Ron Crane worked on a hill in Palo Alto in the 1970s, when on most days you could look across San Francisco Bay and see a brown haze hanging in the sky.

Now, 28 years later, he says, when you look out across the horizon, that haze is gone thanks largely to pollution regulations on automobiles. “Achieving these large-scale improvements is encouraging, but we have a long way to go,” says Crane, who recently established an MIT professorship in the School of Engineering to support energy-related research.

Engineering Dean Thomas L. Magnanti says: “The School of Engineering and MIT excel at broad-scale thinking and major research efforts that cut across disciplinary boundaries in ways that can have significant impact on the energy future of the nation and the world. But to maximize our effectiveness, we need to continue to attract and support outstanding faculty who will push the boundaries of technological discovery and inspire the outstanding students who will serve as our future leaders.”

The appointment of the inaugural Crane Professor is awaiting the final report of the Energy Research Council (ERC), which will include recommendations for new research areas for MIT to invest in. The ERC report was scheduled for release in February 2006.

Crane earned an MIT degree in electrical engineering in 1972 and a master’s from Stanford in 1974. He worked at Xerox Systems Development Division, a spinoff of the Palo Alto Research Center, where he was responsible for enhancing the original Ethernet transmission system. Then he was a founding member of 3Com, where he was issued five patents related to Ethernet transmission technology. Ten years later he began consulting, then co-founded LAN Media Corporation, where he developed fast Ethernet technology, and later wide area networking products. When LAN was acquired by SBE, he became vice president of Wide Area Network Engineering until four years ago, when he began exploring new ventures.

“Much of life is dependent on energy,” he says. “We’re running out of oil. We’ve got a trillion barrels left before it’s gone, which will be about 35 years based on current consumption and reserve estimates.”

Crane says he hopes we will extract useful hydrocarbons from wood and other biomass to get gasoline; obtain electricity and/or hydrogen from sunlight; and make the transition to hybrid-style cars with a battery capability to run 60 miles, rather than just a few.

“We have made progress, and I do think we’ll get there,” he says. “Will we get there fast enough is the question.”