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Johns Hopkins Launches Institute to Foster New Renewable Energy Technologies

April 23, 2021 by TWN Staff

Johns Hopkins University and its Whiting School of Engineering announced Thursday that they are establishing the Ralph S. O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute to support ongoing research and education in the fields of clean, renewable, and sustainable energy technologies.

The wide-ranging effort is the results of a $20 million gift from the estate of Trustee Emeritus and alumnus Ralph S. O’Connor. That gift led in turn to a $75 million, 10-year investment by the Whiting School and the university in energy related research and education.

Ralph O’Connor and his wife, Becky, are pictured with the Red Sails sculpture they donated to the university in 2013.

The institute will educate future energy leaders and support implementation, markets, and polices that promote an affordable and equitable green energy future for a more resilient world.

“Hopkins has never shied away from tackling enormous, complex societal problems—and this is one such challenge,” said Ben Schafer, the institute’s founding director, in a written statement.

“With researchers from across the university collaborating and addressing these issues holistically, we can have a huge impact on advances in energy-related research and in informing policy that ensures the benefits of our work will be enjoyed by all,” he said.

The institute’s activities will focus on three primary themes:

  • Renewable energy: Renewable energy is the key to making the most immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions and meeting our energy needs. Today, solar and wind installations account for 11% of energy consumption in the U.S. Aligned with emerging national priorities, the institute aims to enable a future where, by 2050, 100% of energy for electricity will come from renewable sources. This will require intensive research efforts and advances in knowledge, as well as overcoming challenges in production, storage, transmission, and distribution across scales never before attempted.
  • Stewardship in fuel technologies: The immediacy of climate change, the level of destruction it causes, and the scale of our energy needs require us to move beyond reliance on today’s technologies to seek far bolder, more ambitious—even radical—solutions. Instead of being the source of damaging greenhouse gases, fuel and combustion products can become a chemical platform to capture carbon and repurpose it to create new materials for buildings, agriculture, and transportation. This requires novel solutions and novel methods for translating the results quickly to the world.
  • Affordable and equitable implementation: The institute can only fulfill its mission if the technological advances it helps generate can be translated into meaningful change and implementable solutions. Thus, its research will be integrated with a focus on policy solutions, regulations, market incentives, outreach programs, and partnerships with energy policymakers, industry, public utilities, federal agencies, and national labs. These efforts will support turning the innovations coming from Hopkins labs into implementable, affordable solutions that benefit the world.

Ralph O’Connor was born in Pasadena, Calif., in 1926 and graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. A career-long entrepreneur, civic leader, and philanthropist, O’Connor was a dedicated supporter of Johns Hopkins, giving generously over several decades to many of its program.

He died in 2018 at age 92.

“I am so pleased to see the O’Connor name associated with this important research center,” Ralph’s wife, Becky O’Connor said. “Ralph never stopped being a student. He was always seeking challenges and always in search of new ideas. This institute will help take on some of the biggest issues of our time, and I know Ralph would be thrilled to help support that work.”

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