Materials scientist and energy storage entrepreneur William Chueh has been appointed to serve as the new director of the Precourt Institute for Energy in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

Chueh, whose research centers on understanding the fundamental chemistry, materials, and physics that underpin development of better batteries, fuel cells, and other energy technologies, said he thinks of Precourt as “the glue” holding together many people and organizations working on energy at Stanford and beyond.

“Because of Precourt, we are well connected. The task is clear. We need to continue to amplify this connectivity across Stanford and across the world,” he said. “We have a limited amount of time to decarbonize and complete the energy transition, and partnerships are key.”

Chueh will take on his new responsibilities on July 1.

“Since its launch, Precourt, along with the Woods Institute for the Environment, has helped set the standard for collaborative and interdisciplinary research and education at Stanford,” said Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability inaugural dean Arun Majumdar, who previously co-led the Precourt Institute with energy science and engineering professor Sally Benson, the Precourt Family Professor.

Majumdar selected Chueh from a small group of candidates recommended by a faculty search committee led by Benson. “I express deepest gratitude to Sally and the members of the search committee for their diligent work on behalf of the Institute and Stanford University,” said Majumdar, the Jay Precourt Provostial Chair Professor. “Will’s record of achievements as an eminent researcher, keen innovator, and proven leader demonstrate just how prepared he is to carry forward and build the Institute’s vision. I’m greatly anticipating the Institute’s ongoing success under his direction.”

From insights to solutions

Chueh is an associate professor of energy science and engineering in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, of materials science and engineering in the School of Engineering, and of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. He is also the director of the SLAC-Stanford Battery Center. Together with Fortinet Founders Professor and former Precourt director Yi Cui, Chueh is faculty co-director of the StorageX Initiative, an industrial affiliates program researching energy storage technologies.

“I grew up with Precourt,” Chueh said, reflecting on the nearly 20 years since he received support from Stanford’s Global Climate & Energy Project to research his doctoral thesis at the California Institute of Technology. The work advanced fundamental understanding of elevated-temperature materials for processes that convert sunlight into fuels that can be stored and transported, and fuels to electricity. It also earned Chueh numerous awards including the President Harry S. Truman Fellowship in National Security Science and Engineering, and prompted Chueh’s first visits to the Stanford campus for convenings focused on the future of energy.

In 2010, the year after Precourt was founded with a gift from alumnus Jay Precourt and his family, Chueh was hired as the Institute’s first affiliated faculty, with a joint appointment in the School of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science.

In 2021, Chueh co-founded a company called Mitra Chem with the goal of manufacturing iron-based cathode materials in North America for use in electric car batteries. With Benson, he co-directs STEER, a partnership launched by the SLAC-Stanford Battery Center and Precourt in late 2023 to guide research and development directions, investment decisions, and policy agendas related to energy technologies.

Next generation of energy innovators

Today, Chueh takes pride in educating the next generation of energy innovators, with former advisees having gone on to careers as professors at leading institutions and founders, scientists, and engineers at companies working on clean energy technology. “I measure success by the impact made possible by the people we train,” he said. “Can the world take the understanding that our students and postdocs have discovered, and use those insights to scale solutions to the real world?”

Some of his most recent research has harnessed high-resolution microscopy techniques and artificial intelligence to help answer longstanding questions about why a promising type of rechargeable battery wears out. Using the same tools, he and his students have reduced the time it takes to test new battery technologies to several weeks from as much as two years.

“Will has been an invaluable contributor to the success of the Precourt Institute,”  said Benson, who is also a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. “Building on his impressive track record with the StorageX Initiative and more recently, the STEER program, I am excited about new directions he will lead us as the next director of the Precourt Institute for Energy.”

Creative and practical energy research

Chueh will succeed Roland Horne, a professor of energy science and engineering who has served as interim director of the Precourt Institute since Cui stepped down to focus on his role as faculty director of the school’s Sustainability Accelerator in December 2023.

“Will is a great choice to be director. His academic career has emphasized creative and practical energy research, and he has been engaged in Precourt since being hired at Stanford as Precourt’s first billeted faculty member,” said Horne, the Thomas Davies Barrow Professor. “I wish him well in leading Precourt to foster the energy community at Stanford and beyond.”

Horne will continue as interim director of the Precourt Institute until July 1. “I am enormously grateful to Roland, who stepped up when needed and has done an exceptional job as the interim director,” Majumdar said.

About the Precourt Institute

The Precourt Institute’s annual budget of nearly $30 million primarily funds energy-related research at Stanford spanning science, technology, policy, and economics. Launched in 2009 with a vision to realize sustainable, affordable, and secure energy for all, the institute hires postdoctoral scholars to work with faculty members across Stanford, supports energy education on campus, hosts the Explore Energy dorm, elevates the visibility of Stanford energy research results, and cultivates an ecosystem for energy innovation at Stanford and around the world.

Like the Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute is part of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and among five Stanford institutes with the authority to appoint fellows, offer courses, and confer degrees, among other abilities not shared by the dozens of other independent laboratories. The provost designates these institutes based on such factors as the size and scope of the institute’s work, its financial stability, the number of faculty affiliated with it, and its prospects for long-term intellectual vitality.