Rice University announced the energy and environment initiative (E21), a sweeping plan to support interdisciplinary research that will draw experts from every corner of the university to work with Houston's energy industry to overcome barriers to the sustainable development and use of current and alternative forms of energy.
"One of the most critical global issues of our time is the challenge of meeting the world population's escalating need for energy and simultaneously safeguarding the environment," said Rice’s president, David Leebron. "Rice's location in Houston, the global energy capital, uniquely positions us to serve both our city and our world by offering rich insights and practical but innovative solutions to this daunting challenge. Not only will we explore issues related to the safe harvesting and use of traditional hydrocarbons, but also advance the next generation of energy sources, from biofuels to solar. These efforts will draw on our deep strengths and capabilities from across the university, including in basic science, engineering, nanotechnology, informatics, social sciences, humanities and public policy."
Building on a strong foundation, E2I researchers will study energy policy and markets, finance and management, as well as the cultural and societal values that underpin and sometimes undermine public discussion about energy and the environment.
Rice laboratories conduct about $40 million in energy-related research each year, and Rice will invest about $1 million this fiscal year to start E2I seed-funding programs and establish an infrastructure to link existing activities across departments and schools. Future investments will be linked to research growth.
"E2I sprang partly from a realization that Rice is already doing excellent energy-related research and education," said Rice provost, George McLendon. "We have significant federal support for research on topics as diverse as enhanced oil recovery, carbon sequestration and next-generation solar power. Rice's research in energy economics and energy policy is globally recognized. Our top-ranked Jones Graduate School of Business serves the energy industry through its MBA concentration in energy and its executive education program. We have existing relationships with companies such as Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Total, Baker Hughes, Schlumberger and Apache. Finally, Rice partnered with the Mellon Foundation last year to pioneer the field of 'energy humanities' research."
McLendon said a central focus of E2I will be the diverse issues associated with managing society's current reliance on hydrocarbons while also preparing for a future where conventional and alternative sources of energy coexist.
"This is about building a bridge from today's fossil fuel economy to an all-of-the-above energy future in which all sources of energy are used in concert," McLendon said. "Building this bridge is as much a political, economic and social challenge as a technical one."
E2I will be led by a committee chaired by Pedro Alvarez, Rice's George R. Brown professor and chair of the civil and environmental engineering department. The committee members are Ken Medlock, the James A. Baker III and Susan G. Baker fellow in energy and resource economics at the Baker Institute and adjunct assistant professor in economics; Alan Levander, Rice's Carey Croneis professor of earth science and director of Rice's data analysis and visualization cyberinfrastructure (DAVinCI) project; Dominic Boyer, associate professor of anthropology; and William Arnold, professor in the practice of energy management at the Jones School. A national search for a permanent faculty director will begin in 2013.