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October 23, 2006

Global Climate and Energy Project announces more than $1 million in research awards

By Maxine Lym

Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) Director Franklin Orr Jr. announced awards totaling $1.15 million for two novel research programs and two exploratory research efforts that have been initiated at Stanford and outside the university. The new research activities are in the areas of biomass, advanced coal utilization and integrated assessment of biofuels. The investigators are using the funds to conduct fundamental research in energy technologies aimed at greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"These new research activities are based on excellent science and step-out ideas," said Orr, the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor of Petroleum Engineering at Stanford. "They continue in the GCEP tradition of innovative energy research to address one of the world's most significant challenges."

The new efforts bring the total number of GCEP-supported research programs to 32 with funding of approximately $46.6 million since the project's launch in December 2002.

The first new program, "Microbial Synthesis of Biodiesel," is led by Professor Chaitan Khosla of the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Stanford. This research aims to genetically engineer a specific bacterium to improve biodiesel production. The resulting organisms would take in a stream of biomass carbon and produce long-chain hydrocarbon fuel. If this research is successful, it could lay the scientific foundation for new types of liquid fuels from biomass.

"The award from GCEP allows me to pursue new ways of making better biodiesel by developing improved, more cost-effective varieties," commented Khosla, the Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professor in the School of Engineering. "The interest and need for this kind of energy research has never been greater."

The second research program, "Technology Potential of Biofuels: Feasibility Assessment," is led by biological sciences Professor Christopher Field and Rosamond Lee Naylor, the Julie Wrigley Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. They are developing an approach to obtain reasonable quantitative estimates of the total biomass resource that is sustainably available and the costs of producing this biomass for energy.

"Biomass-based fuels as net carbon-neutral energy resources are promising for a number of reasons," said Field. "We are excited to make progress on evaluating their potential to help reduce greenhouse gases on a global scale."

In addition, awards supporting two exploratory research efforts allow researchers from two universities the opportunity to collaborate on evaluating the potential of a novel coal-energy-conversion research concept. These research activities, both titled "Integration of Coal Energy Conversion with Aquifer-Based Carbon Sequestration," are led by Associate Professor Reginald Mitchell of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford and by Professors Larry Baxter and Dale Tree of the departments of Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, respectively, at Brigham Young University. In these efforts, researchers are exploring the feasibility of developing a power plant that combines oxidation of coal using water at high temperature and pressure with storage of the resulting carbon dioxide and other waste products in deep underground saline aquifers. This concept, if found viable, may offer a means for decreasing the global warming impacts of coal-based power generation.

Administered at Stanford, GCEP is a collaborative effort of scientific and engineering communities at academic research institutions and in industry. Its purpose is to conduct fundamental, pre-commercial research that will permit the development of global energy solutions with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. The GCEP sponsors—ExxonMobil, GE, Schlumberger and Toyota—intend to invest $225 million over a decade or more in the project.

Maxine Lym is communications manager for the Global Climate and Energy Project.

Editor Note:

Photos of Orr, Khosla and Field are on the web at



Maxine Lym, Global Climate and Energy Project: (650) 725-3228,


Franklin Orr Jr., Global Climate and Energy Project: (650) 725-3230,

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