Houston’s Rice University, a longtime locus of energy research, has formed the Energy and Environment Initiative (E2I), which will pair university researchers with the city’s energy industry leaders to make the most of hydrocarbons while preparing for a future of alternative energy sources.

“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,” said Rice Provost George McLendon. “Building this bridge is as much a political, economic and social challenge as a technical one.”

Houston has long been recognized as the U.S. energy capital, which “uniquely positions us to serve both our city and our world by offering rich insights and practical but innovative solutions to this daunting challenge,” said Rice President David Lebron.

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, the university said. Rice’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a recognized leader in energy economics and policy. Rice laboratories conduct about $40 million in energy-related research each year, and McLendon said 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 are to be linked to research growth.

The university currently has federal support for research on enhanced oil recovery, carbon sequestration and solar power.

“We have existing relationships with companies such as Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Total, Baker Hughes, Schlumberger and Apache,” McLendon said.

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. 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 cyber infrastructure 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.

Medlock said balancing the goals of energy security and sustainability is critical to ensuring the welfare of future generations.

“Energy demands and the environmental impacts of energy development and use are now a central theme in policy discourse, largely due to the rapid growth of domestic shale gas and shale oil production,” Medlock said. “Understanding the consequence of actions taken today on future generations is critical to understanding the direction of energy prices, fuel choice and environmental impact, all of which are vital to formulating informed policy.”

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