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March 7, 2006

Global Climate and Energy Project announces new energy research programs totaling nearly $8 million

By Maxine Lym

Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) Director Franklin M. Orr Jr. announced several new research programs and two one-year exploratory research efforts totaling close to $8 million at Stanford and outside the university. The new research activities will focus on solar energy, biohydrogen generation, advanced combustion, and geologic storage of carbon dioxide. Investigators will use the support to conduct fundamental research in energy technologies aimed at significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale.

"We are pleased to welcome some new faculty to the GCEP team, along with some faculty who have worked with GCEP previously," said Orr, the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor of Petroleum Engineering at Stanford. "We are working on one of the grand challenges of this century, and we are counting on all these investigators to conduct research that will lead ultimately to reduced greenhouse gas emissions."

The new programs will bring the total number of GCEP-supported research programs to 30 with funding of approximately $45.5 million. These additional research programs will include investigation of new materials for low-cost, highly efficient photovoltaic cells, and sequestration of carbon dioxide in coal beds:

  • "Advanced Materials and Devices for Low-Cost and High-Performance Organic Photovoltaic Cells," led by Zhenan Bao, Chemical Engineering, and Michael McGehee, Materials Science and Engineering, and at the University of California-Los Angeles, Yang Yang, Materials Science and Engineering. (This is a joint activity involving two separate research programs at Stanford and UCLA. Discussions between the two universities are under way to establish a subcontract that is required for final approval of the UCLA program.)
  • "Development of Low-Exergy-Loss, High-Efficiency Chemical Engines," led by Christopher Edwards, Mechanical Engineering.
  • "Direct Solar Biohydrogen: Part II," led by James Swartz, Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.
  • "Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide," led by Jerry M. Harris and Mark D. Zoback, both in Geophysics, and Anthony R. Kovscek and Franklin M. Orr Jr., both in Petroleum Engineering.
  • The research by Swartz will continue his innovative work already funded by GCEP on developing an organism that can convert solar energy into chemical energy stored as hydrogen.

    "I am delighted that GCEP continues to have confidence in the research that we are conducting in our laboratory," commented Swartz. "This new program will allow us to develop an oxygen-tolerant hydrogenase enzyme and to test its effectiveness in generating hydrogen using sunlight in a photosynthetic bacterium."

    For the first time, GCEP also announced one-year exploratory research efforts, intended to allow investigators the opportunity to evaluate the potential of their research concepts. The two activities selected are:

  • "Advanced Thermoionic Energy Converters: Enabling Technology for Low Greenhouse Futures," led by Mark Cappelli, Mechanical Engineering.
  • "Nanotube Networks as Transparent Electrodes for Solar Cells," led by Michael McGehee, Materials Science and Engineering, and David Goldhaber-Gordon, Physics.
  • "This gives us a wonderful opportunity to test a novel idea for dramatically improving the efficiency and power density of a thermoionic energy converter as a primary heat engine in a solar-thermal system or as a topping cycle in a gas-fired combustor, before deciding whether to commit the resources to a longer-term research effort," said Cappelli.

    GCEP Managing Director Richard Sassoon added, "This round of proposals included submissions from senior GCEP personnel, who normally play a critical, formal role in the review and selection process." He noted that Charles Kruger, deputy chair of Bio-X and former vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy, took on that responsibility to ensure that no conflicts of interest occurred in making these selections.

    Launched at Stanford in December 2002, GCEP is a collaborative effort of the scientific and engineering communities at academic research institutions and in industry. Its purpose is to conduct fundamental, pre-commercial research that will foster the development of global energy solutions that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The GCEP sponsors—ExxonMobil, GE, Schlumberger and Toyota—intend to invest $225 million over a decade or more in the project.

    "With these new programs, GCEP deepens its research portfolio in a number of areas, including solar energy," commented Masayuki Sasanouchi, chair of the GCEP Management Committee and project general manager of Toyota's Environmental Affairs Division. "GCEP is well under way in developing innovative ideas that may have a significant impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy systems of the future."

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

    Editor Note:

    A photo of Franklin M. Orr Jr. is available on the web at



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


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

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