Recognizing that energy is at the heart of many of the world's tribulations - economic, environmental and political - Stanford is establishing a $100 million research institute to focus intently on energy issues, President John Hennessy announced today. The $100 million in new funds will enable the hiring of additional faculty and support new graduate students, in addition to the more than $30 million in yearly funding now spent on energy research.
The new Precourt Institute for Energy will draw on deep scientific expertise from across the campus and around the world. From the minuscule—materials scientists prying loose more electricity from sunshine through more efficient photovoltaic cells—to the national effort to develop sustainable energy and the global search for ways to reduce atmospheric levels of carbon, the new institute will be at the forefront.
The institute is being brought to life through the generosity of donors, led by founding donors Jay Precourt and the husband-and-wife team of Thomas Steyer and Kat Taylor. Precourt is an energy executive; Steyer is a Stanford trustee and managing partner of Farallon Capital Management, and Taylor is active in a variety of public benefit and philanthropic ventures. They are all Stanford alumni.
"Universities such as Stanford need to focus their full talent on the greatest challenges facing the world today," Hennessy said. "Energy is certainly one of those issues, posing a threat to our economy, to national security and, through the use of fossil fuels, to our environment. Addressing the challenge of energy will require research on a wide range of issues, from energy efficiency to development and deployment of renewable sources, to reducing the effect of fossil fuels."
Other donors include Douglas Kimmelman, senior partner, Energy Capital Partners; Michael Ruffatto, president, North American Power Group, Ltd.; and the Schmidt Family Foundation.
"We really have the philosophy that you can only be truly happy when everyone is prospering, and you must help make that a reality. No man is an island," Taylor said of the gift to Stanford.
"The biggest renewable resource is the sun," said Lynn Orr, who has been named overall director of the new institute, which will function as an independent laboratory reporting to the dean of research. "But we need to lower the cost of converting sunlight into electricity and supplying it through a much improved electric grid. The new center will allow us to expand significantly our effort to develop new nanostructured materials for solar energy and energy storage and to work on the host of social, market and policy issues involved in the needed transition to energy systems with significant fractions of renewables."
Orr is a professor in energy resources engineering. He has been the director of Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP), where researchers are involved in more than 40 research projects to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy. GCEP's research portfolio includes the science of materials used to convert solar energy to electricity, biomass energy conversions, advanced batteries, fuel cells, advanced combustion, and carbon capture and storage.
GCEP, launched in 2002, will become a part of the new institute, as will the 2-year-old Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency (renamed the Precourt Center for Energy Efficiency), an organization dedicated to finding ways to wring more energy savings out of buildings, cars, the electricity grid and basic human behavior.
The Precourt Institute for Energy will be housed in the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, commonly known as Y2E2, a structure that showcases green construction. "It uses about half the energy of a typical Stanford lab building and 90 percent less water," Orr said. The Precourt researchers will share the building with Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment, a campus-wide hub for interdisciplinary research, education and action on the environment and sustainability.
The big question—how to provide for energy needs while protecting the planet—is just the sort of challenge that Stanford "should attack with all the intellectual horsepower we can muster," Orr said.
Hennessy announced the founding of the new institute at a gathering in Stanford's Memorial Auditorium. The announcement was followed by an energy discussion that included noted venture capitalist John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Google CEO Eric Schmidt; Jane Woodward, president of MAP, a private firm focused on royalty interests from natural gas and renewable energy; Jim Sweeney, director of the Precourt Center for Energy Efficiency; and Sally Benson, director of GCEP.