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The Precourt Institute for Energy is now part of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

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Stanford’s Strategic Energy Alliance funds four new energy research projects for $4 million

The four new projects aim for decarbonized cement, large-scale hydrogen storage, a reliable electric grid, and more natural ventilation in buildings.

Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy selected four new research projects to support through its Strategic Energy Research Consortium. Each project will receive up to $1 million in support. The consortium pools money from the corporate members of the Precourt Institute’s Strategic Energy Alliance, which primarily facilitates sponsored research between its members and Stanford faculty.

The faculty director of the Precourt Institute decides which projects to fund after a rigorous review process. Researchers at Stanford and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory submitted 17 proposals this year. The funded projects seek to develop technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in making cement; to use hydrogen for long-duration, large-scale energy storage; and to better manage the power grid as businesses and homeowners increasingly electrify equipment that currently uses oil and natural gas. The fourth project will develop both technologies and policies to increase the use of natural ventilation for cooling buildings.

In total, the four projects will help support the work of 14 faculty members, one Stanford affiliate, and at least 15 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in these multi-year projects.

“The Strategic Energy Research Consortium provides a great opportunity to Stanford researchers to investigate concepts that could have a significant potential for making our energy systems more sustainable,” said Richard Sassoon, executive director of the Strategic Energy Alliance. “We will be very excited to follow the four projects funded in this round as they begin to generate what may be highly impactful energy solutions.”


Proposed reactor with limestone calcination. Portion of reactor has CaCO3 hidden for clarity.

Cement production is one of the big, hard-to-decarbonize sectors, like steelmaking and heavy-duty transportation, and it accounts for about eight percent of global CO2 emissions. Most of these emissions result from breaking limestone down into lime, which conventionally utilizes fossil fuel combustion to produce high grade heat and for which a byproduct of limestone decomposition is CO2. Separating the CO2 from the air and particulates in the kiln’s flue gas is highly energetically intensive and is therefore not economical.

Jonathan Fan, associate professor of electrical engineering in the School of Engineering, and Tiziana Vanorio, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, will work on developing a new class of electrified cement kiln in which the heat for limestone decomposition and cement manufacturing is produced using high frequency magnetic induction. Uniquely, the flue gas stream from the kiln will be pure CO2, enabling the economical capture of CO2 without the need for air separations. The researchers hope that their concept may serve as a platform technology for other hard-to-decarbonize industrial processes that depend on high grade heat. Fan is the principal investigator for this project.


Relatively shallow gas reservoir is repurposed for seasonal hydrogen storage, whereas anthropogenic carbon dioxide is injected into a deeper saline formation for secure storage.

One of the great challenges to decarbonizing our energy systems is affordably storing intermittent solar and wind power not just from day to night, but from summer to winter. Excess solar and wind electricity can produce green hydrogen by splitting it from the oxygen in water. Hydrogen could deliver a significant amount of seasonal storage economically and at the terawatt-hour scale. For reference, the City of New York uses about 50 TWh of electricity annually. Geological formations could potentially store hydrogen containing the ability to produce multiple TWh of electricity due to the extraordinary volume of depleted gas reservoirs and saline formations. 

The primary research goal of this project is to develop an understanding of the complex physics and chemistry governing underground hydrogen storage, including transportation of the hydrogen and its reactivity in underground reservoirs leading to potential losses. The team has made initial progress toward these goals with the support of a Precourt Institute seed grant and other funding. The research team is led by Anthony Kovscek (PI), Ilenia Battiato, Hamdi Tchelepi, faculty members in the Department of Energy Science & Engineering (Doerr School); Kate Maher in Earth Systems Science (Doerr School); and Ali Mani in Mechanical Engineering (School of Engineering).


Using the proposed ElectriPedia framework, rooftop solar can be detected via the DeepSolar tool, while the BehindTheBuilding tool can identify EV chargers and other electrification-related upgrades to appliances. (Credit: City of Palo Alto Utilities)

The electrification of transportation, industrial processes, heating and cooling of buildings, and home appliances now using fossil fuels is expected to slash greenhouse gas emissions by billions of tons. Electrification is key to net-zero energy systems. Deep, granular insight into electrification is needed to manage the growth and use of electric grids that are expected to triple in size to meet net-zero goals. However, electrification information vital to policy and planning decisions is either incomplete or inaccessible.

This research project aims to fill this critical gap by creating “ElectriPedia,” a comprehensive electrification information framework.  The system will use machine learning tools to extract and map electrification information from satellite imagery and building permit data. Some members of the research team have demonstrated the accuracy of machine learning with satellite images to map every solar rooftop in the United States and, subsequently, make policy suggestions for better financial incentives for installing solar panels. The researchers expect to produce information of immediate usefulness for stakeholders, including utilities, regulators, legislators, and manufacturers and installers of relevant equipment. The research team is led by Ram Rajagopal (PI), in the joint Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering; Hunt Allcott in the new Department of Environmental Social Sciences at the Doerr School; and Omer Karaduman, in the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Natural ventilation

Globally, increased urbanization is expected to lead to an unsustainable demand for air-conditioning, especially in growing economies in warm regions. Without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling could more than triple by 2050. Such an increase would equal the amount of electricity China and India combined use today. Natural ventilation, which uses the natural forces of wind and buoyancy to ventilate and cool a building, can reduce building total energy consumption by 10 to 30 percent, but it is not widely used in modern economies.

Automatically and mechanically controlled windows open and shut as needed. They are a significant part of the natural ventilation and cooling system in Stanford University's Yang & Yamazaki Energy & Environment Building.

The research team for this project has identified three main barriers to its implementation. First, current control strategies do not consistently guarantee thermal comfort for occupants. This is especially true when users are responsible for manually opening or closing windows, or when weather patterns deviate from the average expected conditions. Second, advanced models for the design of robust natural ventilation systems for a variety of building types and climates are not readily available for architects, engineers, and developers. Third, the understanding of and evidence for economic and environmental benefits are insufficient to support widespread policies promoting the use of natural ventilation.

The researchers will create solutions and design policies to address these challenges by working closely with three key groups: occupants, building designers, and policymakers. They will consider a variety of building and occupant types throughout California, which has dynamic weather patterns. Project leaders are Catherine Gorlé (PI), Sarah Billington, and Rishee Jain in Civil & Environmental Engineering, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi in Earth System Science, and Dian Grueneich, an energy efficiency and regulatory policy expert, former commissioner at the California Public Utilities Commission, and affiliate of Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West.

These Strategic Energy Research Consortium projects are funded collaboratively by the members of the Strategic Energy Alliance: ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, and Shell. The alliance seeks to accelerate the pace of the global energy transformation involving clean energy development, deployment, scale-up, and finance. Through their relationships with Stanford, alliance members can gain strategic direction and insight toward a low-carbon energy future.

Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy was founded in 2009 with a gift from alumnus Jay Precourt and his family. In addition to the Strategic Energy Alliance, the institute’s programs include the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, the Natural Gas Initiative, the Bits & Watts Initiative, the Sustainable Finance Initiative, the StorageX Initiative, the Hydrogen initiative, the Stanford Environmental & Energy Policy Analysis Center, the Explore Energy educational program, the Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship, the public energy literacy site Understand Energy Learning Hub, summer internship programs, and several sponsored courses for students, including Stanford Climate Ventures.

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