Industry leaders see Shell’s $27.5 million investment in energy innovation at LSU as a way to bring today’s workers up to speed on recent technological developments, and also train a new generation of employees to succeed in the workforce of the future.
The energy giant last month announced LSU’s largest donation ever from a for-profit company. LSU will use $25 million to start a new LSU Institute for Energy Innovation, which university President William F. Tate IV said would make LSU “a national model” for science and engineering in energy-related fields involving hydrogen, carbon capture, storage of electricity, and low-carbon fuels.
Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the Shell investment will allow LSU build a bridge from the current energy workforce to that in years to come.
“America will most likely depend on the energy workers of today because those are the ones who understand how to build pipelines, how to drill, how to produce energy and use the same skills that are going to be used for renewable energy just as they are for traditional energy sources,” Waguespack said. “That’s why LSU is perfect, not just to train tomorrow’s workers but also to cross-train today’s workers.”
Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the chamber has spoken to Tate and Sam Bentley, vice president of the Office of Research & Development at LSU, about what he called a “global opportunity” in energy.
“This is a space Louisiana is really well-poised to lead on, but we can’t really lead on it if our premier public research university isn’t really driving that forward,” Knapp said. “It’s really exciting to see that they got their largest ever corporate gift of any single donation in this space of transitional energy. They have the opportunity to put themselves and Louisiana at the forefront of something great.”
Tate IV, as part of his Scholarship First Agenda, has made energy development an area of focus.
Shell continues to have a large presence in Louisiana, though its corporate focus has shifted some.
In November 2020, Shell closed its Shell Convent Refinery, a 4,400-acre facility along Ascension and St. James Parishes. According to Shell, the move was part of a larger push to invest in manufacturing sites that are “strategically positioned for the transition to a low-carbon future.” After a lengthy search for buyers, Shell confirmed earlier this year that it plans to revitalize the refinery as an alternative fuels complex.
“We now see the Convent site as a place that we’re going to reinvest in,” Shell former Senior Vice President Rhoman Hardy told the state Board of Commerce and Industry in February.
About $6.5 million of the $25 million for the new institute will go to support diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within the energy industry through workforce development, faculty recruitment and student support.
As far as the direction Tate is taking LSU in related to energy, he said in an interview with The Advocate in April that product creation through partnerships is his standard for success.
“Clearly, what we want to be able to measure is how well we are able to create products that secure our status as a leader in the energy field in the state,” Tate said. “That can be measured in the form of patents and partnerships.”
Knapp said that Tate has had the ability to be more influential in the energy space compared to LSU presidents of the past because of the numerous opportunities for differing energy sources in recent years.
The growth of transitional energy and renewable fuels such as carbon capture, Knapp said, have developed new project activity and given Tate the ability to act on excitement in the energy sector.
According to Knapp, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber saw virtually no new projects on the horizon in renewables, biofuels or clean energy before 2020.
In the last two years, Knapp said 11 energy project proposals have been announced that would have roots in the Baton Rouge area.
The projects will account for approximately $16 billion in announced capital investment and 1500 permanent jobs that will be put into the Baton Rouge economy once the projects are brought to market. Knapp said Tate’s moves have positioned LSU as both a research and workforce leader.
“The moment has arrived where the world is really positioning for this change in this sector and LSU has a chance to be, and in many ways already is, a global leader in this space,” Knapp said.
Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith told The Advocate that Shell has contributed nearly $63 million in support of academic and research initiatives at LSU over the last four decades.
Under Tate’s leadership, partnerships like the Shell investment will serve as the standard for how LSU sees itself expanding in the energy industry.
“Working with President Tate and his team to develop the framework for the LSU Institute of Energy Innovation is a partnership we’re proud of,” Smith wrote in an email to The Advocate. “It’s our hope this research agreement will serve as a model for future energy-related collaborations that serve to attract and educate the next generation of scientists.”