Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, December 4, 2002

Text of Lynn Orr's remarks at the announcement of the Global Climate and Energy Project

The following is the text of the remarks made by Lynn Orr, director of the Global Climate and Energy Project (G-CEP), at the press conference announcing the creation of the project, Nov. 20, 2002.

Thank you, John. Good morning everyone. It is a pleasure to add my welcome to President Hennessy's.

We are here today to talk about one of the grand challenges of this century: producing sufficient energy to meet the needs of a growing world population in a way that protects the environment that supports us all. Six billion humans now occupy this planet. Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion have no real access to energy services, services that we in the developed world take for granted: energy for heat, light, transportation and electric power for a multitude of other uses. In 20 years, another 1.5 billion people will join us. They will want and deserve access to energy to live better lives. Supplying that energy will be a significant challenge. But it is only part of the challenge.

It is clear that we humans are interacting with the geochemistry of the planet on a global scale. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by a third since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The acidity of the surface ocean has increased as the pH has measurably changed, and there is a lively, ongoing debate about the timing, magnitude, and impact of future responses like global warming. These changes indicate that we should investigate global energy systems that have very low greenhouse gas emissions. Supplying the world's requirements for energy, and at the same time reducing greenhouse emissions to very low levels, is definitely a grand challenge.

As President Hennessy said, the focus of the Global Climate and Energy Project is to develop innovative ways to meet that challenge. Our goal is to unleash the creativity of talented researchers here at Stanford and at other top universities and research institutions worldwide. Think with me for a moment about what lies ahead. Imagine a set of global energy systems that will meet society's requirements for energy with low greenhouse emissions. What will the primary energy sources be: solar, wind, nuclear power, biomass, fossil fuels? What kinds of systems will work well in the developing countries, particularly in the growing economies of Asia, in addition to the countries of Europe and North America? What barriers to the creation and implementation of these systems will we have to face? Which of those barriers can be lowered or eliminated through research at this university and others? In this project, we will build a research portfolio that seeks opportunities across the full range of primary energy sources, and we will carry out pre-commercial research that will add innovative technologies and systems to the global energy mix. We will concentrate on the technology research, and we will consider safety, environmental impacts, market acceptance, social responsibility and cost as we build the research effort.

The mix of future energy technologies will interact in complex ways. Let me give you an example. Suppose, for the moment, that hydrogen becomes the preferred transportation fuel of the future. We will need to find ways to generate H2 on a large scale and at reasonable cost. The development of an advanced infrastructure for hydrogen distribution could favor generation of the hydrogen at central facilities, while the absence of such an infrastructure would favor distributed generation.

If hydrogen were made centrally from methane, coal or other fossil fuel sources, then CO2 would also be generated as a by-product, and it would be necessary to separate, capture and store the CO2 generated (perhaps in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, or unmineable coal beds, for example). On the other hand, if sufficient electricity could be generated by solar, wind or nuclear power to make hydrogen from water, no CO2 would be created in the hydrogen generation step, and CO2 sequestration methods would be less important. Advances in wind or solar generation technologies or in efficient, low-cost energy storage systems that make renewable energy sources more attractive would alter the demand for CO2 capture and storage.

Many more interactions among all the other technologies will be considered as part of the portfolio development. The linked performance of energy technologies and systems will mean that the diversified portfolio will evolve with time as more progress is made in some areas and less in others. Stanford will build tools to assess progress and manage the research portfolio as it evolves by evaluating these interactions among technologies.

We look forward to working with our industry colleagues as we build the GCEP program. As President Hennessy noted, we have a long history at Stanford of working on important problems that have real-world applications. We also look forward to working with fellow engineers and scientists worldwide. If we are to succeed, we must engage the talents of colleagues in both the developed and the developing world. We will seek out the best researchers around the globe to work with us as we move forward in the decade ahead.

An important part of this effort will be the dissemination of the research results. Research conducted at Stanford must be openly available, and everything we do will be communicated to the public and the science and engineering community through workshops, presentations, reports and publication in technical journals. Our objective is to conduct research that will have significant positive impact and to make it available to the world.

I would like to express my thanks, as well, to the companies represented here today. The project we are announcing would not exist without their interest, commitment and support. I am personally grateful for many conversations with Brian Flannery and Frank Sprow of ExxonMobil and Rama Ramakrishnan and Philippe Lacour-Gayet of Schlumberger in particular, who helped us frame the project. Thanks also to the GE team, represented by Sanjay Correa today, for their enthusiastic participation. We are especially grateful to the ExxonMobil team, who led the effort to put together the group of companies and the substantial support that will be required. We would not be standing here today without much hard work on their part. These companies and their senior leadership, currently ExxonMobil, GE, and Schlumberger, and soon to include E.ON, deserve our special thanks for their interest and their willingness to invest in this effort.

None of us underestimates the magnitude of the effort that will be required to address this challenge. We recognize that many others around the globe will contribute to the work that must be done. The energy transitions that will occur over this century will take decades to accomplish. They will require the involvement of industry, governments and many talented scientists and engineers worldwide. This project will be a participant in that process.

The challenge is large, but it is one that should engage institutions like Stanford. With the help of the companies that are sponsoring this effort, we will put our talented faculty and students to work. Many of them are here today. I would like to thank especially my colleagues who have worked hard to make this project possible, especially Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering, and his senior associate dean Jeff Koseff, faculty members Jerry Harris, Jim Sweeney and John Weyant. I also thank Chris Edwards, who will work with me in leading the project, and staff members Debra Zumwalt, the university attorney, and my colleagues Katharine Ku, Laura Breyfogle and David Gordon.

I would also like to thank the many faculty and students who will work on this project. Many of the faculty who will be involved are here today. A number of those faculty will go to work immediately on the initial research activities to be conducted under this project. Their names are listed in your program. They have put together a set of posters that describe some of the work going on now that will be the basis for our initial activities, and they will be available at the end of this part of the program to talk to any who wish to know more and to answer questions. I encourage you to talk to them to get a taste of what lies ahead.

I'll close by saying that the challenge of this project has created a tremendous excitement among faculty and students here at Stanford. I know they join me when I say that we can hardly wait to begin. There is much to do, but there is much that can be done, and the time to start is now.

Thank you. SR