Exxon Affiliate Gives MIT $8 Million To Research Fossil Fuel Combustion

The Exxon Corporation will provide the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with about $8 million over the next ten years for research in combustion science.

The agreement, which took effect March 1, calls for the Exxon Research and Engineering Company, an Exxon affiliate, to provide $500,000 this year and $750,000 in subsequent years, for the MIT research.

Adel F. Sarofim, professor of engineering at MIT and a director of the Exxon-sponsored research project, said yesterday one of the project's goals is to discover clean combustion techniques for fossil fuels such as coal, coal liquids, shale oil and heavy crude oil. The fuels now require heavy preliminary refining.

Under the agreement MIT has the right to file patents on all technology developed from the research, but Exxon may use them without costs.

MIT will also sell the patent rights to other companies, and Exxon will receive about half of the royalties.


Exxon first proposed a long-term research agreement in 1978, Brian Dugan, a spokesman for Exxon, said yesterday.

He added that the industry chose combustion for long-term research because of the work of Sarofim and John P. Longwell, an MIT professor of engineering. Longwell had worked for the Exxon Research and Engineering Company for 34 years.

Sarofim said he believes the current agreement reflects both Exxon's interest in fostering public programs and its responsibility to its stockholders.

The agreement will guarantee funding for ten years--a distinct advantage to researchers who often find their work a "hand to mouth" operation, in which they must continually scrape for money as short-term grants expire, Sarofim said.

"The assurance of long-term support is extraordinarily valuable to us," Sarofim said. He added that the average cost for graduate research, including technical equipment and faculty advising, ranges from $50,000 to $100,000 per student.

The distribution of Exxon's funds allows the scientists much flexibility, Sarofim said. Twenty per cent of the total spent on designated projects will be available to the MIT scientists "for use as they see fit for combustion science research," he added.

This "seed money," which totals $80,000 for this year, lets the researcher explore new ideas developed during research, a practice which the traditional grants restrict, Sarofim said.

The agreement also contains an escape clause, which guarantees the scientists two years' notice for the termination of funds for their research, Sarofim said, adding that this clause assures graduate students working on doctoral theses that they will have funds to complete their projects.

Sarofim said MIT's agreement with Exxon is modeled on a contract between Harvard and the Monsanto Corporation for medical research.