Views on Sustainability, Green IT and all that...by Workday's "green team"
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Stanford to create $100MM energy research institute
Stanford University will create a $100 million energy research institute that will develop cheaper solar cells, technologies that use electricity more efficiently and ways to prevent the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The new Precourt Institute for Energy will bring together Stanford researchers from various departments who already are developing better solar cells or new ways to make fuel. The financing, most of it from three alumni, also will allow the school to tackle more projects, hire more faculty and train more students interested in the field.
"This is a complex and long-term undertaking that will engage the minds of hundreds of faculty and thousands of students," said Stanford President John Hennessy. "And our success will impact millions, even billions, of lives across the planet."
The institute also will strengthen the Bay Area's lead in the race to develop sources of power that won't contribute to global warming.
For several years, Bay Area academic institutions have been devoting more of their money and intellectual might toward alternative energy, hunting for ways to power homes and cars without spewing greenhouse gases.
UC Berkeley has its Energy Biosciences Institute, founded nearly two years ago with $500 million from oil giant BP. That effort also includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, whose researchers have been at the forefront of using micro-organisms to produce fuel.
Stanford already has a $225 million Global Climate and Energy Project funded by Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Toyota and oilfield services company Schlumberger. The school also hosts the Precourt Center for Energy Efficiency. Both the climate project and the efficiency center will become part of the new Precourt Institute for Energy.
The presence of so much energy research has, in turn, helped spawn green-technology startup companies throughout the Bay Area, just as information technology research at the area's schools helped create hundreds of software, hardware and Internet companies.
The new institute takes its name from Stanford alumnus Jay Precourt, who donated $50 million for the project. Precourt studied petroleum engineering at Stanford before pursuing a career in the oil and natural gas business with such companies as Hamilton Oil and Tejas Gas Corp.
"I'm quite concerned, having been in the energy business my whole life, with the fact that we are importing energy from insecure, unreliable sources who are, in many cases, not friends of the United States," Precourt said in a release.
UC Berkeley faced criticism for accepting an oil company's money and help with its biosciences institute. Many Berkeley students and faculty questioned whether BP's participation would undermine the goal of finding replacements for petroleum. Hennessy said that shouldn't be a concern with the Precourt Institute.
"The Precourt gift is a gift to the university, and the university will decide how to use it," Hennessy said. He also praised Precourt for wanting the school to take such a wide-ranging approach to energy issues.
"It's the kind of vision we need more of in this country," Hennessy said.
An additional $40 million for the Institute came from Stanford trustee Thomas Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor. Steyer is the founder and a managing partner of Farallon Capital Management as well as a managing director of the Hellman & Friedman private equity firm. Both Steyer and Taylor are Stanford alumni.
In their honor, the institute will include a center devoted to renewable power, called the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy.
The full $100 million in donations will help Stanford add as many as eight faculty positions and 20 graduate student fellowships. If private donors hadn't come forward, adding that many positions probably would have taken a decade, Hennessy said.
Lynn Orr, who had been director of the school's global climate project, will head the institute. Stanford will now have more money to devote to such research projects as using nanomaterials to make better solar cells, Orr said. And the school's many alternative energy researchers will be encouraged to collaborate with people outside their own departments.
"The energy challenge is a big and important one," Orr said, "but it is just the sort of challenge Stanford students and faculty should tackle with enthusiasm."