UNC Charlotte is an inaugural recipient of up to $1 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, program. The University is leading one of only 40 unique teams nationwide to receive an NSF Engines Development Award, which help partners collaborate to create economic, societal and technological opportunities for their regions.
The initiative, titled “Clean Carolinas,” is designed to support the economy and growth of the Carolinas through clean energy technology, including innovations in offshore wind, solar, clean hydrogen and marine energy. It will focus on the technologies’ energy delivery, storage and integration with the grid.
By leveraging the research and development expertise of UNC Charlotte and its partner groups in North and South Carolina, the initiative will meet the challenges of achieving a net-carbon-neutral electric grid by 2050 and sustaining it for much longer. The initiative’s activities will lay a pathway for clean energy innovation leadership in the Carolinas through a focus on technology acceleration, research and development on disruptive technologies and workforce development. The collaborative team also will target diversity, equity, inclusiveness and accessibility to identify community priorities for energy economic development and support upward economic mobility through skills development and well-paying jobs.
“The Charlotte metropolitan area is the glue that ties together a two-state region teeming with renewable energy resources, especially offshore wind,” said Michael Mazzola, executive director, UNC Charlotte Energy Production and Infrastructure Center and lead principal investigator for the award. “The innovation flowing from North and South Carolina industry and research enterprises, such as our world-class universities, will allow ‘made in the Carolinas’ to support increased social mobility and generate more direct financial investment into our region of service.”
The NSF Engines program is a transformational investment for the nation, ensuring the U.S. remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.
“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”
By partnering with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the South Carolina Research Authority, UNC Charlotte will include community priorities from the region’s individual households as well as the diverse businesses across the two states.
Education and skills training, in addition to research and innovation, will be key, as the initiative includes collaborators from partner institutions, including East Carolina University, N.C. State University, Clemson University, Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University, and E4 Carolinas consortium.
Clean Carolinas will leverage and complement collaborator NC A&T State University, which in August 2022 was awarded a $23.7 million grant to develop and implement a clean-jobs education and training program called STEPs4GROWTH from the U.S. Department of Commerce Good Jobs Challenge.
The awardees span a broad range of states and regions, reaching geographic areas that have not fully benefited from the technology boom of the past decades. These NSF Engines Development Awards will help organizations create connections and develop their local innovation ecosystems within two years to prepare strong proposals for becoming future NSF Engines, which will each have the opportunity to receive up to $160 million.
Launched by NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships and authorized by the “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,” the NSF Engines program uniquely harnesses the nation’s science and technology research and development enterprise and regional-level resources. NSF Engines aspire to catalyze robust partnerships to positively impact regional economies, accelerate technology development, address societal challenges, advance national competitiveness and create local, high-wage jobs.