UConn Selected to Lead Clean-Energy Project to Help U.S. Industries in Decarbonizing Efforts

'Investments in net-zero-carbon technologies and industry decarbonization can strengthen U.S. and Connecticut manufacturing competitiveness, which then creates new jobs and economic opportunities that improve quality of life'

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks at a press conference at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks at a press conference at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering on May 20, 2022. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn has been selected to lead a nationwide decarbonization effort in which it will guide a network of companies, universities, and research centers in a sweeping project to expand the use of clean-energy technologies in America’s industrial sector.

The U.S. Department of Energy named UConn to establish and operate its national Onsite Energy Technical Analysis and Support Center (TASC), in collaboration with three minority-owned small businesses, a consultant, and a nationwide energy consulting company.

The honor builds on UConn’s reputation as a national leader in advancing clean energy, a research area in which President Radenka Maric is an internationally known expert, and in which the University has committed itself to making a worldwide positive impact.

As the national TASC site in the Department of Energy decarbonization initiative, UConn will centrally coordinate technical analysis and programmatic activities of eight regional organizations known as Technical Assistance Partnerships (TAPs) at locations across the U.S.

The TAPs will work directly with local manufacturers and other large energy users on clean energy strategies ranging from fuel cells and renewable fuels to geothermal energy, industrial heat pumps, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, thermal storage, wind power, and more.

“The center being established at UConn will not only create a positive impact on reversing the worldwide impacts of climate change, but it also further cements Connecticut as the home of the clean energy industry, which continues to add thousands of new jobs each year and attract millions in economic investments,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont says.

The UConn-based TASC’s expertise will be key in helping facilitate the installation of real-world onsite energy projects in the field through TAPs, and in quantifying results so the Department of Energy can track the decarbonization efforts and outcomes.

“The UConn team combines the requisite highly technical engineering capabilities and programmatic expertise to multiply the impact of the regional Onsite Energy TAPs,” the U.S. Department of Energy said in its announcement.

UConn will establish the center with DNV Energy Insights USA Inc., Analytical Energy Solutions, eSai LLC, Impact Energy, and RE Tech Advisors, LLC.

The Department of Energy says the UConn team will be key in “providing manufacturers and large energy users with unbiased expertise and analysis needed to deliver an equitable, clean energy future.”

The regional Onsite Energy TAPs include companies, universities, and research centers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Hampshire, Texas, Washington, North Carolina, Oregon, and California.

UConn had already put its stake in the ground as a national leader in the area through its research and its aspiration to achieve carbon neutrality at Storrs by 2030, and has laid a strong foundation through a variety of initiatives already in place at UConn Health in Farmington and regional campuses.

Maric says the opportunity to lead the national industrial decarbonization effort will let UConn demonstrate its expertise, determination, and vision to fight climate change as part of the U.S. long-term strategy, which presents multiple pathways to a net-zero economy by no later than 2050.

Addressing environmental justice and energy equity will be integral to meeting climate goals at UConn, nationally, and globally, Maric adds. Adopting existing technologies and developing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions presents a significant opportunity to address environmental issues and inequities.

“In addition to addressing carbon pollution and public health, investments in net-zero-carbon technologies and industry decarbonization can strengthen U.S. and Connecticut manufacturing competitiveness, which then creates new jobs and economic opportunities that improve quality of life,” she says.

“UConn profoundly appreciates the Department of Energy’s choice to place our team in this important role, as we have strengths in the four key ‘pillars’ of industrial decarbonization: energy efficiency; industrial electrification; low-carbon fuels, feedstocks, and energy sources; and carbon capture, utilization, and storage,” she adds.

UConn’s efforts have been noticed at the national level even before the newest honor, including during a visit in spring 2022 by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who noted UConn’s major contributions to the field.

They included the 2021 establishment of the Southern New England Industrial Assessment Center at UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building (IPB), putting UConn among a group of 32 universities in 28 states sharing $60 million in federal funding on programs that provide free energy assessments to small and mid-sized businesses.

That center’s assistant director, Ravi Gorthala, will lead the newly announced plan for UConn to establish the Onsite Energy Technical Analysis and Support Center on campus.

Gorthala, a professor in residence in mechanical engineering, brings strong energy efficiency and renewable energy expertise to the project, also serving as associate director for research at the UConn Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering.

“I have been an energy researcher, preacher and practitioner all my life and I am deeply concerned about climate crisis, which is the most pressing and imminent global threat that the humanity faces. This project is one of the tools in the arsenal to fight climate crisis through decarbonization of industrial and building sectors.,” Gorthala says.

“I am grateful to U.S. Department of Energy for awarding this project to UConn and delighted to lead this project in close and equal partnership with DNV with its nationwide presence offering comprehensive energy services,” he adds.

George Bollas, director of the UConn Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering says the new TASC adds to the portfolio of projects performed at the institute that target clean energy, decarbonization, energy efficiency, and support of our local communities.

“Dr. Gorthala’s research is grounded in real needs and has a real impact on the communities around us. His passion for clean energy and his commitment to supporting the efforts of the state and the University to reduce our energy consumption are strong and honest,” Bollas says.

Richard S. Barnes, Region President for DNV’s Energy Systems North America operations, says they are pleased to partner with UConn in supporting the program.

“Our national presence and deep technical bench across the complete energy value chain will help to accelerate a sustainable and equitable energy transition for the industrial sector,” Barnes says. “We look forward to close collaboration with DOE, the regional Onsite Energy TAPs, and the National Laboratories to transform how industry and large energy users produce and consume energy across the nation.”

The new initiative comes as UConn also has many clean energy programs and partnerships also underway or anticipated.

Last fall, for instance, UConn established a partnership in fall 2022 with the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on a collaboration for clean energy and grid resilience. Among the many goals of the partnership, UConn and NREL will work together to invest in the development of joint solutions to clean energy challenges in the Northeast and increase funding opportunities not otherwise available to either individual institution.

UConn and the State of Connecticut are also partnering with other East Coast states and institutions in seeking to host a regional Northeast Hydrogen Hub, as envisioned in the 2021 federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The states submitted their combined application this spring, and a decision is expected this fall.