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Energy Lab, CEI To Merge On July 1

By Jeffrey Greenbaum

The Energy Laboratory and the Center for Environmental Initiatives will merge on July 1 to form the Laboratory for Energy and Environment. David H. Marks, the current director of the CEI, will head the LFEE, which will be located on the fourth floor of Building E40, the current home of the Energy Lab.

The Energy Lab and the CEI have recently been exploring several joint projects. To achieve a greater level of efficiency, both groups have the asked Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 and Vice President of Research J. David Litster PhD ’65 to allow the groups to merge. Bacow and Litster agreed last September.

“This is definitely a win-win merger,” Marks said. “It is gratifying a merge that effectively took place a while ago.”

Lab head announces sabbatical

Jefferson W. Tester PhD ’71, current director of the Energy Lab, has decided to take a sabbatical after leading the lab for ten years. Litster said Tester had announced his plans to leave before he, Bacow, Tester, and Marks began discussing the merger.

“It made the transition [to the LFEE] easier because it seemed sensible to merge the CEI and the Energy Lab and have Marks lead the merger ... rather than replace Tester in the Energy Lab,” Litster said.

Merger to increase efficiency

Each Institute-wide research group must submit an annual budget proposal to Litster, in which the group may discuss its concerns. In their past several proposals, “the CEI and Energy Lab have expressed direct interests in forming a merger,” Litster said. In fact, he added, the two organizations submitted a joint budget last year in which they detailed their plans as a joint laboratory.

Marks said the physical distance between the Energy Lab and the CEI hinders the efficiency of their many joint projects. While the Energy Lab is located in Building E40, the CEI is based in Building 1.

Stephen R. Connors SM ’89, director of the Analysis Group for Regional Electricity Alternatives, said he thinks the “consolidation of the energy and environmental groups [will] create a better synergy.” Connors, who presently works in the Energy Lab, said that “the speed at which ideas will be exchanged will lead to a higher level of productivity ... because we will no longer have to run across campus.”

The two organizations have also encountered difficulties in conducting research beyond the realm of MIT as two separate entities rather than as one large laboratory. Litster hopes that as “one larger laboratory, research can be done more effectively and that we [MIT] will be less confusing in seeking with sponsors.”

In addition, “MIT ... would rather see a few big laboratories or centers than many small ones,” Marks said.

Evolving roles come together

When the Energy Lab was created in 1973, during the so-called energy shock, “people believed that the [constrained] supply of raw resources was the source of the energy crisis,” Connors said. However, as new supplies of energy resources have been discovered since the 1970s, disproving that initial theory, “the Energy Lab has been motivated by environmental issues for the past ten years.”

The CEI was formed in the last decade, when “[President Charles M. Vest] saw the environment as one of his largest concerns,” said Marks. By the time MIT created the CEI, the Energy Lab had already made its research shift. The two group’s common interests have caused them to undertake several joint projects.

In 1993, the CEI and the Energy Lab began to work together when MIT joined the Alliance for Global Sustainability, a joint project with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo. The “close coupling between the environment and energy caused the Energy Lab to work with the CEI on several other projects,” explained Marks.

There also exists a close relationship between the two organizations because John F. O’Brien Jr. administers both. When creating the CEI, “the MIT Council for the Environment saw no reason to hire a new administration,” Litster said. Instead, the council hired O’Brien and several other Energy Lab administrators.

Due to the two groups’ close relationship, Marks believe that their merger will occur naturally. “Essentially, the two have already been merged because the Energy Lab implements many projects that it works on with the CEI,” said Connors.

Marks said he does not anticipate any organizational problems. Both groups share the same administration leading to “great economies of scale,” said Marks. In addition, Tester’s sabbatical will no longer burden the Energy Lab because Marks will direct the LFEE’s research.

Additionally, while Marks “always appreciated the CEI’s space,” he said that “it was limited.” With the CEI leaving Building 1, he said he is excited to see that the expanding Civil Engineering Department will occupy CEI’s current space.