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Stanford gets $100 million for energy research

Responding to problems created by the use of fossil fuels, Stanford University today announced gifts of $100 million to fund energy research with the ultimate goal of making renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

"Energy is one of the most important problems we face," Stanford President John Hennessy said at a press conference. The country's dependence on fossil fuels creates national security problems, economic instability and contributes to global warming, he said.

"We will engage leaders on all three aspects of the problem," he added, both on campus and around the world.

The new funding will go to the Precourt Institute for Energy, which had already existed, and will be headed by its new director, Lynn Orr, former dean of the School of Earth Sciences.

The funding includes $50 million from donor Jay Precourt, who has had CEO positions at various oil and gas companies and holds bachelor's and master's degrees in petroleum engineering from Stanford.

The husband-and-wife team of Thomas Steyer and Kat Taylor is donating $40 million to form the TomKat Center for Renewable Energy.

Steyer, a member of the Stanford Board of Trustees, is managing partner of Farallon Capital Management and managing director of Hellman & Freidman, a San Francisco-based private equity firm. He had previously worked for Goldman Sachs & Morgan Stanley & Co. and has a Stanford MBA. Taylor, who is active in public benefit and philanthropic efforts, holds a joint MBA/law degree from Stanford.

Other donors include: Douglas Kimmelman, senior partner of Energy Capital Partners; Michael Ruffatto, president of North American Power Group, Ltd.; and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

The funds will enable Stanford to hire six to eight additional faculty members, including five with endowed chairs, and fund 20 new graduate fellowships plus post-doctoral fellowships, Orr said.

There are 136 Stanford faculty members working on energy research in 21 different academic departments, Orr said.

A main goal of the research will be to reduce the cost of converting solar energy to electricity, Orr added.

The "Holy Grail" of energy research, Hennessy added, quoting New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, is "new technology we can sell to China as alternatives to fossil fuels."

"Small solutions to the problem won't work," Hennessy noted. "You have to get scale."

"We believe that Stanford is uniquely positioned to change our nation's attitudes and capabilities as it concerns energy," Steyer said. "What our university did for the information revolution, it must now do for the energy revolution."

The Precourt Institute for Energy will be housed in the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, known as Y2E2. The building opened last year and is a model of an energy efficiency, using less than half the energy of a typical Stanford lab building and 90 percent less water.

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