Credibility of New Stanford University Energy Research Tainted by ExxonMobil Ties

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Santa Monica, CA — A widely reported study sounding an alarm against using ethanol to replace gasoline is the most recent example of Stanford University‘s energy research credibility being undercut by the school’s ties to ExxonMobil Corp., the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) said today.

Mark Z. Jacobson, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, found that “a blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater [environmental health] risk than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage.” His paper published in the online edition of Environmental Science and Technology said the research, based on computer models, was partly funded by NASA. The model is controversial because it assumes full conversion to ethanol use rather than partial.

ExxonMobil has given $100 million to fund Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Program (GCEP). Though the ethanol study was not funded by that program, Jacobson had a three-year grant from GCEP to study the impact of replacing fossil-fuel motor vehicles and electric power plants with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and power plants. He is featured throughout a brochure about the Global Climate and Energy Program.

“It’s difficult to accept a controversial study throwing cold water on the accepted idea that blended ethanol is a good solution to our energy problems when the university well that produced the study has been poisoned by Big Oil’s money,” said John M. Simpson, an FTCR advocate.

The science behind Jacobson’s ethanol study could well be valid, FTCR said. However, the public cannot accept the results at face value when ExxonMobil has funded a major energy research program at the university and research results are in line with the giant oil firm’s corporate goals, FTCR said.

ExxonMobil Chairman Rex Tillerson is dismissive of ethanol’s prospects, recently telling Fortune Magazine, “I don’t have a lot of technology to add to moonshine.”

Jacobson said his ethanol work was not influenced by the corporate funding to the GCEP. “I completely oppose ExxonMobil and what it stands for,” he said. He added that the results for the hydrogen research funded by GCEP, “resulted in me showing how unhealthful gasoline was relative to hydrogen, so it is certainly not a benefit to the oil companies.”

Under the GCEP agreement ExxonMobil could control any patented results of hydrogen research, FTCR noted.

“That’s the problem when a university’s administration takes Big Oil’s cash and becomes part of Big Oil U.,” said Simpson. “Even the very best work by its faculty members is greeted with justifiable skepticism from the public. It’s in the best interests of faculty and students alike to resist this corporatization of higher education.”

The GCEP is managed and controlled by its corporate sponsors, not the university, FTCR noted.

ExxonMobil has given $100 million to the GCEP. Other sponsors are Schlumberger, Toyota and General Electric. ExxonMobil, along with the other partners, receives five-year exclusive rights to any discoveries resulting from the research, meaning they can bury promising discoveries if they wish. The program is overseen by a management committee comprised of the corporate sponsors. The university has no vote on the committee, meaning that the research agenda can be set by the sponsoring firms. The committee can decide what patents will be sought.

BP has proposed a similar $500 million deal with UC Berkeley that would create the Energy Biosciences Institute. That deal would bring 50 BP scientists to campus to do proprietary research and is under fire by many faculty members and students. The Berkeley administration hopes to sign the deal this summer.

At Stanford, ExxonMobil — known for undermining scientists who linked greenhouse gases to global warming — is touting its relationship with the university in a major advertising campaign. Objecting to ExxonMobil’s greenwashing campaign, movie producer Steve Bing, who attended Stanford and had donated $22.5 million to the school, protested recently by canceling a $2.5 million pledge and any future donations.

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is a non-profit, non-partisan consumer watchdog group. For more information, visit us on the web at: Also check out our energy issues site,

Consumer Watchdog
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Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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