Research Initiative on Hydrogen as a Climate Solution

Stanford University

Xiaolin Zheng (left) and Friedrich Prinz are co-directors of the Stanford Energy Hydrogen Initiative.
 Image: Stanford University

The Stanford Energy Hydrogen Initiative will fund research to evaluate hydrogen’s role in the transition to sustainable energy and the technologies, policies, and financial mechanisms to fulfill that role.

Stanford University: The idea that a hydrogen economy could end dependence on fossil fuels has waxed and waned several times since 1970. Now, technological advances and a greater focus on climate change have again brought hydrogen to the fore, if not as a total climate solution, then at least a significant one.

In response to these developments, Stanford University launched the Stanford Energy Hydrogen Initiative research and education program to figure out the best uses of hydrogen for decarbonization and to fund development of the necessary technologies, policies, and financial mechanisms. 

Three Stanford programs – the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Natural Gas Initiative, and the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science & Catalysis – have been organizing the Hydrogen Initiative for three years. More than 30 Stanford faculty members have been involved, ranging from mechanical engineers to economists, many with active research in hydrogen already.

“All three organizations share a passion for hydrogen. They all recognize the rising role of hydrogen in the global energy spectrum,” said Xiaolin Zheng, Stanford professor of mechanical engineering and the faculty co-director of the Hydrogen Initiative with Professor Friedrich Prinz. “It’s a shared interest across campus,” Zheng added, speaking at the initiative’s launch symposium on May 2. 

Hydrogen’s role in making energy sustainable, affordable, and secure for all people looks to be a significant topic for the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which will open its doors in September, said the transition dean of the new school, Kathryn Moler. 

“Two organizations – the Precourt Institute for Energy and the Natural Gas Initiative – that are really key in launching the Hydrogen Initiative will both be key founding components of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability,” said Moler, while the SUNCAT Center and the University’s other energy research programs will also be critical to the new school’s success.

Renewable fuels, including hydrogen and fuels produced from captured carbon dioxide, are one of Stanford’s strongest research areas in energy. Some 30 Stanford research programs, including the Natural Gas Initiative and the SUNCAT Center, and 150 researchers are working on hydrogen-related challenges. 

The Hydrogen Initiative is intended to bolster that strength with additional research dollars and more interdisciplinary research teams. “We have so many outstanding scholars in this area,” said Thomas Jaramillo, director of the SUNCAT Center, a joint program of Stanford’s School of Engineering and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. 

The new initiative will bring “us all together so we can understand what those challenges are, identify those opportunities and – very importantly – work together in new ways to come up with technological solutions,” said Jaramillo, who is also an associate professor of chemical engineering and of photon science.

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