Seeking to address the need for a long-range program in basic research and graduate education in the field of hydrocarbon chemistry, the University of Southern California established its “Hydrocarbon Research Institute” in 1977. A generous donation from Donald and Katherine Loker helped build an outstanding research facility which opened its doors in 1979. The University renamed the Institute the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute in honor of the Lokers in 1984.
Under the leadership of the late George A. Olah and late Sydney Benson, the initial mission of the Institute was to carry out (through its associated faculty, students, and staff) fundamental research in the chemistry of hydrocarbons. During Olah’s highly successful tenure, the Institute’s research focus had been expanded to include energy storage and carbon dioxide capture and utilization. Building on that legacy, sustainable solutions to the mitigation of global warming through innovative chemistry has become the Institute’s primary mission today.
Hydrocarbons are derived from petroleum, natural gas and coal are essential in many ways to modern life and its quality. The bulk of the world’s hydrocarbons is used for transportation fuels, electrical power generation, and heating. The chemical, petrochemical, plastics, and a host of other industries are also dependent on hydrocarbons as raw materials. Indeed, most industrially significant synthetic chemicals are derived from these fossil sources. The overall oil consumption of the world exceeds 11.64 million metric tons a day (2021). Ever increasing world population and energy consumption and the finite amount of known (non-renewable) fossil fuel reserves are clearly on a collision course.
Even if technologies to generate energy from other sources are further developed (i.e., atomic, solar, wind, geothermal etc.), a focused research effort will be required to find long-range solutions for future hydrocarbon needs. The effort must include the development of alternative renewable hydrocarbon sources, a search for new solutions directed towards exploitation of renewable fuels, as well as the development of more efficient ways of utilizing and recycling our present resources.
A meaningful solution to hydrocarbon shortages and a need to curb runaway global warming will emerge only when mankind can produce a vast amount of renewable cheap non-fossil-fuel-based energy. With abundant cheap energy, hydrogen can be produced from sea water and then combined with carbon dioxide to produce renewable hydrocarbons. In the meantime, however, it is essential that solutions be found that are feasible within the framework of our existing technological knowledge/base. The Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute is at the forefront of these efforts.