The five-year, $20 million award is being made to the state for the “Powering the Kentucky Bioeconomy for a Sustainable Future” project, a collaborative, multi-institutional research effort. The funding comes from NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), an initiative to build the country’s research and development capacity and to advance its science and engineering capabilities. An additional $4 million is being provided by Kentucky’s EPSCoR program.
The project will address the significant challenges the state faces as its energy economy transitions toward renewable resources. Areas of focus will be electrochemical energy storage, biomass feed stocks and nanocomposite membranes.
UofL’s Conn Center will receive $4.2 million in grant funds over five years, according to its director, Mahendra Sunkara. The center, founded at UofL’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering in 2009, leads research that increases homegrown energy sources to meet the national need while reducing energy consumption and dependence on foreign resources.
“The Conn Center will utilize these valuable resources from the NSF EPSCoR program toward our goal of becoming a national center of excellence,” Sunkara said. “Using the award, we will hire several key faculty and staff for energy research, advance science and technology frontiers, and develop industry interactions.”
Specifically, the Conn Center will hire at least three faculty members and a senior research scientist for energy storage. They will strengthen ongoing research in energy storage, biofuels/biomass conversion, and electrolytes and membranes. There also will be opportunities for at least seven to 10 doctoral students to participate in the project.
In addition to UofL, other institutions involved in the research effort are the University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University, Northern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Big Sandy Community & Technical College and Bluegrass Community & Technical College.