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 told a capacity crowd Monday afternoon in Memorial Auditorium.
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. Stanford researchers are tackling some of the world's most challenging problems, such as finding an alternative to coal that is environmentally friendly yet cheap enough to sell to China. Hennessy described that particular quest as the Holy Grail of 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, some of whom were seated in the audience Monday. The giving was 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.
Other donors include Douglas Kimmelman, senior partner, Energy Capital Partners; Michael Ruffatto, president, North American Power Group Ltd.; and the Schmidt Family Foundation.
"Universities such as Stanford need to focus their full talent on the greatest challenges facing the world today," Hennessy said before the ceremony. "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."