ExxonMobil and Princeton work to break down barriers, develop alternative energy solutions
Eric Herbolzheimer has made the short drive down U.S. Highway 206 many times. Clinton, New Jersey—home of ExxonMobil Corporate Strategic Research, where he works as a senior scientific advisor—is only about 35 miles from Princeton University. And, within the university, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment is the place to go to learn about emerging energy systems and their environmental impacts.
The distance between academia and industry often seems much greater, their goals often perceived to be at cross-purposes. But Herbolzheimer has worked with Princeton and the Andlinger Center to change that narrative. He helped develop a new five-year relationship with the center’s Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, an initiative that fosters collaboration between industry and university researchers on fundamental research.
“Our goal is to understand the solutions of the future,” said Herbolzheimer. “We want to work with the best and the brightest to find meaningful, scalable alternatives to meet rising global demand for energy.”
ExxonMobil, a charter member of E-ffiliates, has made the largest financial commitment of any member to the collaboration. Through its participation in the program and its support, the company is committed to advancing Princeton’s cutting-edge research to discover next-generation energy solutions. ExxonMobil’s contribution of $5 million over five years will go to support research and teaching programs in solar power, nuclear fusion, energy storage and climate prediction.
A commitment to collaboration
Beyond the financial commitment, ExxonMobil will provide Princeton researchers access to its state-of-the-art facilities and its own strategic researchers, complementing the university’s own expertise in energy-focused research. The route up and down Highway 206 will see a few more cars as ExxonMobil staff travel to Princeton while doctoral students make the short journey to Clinton.
“Students don’t often get to interact with practitioners,” said Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, director of the Andlinger Center. “Our collaboration with ExxonMobil is a new paradigm for conducting research, and exemplifies the central goal of E-ffiliates: lowering barriers for collaboration and facilitating deep and fruitful industry-academic partnerships.” Without such collaboration, the pioneering research done at Princeton might never emerge from university labs to drive real-world progress.
The typical program will last two to three years with post-graduates and post-doctorates and their faculty advisors working with their technical counterparts at the company. ExxonMobil employees involved with the program will spend 20 percent of their time in these collaborative interactions.
The new collaboration features an umbrella agreement that creates an opportunity for any business unit at ExxonMobil to undertake research projects with the departments and labs pursuing complementary research at Princeton. Loo called the agreement a “first of its kind on campus,” and suggested that it could serve as the model for future interactions with other companies.
Engaging with the best and brightest
For ExxonMobil, engaging with Princeton’s renowned labs and colleges is at the heart of the agreement. With the focus on alternative energy, the company will be able to complement its own extensive research in this area by gaining insights from the university’s specific areas of strength. It will be at the nexus of materials science, plasma and geophysics, atmosphere and oceanography research. And Princeton is home to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, which is at the forefront of policy.
“ExxonMobil is going to Princeton to help understand energy options for the future that can add to our core strengths today,” said Herbolzheimer. “By staying plugged in with diverse research approaches, we can learn from them and enhance them with our own capabilities to help give the world the energy and the environment that it needs and wants.”