups. You hear that, all you young, cleantech entrepreneurs out there? In the press release, Professor Ernest J. Moniz, director of MITEI, emphasized the need for collaboration between energy tech entrepreneurs and startups and companies like Eni that have global networks.
University and oil (energy) company collaborations are offering the next generation of cleantech entrepreneurs some of the best access to research funds while they’re in school. For example the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a half-a-billion-dollar partnership between energy giant BP and the labs of UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, are working on the future of biofuels.
Though some critics express concern over the corporation’s influence on a university, we’re not so concerned about academia bowing to corporate pressures. As Christopher Somerville, director of EBI, put it to us recently, the collaborations have a better chance at producing technologies with useful applications in the real world.