Message from Co-Directors
DECEMBER 11, 2019 | Sally Benson & Arun Majumdar
The past fiscal year – September 1, 2018 through August 31, 2019 – produced a wide range of important research advances among Precourt Institute programs, from capturing energy in brackish waters to the impact of a U.S. carbon tax on households by income.
Advance in hydrogen from water
Solar water splitting using photoelectrochemical cells has long been considered a potential way to store renewable energy. In April 2019, a team led by Paul McIntyre, professor in Materials Science & Engineering, developed an integrated solar water splitting device using efficient silicon heterojunction photovoltaic cells that avoids such losses.
Improving and extending Stanford’s energy makeover
The multi-year Stanford Energy System Innovations project cut the campus’s total greenhouse gas emissions 68 percent and is lowering the system’s operating costs by $425 million over 35 years. In May, a new study laid out how to increase those benefits at Stanford, as well as how other campuses and communities could adopt some of the innovations.
Impacts of a U.S. carbon tax on households
Would a carbon tax hurt America’s poor disproportionately to other income groups? Many earlier studies found that it would. A new study led by Lawrence Goulder, economics professor and director of the Stanford Environmental & Energy Policy Analysis Center, found that, on average, low-income households would not be disproportionately affected.
Sustainable Finance Initiative launches
The global transition to low-carbon economies is transforming the investment landscape, especially in the energy, agriculture and transportation sectors. For the energy sector alone, global investment needs to triple from its current level to $2.3 trillion annually through 2040 to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, according to the International Energy Agency. To help unlock the massive amount of capital needed, the Precourt Institute launched the Sustainable Finance Initiative in October 2018.
Energy from mixing seawater and freshwater
Every cubic meter of freshwater that mixes with seawater produces about .65 kilowatt-hours of energy from the difference in salinity of the two types of water. Stanford researchers developed an affordable, durable technology that could harness and store the energy created wherever ocean water and freshwater mingle.
Artificial catalysts inspired by living enzymes
Scientists have spent decades trying to create artificial enzymes capable of cranking out important chemicals and fuels at an industrial scale with performance rivaling their natural counterparts. A research team led by Matteo Cargnello, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, succeeded in doing so, according to their study published in August.
New mobile technologies find methane leaks
On trucks, drones and airplanes, 10 promising technologies for finding natural gas leaks quickly and cheaply competed in the Mobile Monitoring Challenge, the first independent assessment of moving gas leak detectors at well sites. One startup’s drone-based system detected 100 percent of leaks and had no false positives.
$1.3 million for new energy research projects
The Precourt Institute, TomKat Center and Bits & Watts initiative awarded $1.3 million to 11 new energy research projects on campus in the summer of 2019 for projects set to start in the fall. The research will explore multiple technologies and policies. Five of the project teams are interdisciplinary. The competitively awarded seed grants enable researchers to pursue concepts very early in development, but with the potential to produce major benefits. The Precourt Institute and the TomKat Center have made such awards annually since 2010. Bits & Watts has done so since 2017.
Dionne and Kanan become TomKat Co-Directors
Jennifer Dionne and Matthew Kanan were announced in August as the new co-directors of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy. TomKat Center founding director Stacey Bent stepped down from her TomKat role to fulfill her new responsibilities as Stanford’s vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs.
Cui and Chueh named co-directors of the new Stanford StorageX Initiative
Yi Cui and Will Chueh agreed to take the helm of the new StorageX Initiative, which tackles the complex, interdisciplinary challenges in creating modern energy storage systems. The initiative funds research to prove new energy storage technologies and concepts. Working closely with industrial partners, the StorageX Initiative develops in-depth technical and commercial understanding of the emerging challenges in the sector.
Sarah Saltzer becomes managing director of SCCS
In May, Sarah Saltzer became the new managing director of the Stanford Center for Carbon Storage. Saltzer worked for 25 years at Chevron, where she held a series of scientific, managerial and executive roles in more than ten countries. She earned a PhD in geology from Stanford in 1992. Under the direction of professors Sally Benson, Mark Zobak and Anthony Kovscek, SCCS studies flow physics, monitoring, geochemistry, and simulation of the transport and fate of stored CO2.
Liang Min named managing director, Bits & Watts Initiative
The Precourt Institute appointed Liang Min as the managing director of the Bits & Watts Initiative in June. Since 2011, Min had worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, most recently as the associate program leader for the national lab’s Cyber & Infrastructure Resilience program. He was also Livermore’s founding group leader on energy delivery and utilization. Min earned a PhD in electrical engineering from Texas A&M University in 2007.
Naomi Boness named managing director of the Natural Gas Initiative
In January (2019), Naomi Boness became the new Managing Director of the Natural Gas Initiative. Prior to joining Stanford in 2019, Dr. Boness has held a variety of technical and management positions at Chevron. She is an invited member of the United Nations Expert Group on Resource Classification and a past Chair of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Oil and Gas Reserves Committee. She earned a PhD in geophysics from Stanford in 2005.
Stanford’s only energy entrepreneurship course
• 30 projects have resulted in 16 startups
• $33.2 million raised ($27.9 private investment; $5.3 in philanthropic awards)
• 85 employees
• Four countries: United States, Uganda, Kenya and India
Translating Stanford discoveries into products
The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy’s Innovation Transfer Program assists Stanford students and recent alumni in advancing technologies developed in their laboratories toward commercialization. The program is educational, requiring all applicants to have a committed faculty advisor. Grants are awarded to develop prototypes, refine business plans, and conduct customer trials and market research.
Energy bootcamp for new graduate students
In September 2018 about 5 percent of all incoming graduate students began their Stanford careers in a week-long boot camp to learn about the breadth and depth of energy research at Stanford. Energy@Stanford & SLAC is one of 12 courses in the Vice Provost for Graduate Education’s Stanford Graduate Summer Institute and by far its largest. New graduate students begin to grow networks of interdisciplinary peers, meet Stanford energy faculty and alumni, and experience a team challenge.
Stanford Energy Club's inaugural hackathon
In April, the Stanford Energy Club launched its first-ever hackathon: the Stanford Cleantech Challenge. In this 36-hour event, 20 student teams developed solutions to business and technology challenges posed by Google, Total, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas.
True cost calculator for electric vehicles
by Gabriela augustina uribe, '21
As an intern at the California Air Resources Board this summer, I researched the total cost of ownership of zero-emission vehicles. First, I studied different models for figuring out lifetime costs of owning an electric car. Then, with the help of CARB staff members and other energy experts, I created a calculator designed for car buyers to determine how certain zero-emission vehicle models compare to conventional vehicles on total cost.
A major misconception in the public is that electric vehicles are much more expensive than conventional cars. In reality, they can save you money in the long run. With the calculator, consumers can tailor the estimate based on their specific details and see how much money they could save by driving an electric car. The board will improve the calculator and plans to post a version of it to their clean vehicle website so people can make well-informed, environmentally conscious car purchases.
Summer internships in public service
Stanford undergraduate and graduate students interested in possibly pursuing a career in energy policy making – or who just want to learn how the sector is governed – can discover much about energy policy making in a summer. The Stanford Energy Internships in California & the West is a Precourt Institute program that offers paid summer work at a suite of energy agencies, like the California Public Utilities Commission and Western Interstate Energy Board.
Solving national security issues with the Lean LaunchPad
The course Hacking for Defense is about missiondriven entrepreneurship. Instead of students learning and applying Steve Blank’s “Lean LaunchPad” to form startups, they apply the methods to solve societal challenges. Topics can be about defense or about national security more broadly—like energy or the environment—or anything for which student teams can find a government sponsor.
Smart Grid Seminar
Many diverse issues need to be tackled if the electric grid is to be modernized using a holistic approach. Bits & Watts’ monthly Smart Grid Seminar provides experts from startups, research institutes and large corporations to familiarize seminar participants with the challenges and advances in grid data analytics, economics, market design, battery storage, electrified transportation, power electronics, renewable energy integration, and system operations and resiliency.
Sophomore College: Energy in Hawaii
Due to a lack of conventional energy resources, Hawaii is at the forefront of technical changes in the electric grid and the uses of electricity. This summer, the Precourt Institute and the Bill Lane Center for the American West’s sophomore college course was Energy in Hawaii: Forefront of Clean Energy Technology and Policy. The immersive experience was led by Sally Benson and Terry Surles, a senior advisor at the California Institute for Energy & Environment who works extensively in Hawaii.
Stanford Energy communication channels flourish
Team for California high-speed rail wins SVES debate California should continue to build its high-speed rail system despite soaring costs and lengthening delays, according to the audience at the annual debate of Stanford’s Silicon Valley Energy Summit in June.
Huge investment needed to fix energy’s pollution problem
Three major trends are disrupting the $10-trillion a year global energy sector, Arun Majumdar wrote in a December 2018 opinion piece in the Financial Times. These are: an expanding natural gas supply from fracking shale formations, electrifying transportation, and generating carbon-free electricity from wind and solar.
Communicating Stanford contributions to energy
The Precourt Institute raises the visibility of Stanford contributions to energy research and education through conferences, press releases, social media, a newsletter and our website. During the fiscal year, growth in engagements on Facebook (@StanfordEnergy) and in subscriptions to the Stanford ENERGY YouTube channel was excellent. Media articles principally about Stanford energy research and followers on Twitter (@StanfordEnergy) made solid gains.
Also, the Precourt Institute for the first time produced Stanford Energy Research Year in Review, which includes a directory of energy researchers across campus with links to their Google scholar pages.
California’s 2050 climate goals look very challenging
California will need to change all sectors of its economy extensively to reach its ambitious climate goals, but the right portfolio of technologies can help the state meet them – at least in the near term – according to a report by Energy Futures Initiative, a non-profit led by former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
Majumdar testifies to Congress twice on energy R&D
The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources examined opportunities for energy innovation to address global climate change in April. A diverse set of experts, including Arun Majumdar, told the committee that to address climate change the federal government should play a bigger role in both energy policy innovation, and energy research and development.
“Carbon capture isn’t a moonshot solution, nor is it a silver bullet for decarbonization. It’s a roll-up-your-sleeves solution. It can create new jobs, new clean energy products and protect public health.”
– Sally Benson CNN Business
Celebrating women champions of clean energy
In December 2018, the Precourt Institute hosted the annual Clean Energy Education & Empowerment (C3E) symposium and awards. Kathryn Moler, physicist and Stanford’s dean of research, presented the lifetime achievement award to her aunt, Elizabeth “Betsy” Moler, former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Sustainable Finance Initiative’s Seiger assists New York State on $210B fund
In June, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released a Climate Action Plan to protect and invest portfolio assets of the $210 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, with the goal of addressing climate risk.
$20 million in free legal services for startups
In September 2018, the Global Climate Action Summit announced the launch of the Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy initiative. Thirteen major private U.S. law firms have committed to delivering $20 million worth of free services by the end of 2020 to advance sustainability in energy, transportation and land use.
Re-emergence of a hydrogen economy
Based on very high interest in hydrogen’s capacity to possibly transform the global energy landscape, the Stanford Energy Corporate Affiliates program, the Natural Gas Initiative and SUNCAT Center for Interface Science & Catalysis formed Stanford’s Hydrogen Focus Group.
Stanford Energy Global Council on transportation
The Precourt Institute created the new Stanford Energy Global Council to create a deep dialogue on the trends in technology, business, investments and policy, and their complex interplay that is shaping and likely to shape the energy landscape in different parts of the world. Its first topic: the future of transportation.