The EMS Energy Institute’s history dates back to 1949 with the establishment of the Combustion Laboratory, within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The laboratory was started with support from the Central Pennsylvania Coal Producers Association and the Western Pennsylvania Coal Operators Association, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Mines.

From 1993 to 1997, the Combustion Laboratory, along with various labs and centers, were consolidated into the EMS Energy Institute. In 2000, the Institute encompassed five research areas, including carbon materials, clean fuels and catalysis, natural gas and petroleum, sustainable energy, and electrochemical systems. In 2007 the Institute became on of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment. Today, the Institute has expanded its variety of research and has ten distinctive focus areas.