Stanford Gets Clean Energy Boost From Private Donors

Jan 12 2009 | 7:08pm ET

Stanford University announced today that it is establishing a $100 million research institute to focus solely on energy issues. 

According to the university, the new institute—the Precourt Institute for Energy—will draw on deep scientific expertise from across the campus and around the world, helping the national effort to develop sustainable energy and the global search for ways to reduce atmospheric levels of carbon.

University President John Hennessy said that the new funds will enable the hiring of additional faculty and support new graduate students. The university currently spends $30 million per year on energy research. The additional donations will bring the yearly spend to $130 million.

The money comes from various donors, including energy executive Jay Precourt and the husband-and-wife team of Thomas Steyer and Kat Taylor. Steyer is a Stanford trustee and managing partner of Farallon Capital Management, which he founded in 1986. He is also managing director of Hellman & Friedman, a San Francisco-based private equity firm.

A $40 million gift from Steyer and Taylor will create a new research center as part of the institute, the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy.

“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, a senior partner at Energy Capital Partners; Michael Ruffatto, president of North American Power Group.; and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

“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, 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.


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