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Stanford Report, December 4, 2002

Stanford launches Global Climate and Energy Project


President John Hennessy on Wednesday launched the Global Climate and Energy Project (G-CEP) -- an ambitious, multimillion-dollar alliance between academia and industry to develop innovative technologies that will meet the world's growing energy needs while protecting the environmental health of the planet.

"This is a very exciting day -- the beginning of what we believe is a revolutionary collaboration," Hennessy told a packed auditorium at the Schwab Residential Center. He said the goal of G-CEP is to address "one of the most pressing problems we face today: the generation and consumption of energy in an environmentally benign fashion."

President John Hennessy spoke at the announcement of the creation of G-CEP. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Hennessy noted that the project's sponsors anticipate investing up to $225 million in the next 10 years -- an amount equal to the total of all corporate-sponsored research at Stanford in the last decade.

ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded petroleum and petrochemical company, plans to contribute up to $100 million; General Electric, the world leader in power generation technology and services, $50 million; and Schlumberger Limited, a global energy services company, $25 million. E.ON, Europe's largest privately owned energy service provider, has signaled its intention to contribute $50 million and join G-CEP, along with other academic and corporate sponsors from Europe. University officials said other automotive and technology industries may join the project as the research progresses.

Lynn Orr

G-CEP will be headed by Franklin M. "Lynn" Orr, Jr., who steps down as dean of the School of Earth Sciences on Dec. 1. Christopher F. Edwards, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, was named deputy director.

"It is clear that we humans are interacting with the geochemistry of the planet on a global scale," Orr told the audience. "The concentration of carbon dioxide 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."

Three industry representatives also spoke on Wednesday: Frank Sprow, vice president of ExxonMobil; Sanjay Correa, global technology leader with General Electric; and Philippe Lacour-Gayet, vice president of Schlumberger Limited.

"Today, the enormous publicity given to climate change makes it possible for critics to misrepresent the oil and gas industry as a sunset energy," Lacour-Gayet said, "but actually we know that the industry will play a crucial role in meeting most of the world's vast need for clean affordable, energy in the next hundred years."

He said that, because of the size and the complexity of the issue, Schlumberger decided to team up with a leading university and a group of major energy companies.

"Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion [people] 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," Orr observed. "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 difficult, he added, and doing so with low greenhouse emissions will be an even greater challenge. Among G-CEP's specific goals will be to:

  • Identify the most promising technologies for low emissions, high-efficiency energy supply and identify barriers to the application of these new technologies on a global basis;
  • Conduct research into overcoming barriers to a wide range of promising existing and new technologies and to accelerate their commercial application globally;
  • Identify potential solutions to cost, performance, safety, regulatory, legal and consumer acceptance barriers to widespread adoption of next-generation energy technologies; and,
  • Share and publicize research results to a wide audience, including academic and commercial research scientists, media, business, governments and potential end users.

Orr said a main objective of the initiative is to develop a portfolio of energy technologies that can be deployed on a global scale in developed and developing economies. Among the energy sources, systems and uses to be considered are:

  • Advanced transportation systems
  • Electric power generation systems with lower greenhouse emissions
  • Production, distribution and use of hydrogen
  • Production, distribution and use of biomass fuels
  • Advanced nuclear power technologies
  • Renewable energy sources (wind and solar)
  • Carbon sequestration (storing carbon dioxide underground or underwater)
  • Power storage and transmission
  • Advanced coal utilization
  • Combustion science and engineering
  • Geoengineering
  • Enabling infrastructure
Intellectual freedom

In an interview, Orr noted that researchers involved in G-CEP will have the intellectual freedom to explore a wide array of energy technologies and solutions.

"We have a long history at Stanford of working with industry, and we understand the importance of having our researchers maintain an independent view," he said. "This project will create a sustained university/industry collaboration on the technical issues of climate and energy that frames a long-term research agenda."

Added Hennessy: "I think it works remarkably well for the kind of research that a university does. It's quite basic, it's multidisciplinary in nature, and it's long term. It's beyond what companies normally think of as their competitive horizon."

Orr pointed out that Stanford would hold formal legal title to all technology and information derived from the project, as well as formal legal title to all patents sought.

"An important part of this effort will be the dissemination of the research results," he said. "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."

Orr predicted that about half of all G-CEP research projects will be conducted by Stanford faculty, students and staff. The rest will be done at other institutions around the world under the aegis of Stanford.

"There is no doubt that the problems we face are extraordinarily complex in scope and in scale," Hennessy added. "No one university, no single company, not even a single country can solve them all."

G-CEP administrative offices will be located in the Peterson Building across from the Mitchell Building.















Lynn Orr

Photo: L.A. Cicero