U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm rolled up to UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering on Friday in no ordinary vehicle, shuttling between stops at the Innovation Partnership Building and C2E2 with Interim President Radenka Maric in a fuel cell-powered Toyota Mirai.
Her visit to Storrs was the first of three scheduled stops in eastern Connecticut to talk about the importance of clean energy and was meant to take note of UConn’s major contributions to the field.
Using the backdrop of the much-larger fuel cell that powers C2E2, Granholm also announced $7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for five institutions to create industrial assessment centers similar to the one developed last year in partnership between UConn and the University of New Haven.
The Southern New England Industrial Assessment Center was established in August with significant funding from the Energy Department and was among a group of 32 universities in 28 states to share $60 million to begin programs that provide free energy assessments to small and mid-sized businesses.
“The whole point here, of course, is to make sure we are using less energy across the country. The industrial sector produces about 30 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Making sure we use less energy is an important part of getting to that clean energy future,” Granholm said, calling UConn and its assessment center “an example of what we want to have happen across the country.”
From fuel cells to batteries and decarbonization, she said the department is investing $9.5 billion in hydrogen technologies and the requisite infrastructure.
“It’s just really an exciting time to be in this energy space,” Granholm said. “We feel like we’re in the middle of history being made. Sometimes it’s hard to tell that you’re making history when you are in the middle of it but we are right in the thick of just an incredible time.”
Before riding over to C2E2 in the sporty Mirai with Maric behind the wheel, Granholm toured the IPB at UConn Tech Park with UConn’s Interim Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship S. Pamir Alpay and U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, D-2nd District.
The group walked through the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center and got a primer on the Titan Themis ACEM microscope, which can see down to the single atom, before meeting with students who comprise the Southern New England Industrial Assessment Center.
Liang Zhang, an associate engineering professor who leads the center, said they’ve already had requests from six companies for assessments and should begin the first assessment in June.
Since the funding was announced last summer, students have undergone training on how to do the assessments, and once they get going should complete around 20 per year. Companies can expect to save on average $130,000 in annual energy expenses just by looking at systems such as heating and cooling.
Georgia Tech in Atlanta, San Jose State University in California, the University of Delaware, the University of North Texas, and San Diego State University will receive aid from the $7 million announced Friday.
“I’m so excited about the many initiatives we have at the national level around hydrogen,” Maric, who is a green energy researcher, said in her remarks at C2E2. “The future is in front of us, and with our great students and faculty we can make a difference in Connecticut and the national level.”
Courtney praised Maric, saying, “I can’t think of a better person to have at this moment leading the University of Connecticut in terms of your experience here certainly on campus, but your incredible knowledge about the topic that we’re going to talk about today.
“All of you who are working in this space, what a great moment to be here because we see this clean energy economy just exploding and making us as a nation energy secure with clean energy so that we are not relying upon the volatility of fossil fuels or petro-dictators,” Granholm said. “It’s an American strategy, it is a jobs strategy, and it is certainly a strategy that will heal our planet.”
Also joining the group and recognized at the event were Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes and state Rep. Jaime S. Foster, D-57th District.