President Richard C. Levin announced Sept. 13 that Thomas F. Steyer '79 and his wife, Kathryn A. Taylor have made a gift of $25 million to help launch an Energy Sciences Institute on Yale University's West Campus. The institute will bring together physicists, chemists, geologists, biologists, and engineers to develop solutions to the world's energy challenges.
"I am deeply grateful to Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor for their commitment to strengthen this extraordinarily important area of research at Yale," Levin said. "For the sake of future generations, we must make a rapid transition to low-carbon and carbon-free energy technologies. This new institute will draw on the scientific resources of the University to find new and better ways to convert the sun's energy into fuel and, in the near term, to reduce atmospheric carbon by other means. Yale needs to be making a contribution in this area, and this gift will assure an intensified effort."
Vice president of West Campus planning and program development Scott Strobel welcomed the addition of the institute. "This truly visionary gift is a vital first step in strengthening our capabilities for energy research and sustainability on West Campus," he said.
"Yale is a great university which is close to my heart," Steyer said. "Now, more than ever, it must continue to grow its capability in the field of advanced energy. The cutting-edge research that will be conducted at this new Energy Sciences Institute is vitally important. Clean energy advances are critically needed not only to address the environmental and health concerns associated with fossil fuels, but also because clean energy is the cornerstone for U.S. economic advancement and national security."
During the institute's start-up phase, the University will recruit several new faculty members, including a director, establish 40,000 square feet of laboratory space on the West Campus dedicated to the Institute and launch interdisciplinary research programs that will span Yale's science and engineering departments.
The Energy Sciences Institute will divide its research into two major areas. "For the long term, the objective is the development of solar fuels, with a goal of converting sunlight into storable chemical energy. Given the current dominance of fossil fuels, scientists will also explore near-term 'transitional technologies' such as clean fuels, refined combustion technologies, and carbon capture and sequestration," Strobel said.
The research Strobel envisions will build on a foundation of discovery already underway at the University. For example, the Yale Solar Group will continue the development of its photocatalytic solar cell as an economic source of liquid fuels derived from hydrogen. Other scientists will advance the study of microbes that produce fuel hydrocarbons as a byproduct of digesting cellulose. As these long-term solutions incubate, the institute will also explore ways to better use existing fossil fuels. The Yale Center for Combustion Studies will work to improve technology so that engines and furnaces can burn fuel with minimum waste, while another group of scientists will continue its examination of shale gas to determine its potential as a clean transitional fuel.
Developing research partnerships will be one of the institute's main goals. Planning for the new institute involved faculty members from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The Energy Institute will tap into ongoing research in all three, as well as undertake joint initiatives with the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.
The collaborative nature of the institute will also be advanced by its location. Since Yale acquired the 136-acre West Campus in 2007, it has organized research initiatives there on the institute model, bringing together scientists from different fields. The Energy Sciences Institute joins five other institutes in the areas of cancer biology, chemical biology, microbial diversity, systems biology, and biodesign. Natural connections among these institutes are facilitated through their proximity to one another and through their mutual reliance on four core facilities on West Campus that provide access to shared equipment and expertise-the Center for Genome Analysis, the Small Molecule Discovery Center, the Center for High Throughput Cell Biology, and the High Performance Computing Center.
Steyer is the founder and a senior managing member of Farallon Capital Management, LLC, and Taylor serves on the board of OneCalifornia Bank, which she co-founded with Steyer, and on the boards of several other charities. Philanthropy, particularly related to the environment, is one of their passions. When Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates called on the wealthy to give at least half to charity last year, Steyer and Taylor took on the challenge, saying, "We relish the opportunity to do our part and leave our collective campsite cleaner and better tended than we found it ... Having assets has enabled us to organize projects which we otherwise could not have and which we hope will leave our community and neighbors-both near and far-better off. If we succeed, we will have left a wonderful legacy for our kids."