Quantitative insights to accelerate the improvement of sustainable energy and chemical technologies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A substantial and rapid transition to solar and wind energy can help society mitigate climate change. As reliance on these variable energy resources grows, additional technologies will be needed to ensure that energy demand is met reliably. Options include energy storage, backup generation, demand-side management, and transmission expansion. I will describe my recent research that identifies engineering strategies to improve these approaches, with an emphasis on chemical technologies.
First, using multi-decade weather data and parsimonious models, we evaluate energy systems that combine intermittent renewable resources with storage. We identify key drivers of cost, along with features of storage technologies that can enable cost-competitive generation of electricity. We also study how these systems might produce excess energy, and we estimate its temporal and spatial characteristics. Our results provide insight into designing chemical technologies to effectively utilize this excess energy to produce fuels and materials.
Second, we investigate the improvement of lithium-ion batteries to identify factors that enabled their success, and identify promising strategies for the future. We build extensive empirical datasets and develop models of technological change to elucidate the drivers of the rapid improvement observed for lithium-ion batteries. We then disentangle and quantify the contributions to cost change of low-level mechanisms, such as increases in cell charge density, and high-level mechanisms, such as economies of scale. This research can inform engineering strategies, as well as financial investments and public policies, that aim to improve a range of sustainable technologies.
Dr. Micah S. Ziegler is a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He evaluates sustainable energy and chemical technologies, their impacts, and their potential. Dr. Ziegler’s research shapes robust strategies to accelerate the improvement and deployment of technologies that can enable a global transition to sustainable and equitable energy systems. His approach relies on collecting and curating large empirical datasets from multiple sources and building data-informed models. His recent research has focused on energy storage technologies, including how they can be improved rapidly and used to integrate solar and wind resources into reliable energy systems. His work informs engineering research and development, as well as public policies and financial investments. Dr. Ziegler earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.S. in Chemistry, summa cum laude, from Yale University. Before graduate school, he was a Luce Scholar, advising companies on environmental sustainability at the Business Environment Council in Hong Kong. He then researched international climate change negotiations and energy technology policy in the Climate and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute.