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By Samuel R. Avro on Jan 14, 2009 with no responses

Stanford To Launch $100 Million Energy, Climate Institute

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John Hennessy, left, and Lynn Orr answer questions at the press conference announcing the creation of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford.

Stanford University announced that it has raised $100 million to create a new research institute that will focus on developing more efficient energy sources and combating global warming.

The Precourt Institute for Energy will be headed by Lynn Orr, a professor of petroleum engineering, and will draw on deep scientific expertise from across the campus and around the world.

“Universities such as Stanford need to focus their full talent on the greatest challenges facing the world today,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “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.”

The new funding of $100 million came in the form of donations from energy executive Jay Precourt, who donated $50 million, and $40 million from Farallon Capital Management partner Thomas Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, all of whom are Stanford alumni.

The remainder of the sum was donated by a number of individuals which include Douglas Kimmelman, senior partner, Energy Capital Partners; Michael Ruffatto, president, North American Power Group Ltd.; and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

“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.

Donors Kat Taylor and Thomas Steyer speaking with Orr.

Stanford already spends $30 million a year on energy research, and the plan is for the new financing to enable them to hire more faculty members and bring in more graduate students to assist in the project.

“If the real cost of gas were included in our market—for example, environmental damage, foreign policy implications, foreign wars—if all of those things were fully included into the price of a gallon of gas, it would have already made alternative fuels more attractive,” Taylor said, explaining why she is so adamant in seeking alternatives for the nation’s energy.

Lynn Orr, who currently directs Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project and will head the new institute, believes that the sun is the most promising source of energy although it needs to be converted in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

“The biggest renewable resource is the sun,” said Orr. “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.”