R&D Resources

Interview with Professor Jessika Trancik

Interview with Professor Jessika Trancik

In this episode of the SMI Horizon series, Professor Jessika Trancik from the Institute of Data, Systems and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talked about her research on technology innovation and climate solutions, the impact her research on energy services has on climate change mitigation, and how the work could be useful for policymakers as well as industry stakeholders. Prof Trancik was appointed as SMI’s Distinguished Visitor 2023 and was the keynote speaker at the SMI Forum 2023.

Interview Transcript

Tan Cheng Peng: Good morning everyone. In this edition of SMI Horizon interview, I am pleased to introduce Professor Jessika Trancik, who holds a position at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her extensive research work delves into evolving cost, performance metrics and environmental impacts of energy systems.

I am pleased to have Jessika with me today as SMI’s Distinguished Visitor 2023 to share her insights on how technology innovation could accelerate global decarbonisation efforts and its impact on the maritime world.

Hello Professor Jessika. Thank you for coming and welcome to this edition of SMI Horizon interview series.

Prof Jessika Trancik: Thank you so much for having me.

Tan Cheng Peng: As a professor at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at MIT, can you share with the audience briefly what are the broad areas of research work that you undertake at MIT?

Prof Jessika Trancik: So my work focuses on evaluating different options for a clean energy transition. We develop data informed models to address questions around performance targets for different components of a clean energy system, as well as understanding specific focus areas that could allow us to improve technologies and transition infrastructures more quickly. So for example, we work on looking at ways to strategically advance and scale up charging infrastructure to allow for the convenient adoption of electric vehicles.

We do a lot of work on using variable renewable energy, solar and wind combined with other sources to provide a reliable electricity service to produce green hydrogen. So these are some of the areas that we work on.

Tan Cheng Peng: OK, very interesting. Some of your research focuses on the environmental impacts of energy systems to inform climate policy and expedite the development of beneficial and equitable technological advancements.

Can you talk a little bit about the key insights that could be useful for policymakers as well as industry stakeholders?

Prof Jessika Trancik: Right now we have a lot of the tools that we need to pursue decarbonisation of energy systems. But there remain questions about how to bring these tools together into an energy system that is convenient for various stakeholders to use. So for example, in the area of transportation, one of our focus areas is to really understand patterns of behavior. Trip requirements, travel requirements throughout the day, throughout the year for personal vehicles, for other forms of ground transportation. We are also interested in expanding into air transport and shipping.

A lot of the interesting research questions I think right now are at the intersection of understanding behaviours and performance requirements of these technologies, and understanding where additional technological improvement is needed.

So for example, if you are expanding charging infrastructure, you know you want to understand how people are behaving, where they are stopping and design charging infrastructure around that so the chargers have the right powers to serve people’s needs. You want to understand what part of that demand is potentially flexible. You want to understand how battery technologies may improve or the ability to store energy in a vehicle could improve going forward. So these are some of the factors that we consider in the area of transportation.

We also look at how to integrate more variable renewable energy in the form of solar and wind energy into the grid. There are a lot of interesting dynamics there as well to consider around the variability on the supply side. So resource variability and also variability on the demand side, and the potential again for demand side adjustments and consumption patterns that could bring the cost down and improve the overall performance of the energy system.

Tan Cheng Peng: OK, very interesting. Yesterday at the public lecture at the SMI Forum, you spoke about hard technology and soft technology. That’s very interesting. Can you elaborate a little bit about the soft technology aspect of innovation?

Prof Jessika Trancik: One of the areas that we focus on right now is the cost of hydrogen production and how those costs can be brought down. One component of the cost is of course the cost of electricity if you are producing green hydrogen via electrolysis. Now, if we are using clean energy sources where you have variability as you do with solar and wind energy inputs, at certain times of the day, certain times of the year, you have more energy available and at other times less. In order to support the reliable and low cost production of green hydrogen, we need to understand that variability and then if you can predict in advance and design systems that really are adapted to that variability in the supply, then you can potentially bring down the cost of hydrogen production.

So the predictive models and the analytics would be an example of a soft technology, where if done right, you can actually make your systems overall much more efficient and require less oversizing of physical infrastructure. This can potentially have a big impact on the cost, in this example of hydrogen production.

There are many other examples as well where installing hardware, for example, and expanding various physical assets for clean energy systems requires processes. That’s also an example of soft technology.

We see that with many clean energy technologies, the fraction of the overall cost of these systems that is contributed by soft costs and soft technology is rising over time. So there’s a real need to make these processes more efficient, and by designing processes that are codified and can be repeated, for example if you are building rooftop solar, if that process can be effectively repeated from 1 project to the next, you can make the processes much more efficient and you can save costs. So those are some examples of soft technology and the interaction with hardware.

Tan Cheng Peng: Thank you very much. One of the challenges that we face here in our local research ecosystem in Singapore is the dearth of successful translation of applied research into commercially viable and scalable solutions. Now we know that MIT has a well-established track record of translating cutting edge research into commercial and scalable applications. Can you share some insights into how you bridge the gap between research and real world implementation?

Prof Jessika Trancik: I have been very impressed with what seems like an ongoing conversation that you are having here with industry, research, government. That ongoing conversation, those exchanges are really important for making sure that research can be translated into practice and that new ideas developed in research labs can actually make their way into actual application. From what I have seen over the last day or so, it seems like you have a lot of work happening in this area and a lot of exchange between researchers, and industry and government. So I think that is very promising, very exciting in terms of bringing research ideas into practice.

This is something that MIT focuses on, and something that we focus on in my group is making sure that you know at all stages of the research project that you are having conversations with people that could use that research. Sometimes that research is quite fundamental in nature. You are trying to understand the nature of the variability in travel patterns, and trying to understand where electricity or fuels would need to be supplied and how predictive your models can be. So that can be quite a fundamental set of questions. But I think by having conversations early on in the project and throughout the project and understanding who could use these insights. So perhaps government can use them to understand where to incentivise, if we’re talking about electric vehicle charging infrastructure, where to incentivise the expansion of infrastructure that might serve otherwise under-served populations. Understanding how this information might be used by them. Similarly with industry, really understanding what companies are working on, what is at the cutting edge. Not at the end of the research project, but really at the beginning. So having those conversations and having those two way exchanges all throughout the project is really critical.

Tan Cheng Peng: OK, thank you. On the maritime sector, the revised International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) greenhouse gas strategy aims for net zero GHG emissions for international shipping by 2050. Do you think this is realistically achievable?

Prof Jessika Trancik: From an engineering technological perspective, it is achievable. The question as to what the cost will be and how smooth this transition will be really will depend on the decisions that are made from now going forward to this target. If we think about the problem purely from an engineering perspective, of course there are challenges. But as a society, we have really developed an ability to solve very difficult engineering challenges. Now that always requires investment. One of the key aspects of the clean energy transition is that you always need to keep in mind costs. In order to keep costs down, you need to design your systems, your infrastructure, your individual technological components with that in mind.

I think in the area of shipping, the key is going to be to understand requirements in terms of performance, in terms of routing, and some of the constraints that you have to work within in terms of the actual delivery of a service that needs to be maintained and then how to shape the individual technological tools into that. So I think there’s a lot of possibility. I think there are many open questions about which fuels and which technologies could be the ones that will ultimately take off. Will it be electrification? Will it be the fuels that many are working on, – methanol, ammonia, hydrogen, advanced biofuels. What role will nuclear fission play? I think these are all options that are in the running. It is quite an exciting area to be working in because there isn’t yet, I think, one clear path forward. So you need to retain a portfolio that is diversified enough across these different options, but then also move toward concentrating in the most promising options as quickly as possible. So that is a tension.

I think to address that, it is really important to track progress all along and to do research alongside bringing some of those research findings into practice. Industry, researchers working together. Engineers working on physical technologies also collaborating with modelers.

I think it is a really exciting time and certainly I think the target is achievable from an engineering perspective, but of course how we go about working toward that target is going to be really important, and actually ultimately getting there on time and continuing to provide a high level of service at reasonable costs.

Tan Cheng Peng: So our final question for the interview. You have attended the 13th edition of the SMI forum yesterday where you were a keynote speaker. What are your impressions of our local Singapore maritime R&D ecosystem, and what are the possible lessons we could perhaps adapt and learn from you and your colleagues at MIT?

Prof Jessika Trancik: I have been very impressed as I mentioned before by this ecosystem and your ability to bring people together from industry, research and government, and have what seems to be conversations that happen with some frequency. I think as SMI, you are playing a really important and interesting role in bringing these different stakeholders together and shaping the work that is happening in this area. So I think it is really exciting. Having these conversations, working together, interacting rather than working in silos, is critical to making progress. That’s great. I think that is also something that at MIT we are able to do, because it’s not a huge place and also there aren’t really boundaries between departments and different research groups. It’s very easy to go and talk to someone in another department. It’s very easy to reach out to a company working in an area of interest, to talk to policymakers. I think having that access and that interaction between practitioners and researchers is so important for making progress.

Tan Cheng Peng: OK, very useful. Professor Jessika, thank you very much for sharing your insights with SMI and our audience. It was a pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you.

Prof Jessika Trancik: It was great to talk to you, and thank you so much for having me.

Simulation & Modelling (SAM)

Awarded on 17 Oct 2014

In addition to being one of the busiest ports in the world, Singapore has also likewise thrived as one of the leading global maritime capitals that is highly driven by knowledge-based services and expertise. With changing demands and complexity of port and shipping activities, there would be a need for better management of complex port and ship systems.

With global trend drivers, such as shipping market volatility, environmental regulations, and energy cost-efficiency, advanced technological solutions would be required to address these concerns through innovation in port infrastructure and ship design. Hydrodynamics, physical modelling, and mathematical modelling are some of the scientific means towards more cost-effective and environmentally friendly operations. There has also been proposed methodology that focuses more on integrated systems-approach over independent components-approach.

An integrated systems strategy would also drive the need to manage sophisticated engineering and technology through risk-based approach for higher reliability and asset lifecycle management to bring cost benefits. This would enable users to complement both business and technical objectives.

Building upon the above technological trend towards a greater need for advanced complex systems, higher end training would also be required to produce competent manpower with the critical domain knowledge and skillsets. Looking beyond the conventional field of training through simulation, research in the human-machine interface through applied human engineering studies of maritime ergonomics would also be applicable to optimise interaction between people and technology for safety and productivity best practices.

As part of Singapore Maritime Institute’s (SMI) efforts to support the maritime industry in Singapore, a research grant amounting to S$5 million has been allocated to promote research through this thematic R&D programme. The Simulation & Modelling (SAM) R&D Programme aims to support projects involving the research and development of innovative technologies, approaches and ideas towards simulation & modelling for maritime applications.


Programme Themes

  • Risk Management
  • Human Factor Studies
  • Maritime Training & Operation

Asset Integrity & Risk Management (AIM)

Awarded on 02 Nov 2015

In oil & gas E&P, safe and reliable operations are of paramount importance to the industry. Asset integrity should never be compromised and risk management is critical to ensure lives and marine environment are safeguarded.

With enhanced oil recovery techniques, operators are stretching the existing reserves with assets that are reaching their design service life. These aged assets are often susceptible to failures due to mechanical degradations and harsh offshore environment.

Oil exploration has also inevitably moved into deep-sea as shallower oil wells become depleted. The offshore assets are installed in deeper water and are increasingly inaccessible. The associated cost of asset maintenance increases exponentially for deep-water regions resulting in the need for technological innovations in asset integrity & risk management. Integrity assessment and risk management solutions, anticipation of possible failures of systems and emergency response plans in the event of asset failures would be critical.

The offshore assets covered include offshore structures, subsea and down-hole equipment. The key research objectives are:

a) Identification of safety critical elements (SCEs)
The weakest structural components that are most susceptible to external forces, cyclic loadings and harsh environment known as safety critical elements should be identified.

b) Reduction of reliance on manual inspection
The inaccessible assets in deeper water and harsher environment drive the need for remote and autonomous inspection and maintenance which are increasingly reliant on sensor based technologies.

c) Low hardware overheads
Cost is one of the major considerations when sensors and wireless systems are installed. Such overheads include the cost of manufacturing the sensors and systems, power requirement as well installation compatibility with the existing assets.

d) High reliability systems under harsh environment
The increasingly harsh environment at deeper water with strong waves and currents as well as deeper wells with hostile chemicals and high pressure high temperature (HPHT) pose significant technical challenges. Sensors and systems must survive such environment with high reliability.


Programme Themes

  • Software Development
  • Hardware Development & Deployment
  • New Asset Installation
  • System Level Management

Projects awarded (will be updated progressely):

Joint Call for Proposals in Maritime Research between Norway and Singapore (MNS)

Awarded on 21 Mar 2016

Maritime Research between Norway and Singapore (MNS)

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (“MPA”) and the Research Council of Norway (“RCN”) executed a Memorandum of Understanding on 6th March 2000 (“MOU”) relating to joint co-operation in maritime research, development, education and training. The MOU will be extended for its sixth successive three-year term in 2015.
To further enhance this co-operation, and to facilitate the creation of collaborative projects between the research communities in Singapore and Norway, RCN, MPA and Singapore Maritime Institute (“SMI”) have launched a joint call for bilateral funding of research projects in mutually agreed fields. A total of NOK 15 million is available from RCN for Norwegian partners and up to S$3 million is available from SMI for the Singaporean partners.

Research areas covered

The call is in the field of maritime research. The applications in this call must cover one or more of the following topics:
Maritime arctic research
  • Operational decision support systems and logistics solutions
  • Emergency preparedness, prevention & response

Maritime navigation safety

  • e-Navigation
  • Vessel Traffic Management
  • Data analytics on traffic pattern and risk
  • Ship-shore communication
  • Internet of things at sea

Ship operation & safety

  • Simulation & Training
  • Human factors studies
  • Unmanned ships
  • Remote Piloting
  • Control Room Systems
  • Hull structural design

Green shipping

  • Green fuels
  • Energy efficiency
  • Ballast water
  • Hull cleaning
  • Optimizing routing and operation
  • Hull and propeller design
  • Energy saving devices
  • LNG Bunkering in Shipping

Ship-port operations

  • Port optimization
  • Smart ports

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (Amm)

Awarded on 01 Aug 2016

Oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) has inevitably moved into harsher operating environment. While oil price has slumped to a very low level, industry is focusing on technology developments to lower the cost of E&P. The fundamental sciences such as chemistry, physics and materials have attracted more attention than before in seeking innovative and disruptive technologies to enhance operational efficiency and improve reliability.


Operations in deeper waters with strong waves and currents pose challenges on structural integrity. Operations in Arctic pose a different set of challenges with extreme low temperature. As industry moves into ultra-deep wells with extreme high pressure and high temperature (HPHT), higher reliability is required in meeting the performance specifications to ensure safe and reliable operations. The underpinning material sciences in different operating regimes are the fundamental challenges to the increasingly harsh E&P environment.


Industry is also constantly innovating new materials for offshore applications as well as smart materials which allow more perimeters to be measured for condition monitoring of offshore structures and processes.


SMI through its engagements with the industry and academia has identified the following research thrusts and corresponding research focus areas under the grant call.  The materials covered in this grant call should be used in offshore structures, subsea and down-hole equipment with the following key research objectives:


  1. New materials development and materials enhancement to meet the operating needs under harsher environment while maintaining cost competitiveness
  2. Smart materials developments which allow condition monitoring and improve operational efficiency in the E&P lifecycle
  3. Testing methodologies developments to improve the accuracy of materials assessment and/or allow in-situ assessment to determine real-life residual life and fatigue conditions
  4. Enhancement of materials processability to improve performance and reliability of processed materials and structures


Programme Themes

  • New Materials Development
  • Materials Enhancement
  • Material Testing
  • Material Processing & Manufacturing

Maritime Sustainability (MSA)

Awarded on 04 Jan 2016

Given its location at the crossroad between East and West trade, Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world for commercial shipping and maritime services. Last year, the Port of Singapore welcomed more than 135,000 vessels and handled a total of 560 million tonnes of cargo. The maritime industry is an important part of Singapore’s economy as it is one of the fastest growing economic sectors, contributing to 7% of Singapore’s GDP.

To address one of the key challenges facing the maritime industry on sustainable shipping, research and development into innovative technologies to transform maritime transportation and port operations will enhance both regulatory compliance and better service offerings by the industry.

SMI through its engagements with the industry and academia has identified the following research areas and possible corresponding research topics under the Maritime Sustainability grant call to support maritime developments and environment protection:


a) Ballast Water Management
Possible Research Topics include Detection and Measuring Equipment / Treatment System, Treatment Technology, and Risk Assessment for Ballast Water Management System.


b) Exhaust Emission Control
Possible Research Topics include Scrubbing / Cleaning Technology, Tools and Systems.


c) Ship Noise & Vibration
Possible Research Topics include Simulation & Modelling, Materials, and Ship Design and Construction.


d) Port Sustainability
Possible Research Topics include Port Air Emission Control Technology, Cleaner Energy for Port, Port Waste-to-Resource Management, and Energy Conservation.

Programme Themes

  • Ballast Water Management
  • Exhaust Emission Control
  • Ship Noise & Vibration
  • Port Sustainability

MPA and SMI Joint Call for Proposals 2020 on Harbour Craft Electrification

Awarded on 01 Oct 2021

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) have awarded funding to three consortiums led by Keppel FELS Limited, SeaTech Solutions and Sembcorp Marine, and comprising a total of 30 enterprises and research institutions, to research, design, build and operate a fully electric harbourcraft over the next five years. These electrification pilot projects will demonstrate both commercial and technical viability of specific use cases for full electric harbourcraft and will support Singapore’s broader plans to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the maritime transport sector.


Harbourcraft Electrification Projects

No Consortium lead  Consortium members Project Scope
1 Keppel FELS Limited


  1. DNV
  2. Eng Hup Shipping

(Vessel owner/operator)

  1. Envision Digital
  2. Surbana Jurong

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
  2. Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore
To develop Solid State Transformer based shore charger & electric kit on an existing 30 pax ferry
2 SeaTech Solutions International (S) Pte Ltd


  1. Batam Fast Ferry Pte Ltd
  2. Bernhard Schulte (Singapore) Holdings Pte Ltd
  3. DM Sea Logistics Pte Ltd
  4. Jurong Port Pte Ltd
  5. Kenoil Marine Services Pte Ltd
  6. Lita Ocean Pte Ltd
  7. Marina Offshore Pte Ltd
  8. Rina Hong Kong Limited Singapore Branch
  9. Sterling PBES Energy Solutions Ltd.
  10. Yinson Production Offshore Pte Ltd

(Vessel owner)

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. Singapore Institute of Technology
  2. Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore
To develop a full electric lighter craft[i]
3 Sembcorp Marine Integrated Yard Pte Ltd


  1. ABB Pte Ltd
  2. Durapower Holdings Pte Ltd
  3. Jurong Marine Services Pte Ltd
  4. OPL Services Pte Ltd
  5. Rolls-Royce Singapore Pte Ltd
  6. SP One Pte Ltd
  7. Tian San Shipping Pte Ltd

(Vessel Owner/ operator)

  1. York Launch Pte Ltd

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. A-STAR Institute of High-Performance Computing
  2. Nanyang Technological University
  3. National University of Singapore
  4. Singapore Institute of Technology
To develop and build a full electric ferry for 200 persons for a specific route
[i] A lighter craft is a vessel used for the carriage of dry or packaged cargoes.