Gift establishes energy institute

A $25 million donation from Thomas Steyer ’79 will be used to develop Yale’s West Campus.
A $25 million donation from Thomas Steyer ’79 will be used to develop Yale’s West Campus. Photo by Creative Commons.

Over two months after the end of the largest fundraising drive in Yale history, the University is still announcing donations.

Although Yale Tomorrow, the University’s five-year capital campaign, ended officially on June 30, some donations given before the deadline — including a $25 million gift to the West Campus announced Tuesday — could not be publicized immediately, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said. The donation from philanthropist and financier Thomas Steyer ’79 and his wife, Kathryn Taylor, will establish an Energy Sciences Institute at West Campus to support collaborative research into clean energy technology.

“For the sake of future generations, we must make a rapid transition to low-carbon and carbon-free energy technologies,” University President Richard Levin said in a Tuesday afternoon press release. “Yale needs to be making a contribution in this area, and this gift will assure an intensified effort.”

Yale acquired West Campus — the 136-acre complex of research laboratories in West Haven and Orange, Conn. — from Bayer Pharmaceuticals in 2007. Although the economic downturn of 2008 slowed the facilities’ growth, the University has established five institutes on West Campus, including the Cancer Biology Institute and Microbial Diversity Institute.

Tuesday’s gift establishes the sixth: the Energy Sciences Institute, which will focus on both short and long-term approaches to lowering carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Building on existing work being done at Yale in related fields, the gift will allow the University to expand its faculty in energy research. Altogether, the University will set aside 40,000 square feet of former Bayer laboratory space on West Campus for the Institute.

“Now, more than ever, [Yale] must continue to grow its capability in the field of advanced energy,” Steyer said in the release. “The cutting-edge research that will be conducted at this new Energy Sciences Institute is vitally important.”

Steyer was traveling and could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

In December 2010, Levin appointed biochemistry professor Scott Strobel vice president of West Campus planning and program development. At the time he was named to the position, one of Strobel’s priorities was to establish an energy institute on West Campus, Reichenbach said.

Steyer, the founder of investment firm Farallon Capital Management, is a prominent supporter of environmental causes and a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees, and was intrigued by plans for a new energy institute during discussions about the appropriate use of his and Taylor’s gift, Reichenbach said.

“This is a very consistent passion of [Steyer and Taylor] and the opportunity to help us launch the energy institute out on West Campus … was a very great confluence of interest and opportunity,” Reichenbach said, adding that Steyer has supported the establishment of similar programs at Stanford.

Steyer and Taylor have both signed the Giving Pledge. Co-founded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, the Pledge amounts to a commitment from some of America’s wealthiest individuals and families to donate a majority of their wealth to charitable causes and organizations during their lifetimes or after their deaths.

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