CERAWeek: MIT professors talk technology

HOUSTON — What does a clogged ketchup bottle have to do with oil and gas? More than you might think, a panel from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told attendees Friday at IHS Energy CERAWeek.

The same basic forces that keep ketchup stuck in its container have vexed producers trying to transport viscous crude oil.

And advances in surface linings, such as an MIT-born and newly developed lining called LiquiGlide, allow even the most stubborn liquids to slide freely. Those steps forward could eventually mean smoother transportation for oil — and maybe less ketchup bottle shaking.

“It’s important to remember basic science,” said Kripa Varanasi, a professor of mechanical engineering who discussed the newly developed lining. “It can shift paradigm.”

New developments often have a number of unintended consequences, the panel said, and can lead to a number of steps forward even in industries that at first appear unrelated.

For example, Varanasi said, the LiquiGlide lining could help water slide off wind turbine blades, keeping them spinning faster and generating more power. Advances in conducting technology — originally intended to help move electricity — might finally make fusion power generation possible, said Dennis Whyte, a nuclear science professor.

The panel discussed a number of ideas that could eventually make their way into the energy sector.

Dean of Digital Learning Sanjay Sarma discussed how online courses  offer the potential to reach more students and offer a more engaging experience.

Combining the online classroom with traditional training could put a dent in the workforce skill gaps that the energy industry has said have been so vexing.

“Disruption is an interesting thing, it’s either done to you or you do it to yourself,” Sarma said.