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LSU hoping to drive energy innovation with recent investment from oil giant

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BATON ROUGE - Thanks to a nearly $30 million investment from Shell, LSU will drive lower carbon emissions with the help of two additional facilities. 

A $27.5 million investment made by Shell will establish the LSU Institute for Energy Innovation and the construction of the LSU Our Lady of the Lake Interdisciplinary Science Building.

These new facilities will be used to assist in groundbreaking research guided through a partnership aimed at being a national model in energy-related science and engineering. Part of this includes building on a predominant legacy of oil and gas prosperity while finding ways to meet lower carbon emission levels.

John Flake is a professor and department chair for LSU’s Cain Department of Chemical Engineering. He said while it’s an enormous change from where Louisiana is now, many companies that rely on fossil fuels are already making the commitment. 

“The transition is coming, if you look at companies in Louisiana like Dow, BASF, ExxonMobil, and Shell," Flake said. "They’ve all made commitments to have zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Flake further explained why Louisiana is in a great position to lead the transition to zero carbon emissions. 

“Per capita, Louisiana is number one in carbon dioxide emissions, so we need to make drastic changes in our manufacturing processes.”

That's where the innovation comes in, and it’s already started.

In one example, electrolyzers are being used in place of conventional, heat-driven reactors. The electrolyzers rely on electrical energy and can drive reactions using zero-carbon energy sources such as solar, wind, or nuclear power.   

"Currently, we make products like ammonia, the key ingredient in fertilizer, using natural gas as a source for both hydrogen and heat," Flake said. "Instead, we can use an electrolyzer to produce hydrogen directly from water and electricity.

"We need to figure out how to do it on a larger scale and more efficiently.” 

He said the key is to invest in the infrastructure and people needed to make the transition to zero carbon emissions.  

“This isn't something that will happen overnight. This is a thirty-year-plus transition. And Louisiana, because of our geology, the ability to sequester CO2, the ability to store hydrogen, and the industrial base, it's the best place in the world to lead a clean energy transition.”

New innovations and pushes toward energy expansion have called students like Isabelle Bradley to look toward different pathways.

“I know that when I was looking into petroleum engineering, there was a huge job market for it," Bradley said.

As a freshman, he initially planned on entering the petroleum industry. After learning more about other kinds of engineering innovations at the college, Bradley looked toward innovative technologies. 

While we all await further details of planning and design, Bradley is excited for the future of the department and what it could become. 

“I think that changing gears, and sort of developing a new department, especially in a school as prestigious as ours, is the future.”

Bradley isn't the only one excited about it: University President Tate said “Let’s get hype.”


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