Stanford launches $100M green institute

January 12, 2009 7:43:23 PM PST
Stanford University Monday announced the creation of a new $100 million energy research institute. It will compete with the University of California, Berkeley and other universities across the country to solve the energy crisis.

It was a surprising announcement in these tough economic times, three Stanford alumni giving a combined $90 million towards the creation of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

"We need to work on technologies that meet what I call the Tom Friedman test -- new technology that meets the China price, that you can sell to China as an alternative to burning coal," Stanford President John Hennessy said. "That's the Holy Grail in this, and that's the kind of problem we want to focus on."

The Precourt Institute for Energy will be housed in the new environment and energy building, funded by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife, Akiko Yamazaki.

An additional $10 million was raised from donors like Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

The money will allow Stanford to hire new faculty and researchers on top of the 136 already engaged in energy projects.

The director of the new institute expects to go after additional funding from federal energy sources.

"Some of them have support, for example, from the Deptartment of Energy now; we would expect absolutely that they will be in there competing as hard as they can for that research effort," Professor Lynn Orr said.

Stanford expects research to go into a wide range of technologies, from solar and wind energy, to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Over 22 years if you simply implement what the Precourt Institute is working on, just as a matter of rebuilding America's energy infrastructure, you ultimately save $1 trillion," Schmidt said.

But there will not be any quick solutions, Orr said, the institute's work may span 20, 40 and perhaps 50 years into the future.

"When it comes to technological breakthroughs, you just can't count on any of them happening quickly," Precourt Institute Professor James Sweeney said. "They may, they may come more slowly, but a lot of the research becomes incremental."