Engineering Launches Eminent Faculty Initiative in Sustainable Energy

eminent2a (62K)During a joint press conference on September 18th, held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, the University of Connecticut formally unveiled an ambitious new research campaign, the Eminent Faculty Initiative in Sustainable Energy, which will reside in the School of Engineering. The University of Connecticut’s new president, Dr. Michael Hogan – joined by Connecticut State Senator and President Pro Tempore Don Williams, UConn Provost Peter Nicholls, industry partners FuelCell Energy, the Northeast Utilities Foundation and UTC Power, and members of Connecticut’s General Assembly – discussed the public-private initiative enthusiastically.

The Eminent Faculty Initiative represents a unique partnership between UConn, the Connecticut General Assembly, and the industrial partners who are committed to propelling Connecticut onto the international stage in the development of sustainable “green” energy. The initiative is rooted in the July 2006 passage of a senate bill entitled “An Act Concerning Jobs for the Twenty-First Century,” which was championed by Senator Williams and enacted by both houses in the Connecticut General Assembly. A provision of the bill charged UConn’s Board of Trustees to develop a program to attract world-renowned faculty members to the University in a research area deemed strategically important. Provost Nicholls invited competitive proposals from across campus and awarded the first eminent faculty position to the School of Engineering to address the critical area of sustainable energy – an area of keen importance to Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, who has set a goal to reduce state fossil fuel consumption by 20% and replace it with clean/renewable energy by 2020.

A permanent State appropriation of $2 million yearly was budgeted for the initiative, contingent upon the University’s securing a one-time funding commitment of $2 million from industry. Interim Engineering Dean Erling Smith, Associate Dean Mehdi Anwar and Director of Development Joe Hanrahan secured the necessary $2 million in matching industry pledges from corporate partners FuelCell Energy of Danbury, the Northeast Utilities Foundation, and UTC Power of South Windsor.

Dr. Hogan, who officially commenced duties just last week, said the state has a rare opportunity to provide leadership in developing viable sustainable, environmentally sound alternatives to conventional energy technologies. Other speakers included Ray Necci, president and chief operating office of Connecticut Light & Power; Frank Wolak, vice president of FuelCell Energy; Tom Jarvi, UTC Power’s director of technology development; senator Donald Williams, Jr., president pro tempore of Connecticut’s state senate; Provost Peter Nicholls; and various state senators and representatives.

Senator Williams said the commitment to sustainable energy is essential to Connecticut’s future. “Connecticut is already a world leader in fuel cell technology,” he remarked, with 15 percent of fuel cell employees around the world located in Connecticut. He also lauded the Center for Clean Energy Engineering as a role model that attracts visitors from across the globe. He thanked his colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passage of the jobs bill, including Senators Joan Hartley, Judith Freedman and Gary Lebeau; and Representatives William Hamzy and Pam Sawyer.

In his remarks, Provost Nicholls praised Dr. Smith for developing the important energy proposal and thanked the legislators and industrial partners for joining together to “solve one of the greatest challenges we face as a nation.”

Commenting on the partnership, Dr. Smith said “This is an exceptional opportunity to build a results-oriented, visionary research and development program in renewable green energies, at a time when the nation is just beginning to grapple with its precarious dependence on fossil fuels.” He said that, in addition to cutting-edge research, the initiative would allow the School of Engineering to develop educational programs to train tomorrow’s energy leaders and entrepreneurs.

eminent2b (62K)Mr. Necci recalled that when Northeast Utilities received the proposal from the School of Engineering, he was excited because it fit precisely with the company’s three areas of investment, in economic development, workforce development, and environmental stewardship. His comments were echoed by FuelCell Energy’s Frank Wolak and UTC Power’s Tom Jarvi.

Dr. Smith said the School will immediately launch a national search for a scholar of international stature and reputation who will effectively leverage and expand the School’s research and development activities in sustainable energies, including fuel cells, biofuels and photovoltaics. The School expects to hire several additional senior faculty members and support staff to complement ongoing activities in the area of alternative energy. The School’s resources include the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2), the Biofuel Consortium, and research involving photovoltaics and other green energy technologies.

The six-year old C2E2 is among the largest academic fuel cell centers in the nation. The Center’s interdisciplinary faculty research, develop and deploy innovative fuel cell technologies, focusing on proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), molten carbonate and other fuel cell types, and efforts in micro- and micro-miniature fuel cell systems. The Center began as a partnership between the School of Engineering, Connecticut Innovations and Connecticut industry and serves as a research, demonstration and testing nexus. The center enjoys over $10 million in federal funding and partners with United Technologies, FuelCell Energy, Distributed Energy Systems, General Dynamic Electric Boat and Henkel Loctite; and with federal agencies such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The Connecticut Biofuel Consortium focuses on the development of green energy technologies ranging from carbon neutral, renewable fuels to biological systems capable of digesting and converting biomass into either hydrogen or electricity. This multidisciplinary research unit comprises faculty from Chemical, Materials & Biomolecular Engineering; Environmental Engineering; and the departments of Chemistry, Economics, and Plant Sciences, whose aim is to investigate the development, production and implementation of bio-derived fuels from sources such as algae, biogas or high-yield crops.

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Pictured (L-R): Tom Jarvi, Director, Technology Development, UTC Power; Raymond Necci, President, CL&P; Sen. Donald Williams, Jr., President Pro Tempore; NU’s Jean LaVecchia, VP Human Resources; Kerry Kuhlman, Executive Director, NU Foundation; Erling Smith, Interim Dean of Engineering; Michael Hogan, UConn President; Frank Wolak, VP, FuelCell Energy; Sen. Gary Lebeau, Deputy Majority Leader; Joe Hanrahan, Director of Development; Mehdi Anwar, Associate Dean of Engineering; and Sen. Joan Hartley, Deputy President Pro Tempore.

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