April 21, 2014

By Mark Shwartz

Sally M. Benson has been appointed director of the Precourt Institute for Energy, the hub of energy research and education at Stanford University. Her colleague, Roland N. Horne, has been named deputy director. Both are professors of energy resources engineering and senior fellows at the Precourt Institute at Stanford.

Ann M. Arvin, vice provost and dean of research at Stanford, announced the appointment. “Sally Benson has a remarkable record of research contributions and international leadership in the field of energy sciences, which will be of great value to the Precourt Institute,” Arvin said.  “We are delighted that Sally has agreed to serve in this important role at Stanford, and that Roland Horne will provide his expertise in Earth sciences and as a faculty leader to support the Precourt mission.” 

Sally Benson

Benson succeeds Franklin M. (“Lynn”) Orr Jr., a professor of energy resources engineering, who has served as director of the Precourt Institute since its founding in 2009.  Benson was named acting director of the institute last fall when President Obama nominated Orr to be under secretary for science at the Department of Energy. He is awaiting Senate confirmation.

“The Precourt Institute supports education and game-changing research, promoting energy literacy and accelerating solutions that will transform the global energy system,” Benson said. “I am grateful for Lynn Orr’s leadership and delighted to work with Roland Horne to help lead this important effort.”

A groundwater hydrologist and reservoir engineer, Benson is a leading authority on emerging energy technologies, and geologic carbon capture and storage. She leads a research laboratory that studies fundamental aspects of carbon dioxide sequestration in saline aquifers.                                                     

Horne’s research focuses on the quantification and efficient recovery of subsurface energy resources, including oil, gas and geothermal energy. He is the director of the Stanford Geothermal Program and past president of the International Geothermal Association.                                                                    

Energy solutions

Established with a gift from Stanford alumnus Jay Precourt, the institute has helped build a campus-wide network of more than 200 researchers working on a broad range of energy technology and policy solutions, from advanced batteries and solar cells to novel tools to finance renewables and encourage energy  efficiency. The institute provides financial support for cutting-edge   

research through its faculty seed grant program, and supports a variety of educational and outreach efforts, including the weekly Energy Seminar, the monthly Stanford Energy Newsletter and the Stanford Energy and Environment Affiliates Program.                                                                                                  

“The Precourt Institute brings together some of the best and brightest minds at Stanford to engage in interdisciplinary energy research and education,” Jay Precourt said. “Sally Benson has a strong commitment to fostering cross-campus collaboration. As director, she will bring creativity and imagination to address major challenges and opportunities in the energy arena.”

Roland Horne

In addition to her new leadership role at the Precourt Institute, Benson will continue to serve as director of Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP), a position she has held since 2007.

“During her tenure at GCEP, Sally Benson has played a key part in developing a diverse research portfolio that funds innovative, low-carbon energy technologies,” said George Shultz, director of the Hoover Institution’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy and chair of the Precourt Institute advisory council. “She will continue to provide strong leadership at the Precourt Institute in the years ahead.”

Science and policy expertise

Benson served as a convening lead author of the 2012 Global Energy Assessment and as coordinating lead author of the 2005 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on carbon capture and storage. Prior to coming to Stanford, she spent 29 years at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), where she held a variety of key positions, including associate director for energy sciences and deputy director of operations.

“Sally Benson is the perfect choice to lead the Precourt Institute,” Lynn Orr said. “Her outstanding service as director of GCEP and her wide-ranging experience in leading interdisciplinary energy research at Stanford, and prior to that at the Berkeley Lab, gives her a perspective that will serve the institute very well.”

Benson is a member of the board of directors of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Carbon Management Canada and Climate Central.  She also serves on the advisory boards of the Sandia National Laboratories in the U.S. and the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan; the visiting committee of Clemson University’s Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences; and the climate change committee of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

In 2012, she received the Greenman Award at the International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Technologies in Japan. Other honors include the Michel T. Halbouty Distinguished Lecture Award from the Geological Society of America and the ARCS American Pacesetter Award. Benson received a BS in geology from Barnard College at Columbia University, and an MS and PhD in materials science and mineral engineering from the University of California-Berkeley.