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U of U Secures Grant to Commercialize Clean Energy

Sept. 21, 2010 — The University of Utah is striving to become a hub for clean-energy technologies, and the federal government took notice last week, as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the university $1.05 million to launch a new Energy Innovation Commercialization Center. The U was one of only five institutions in the country to get a piece of the $5.3 million awarded by the DOE to build and strengthen the nation’s “innovation ecosystems.”

“Many great clean-energy technologies have been born in our nation’s research universities,” said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. “Accelerating linkages between university research, investors and the business world is essential to moving these great ideas to the marketplace. The innovative clean-energy startup companies supported by these ecosystems will advance American competitiveness and will help create the jobs of the future.”

Other award winners included the Clean Energy Trust (Chicago, Ill.); the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (Cambridge, Mass.); the University of California, San Diego (San Diego, Calif.); and the University of Central Florida (Orlando, Fla.). Each institution won $1.05 million for projects ranging from business plan competitions to regional networking. The U will use its award to bolster its efforts to commercialize promising clean-energy technologies. The Technology Commercialization Office (TCO) already supports this effort, but the grant money will substantially increase resources available for driving clean-energy innovations and commercialization for the state and region. These efforts will be centralized in the new Energy Innovation Commercialization Center, which will be housed with the TCO in Research Park.

“This is an important development for the university and our entire region,” says Jack Brittain, the U’s vice president for Technology Venture Development, which manages all commercialization efforts on campus. “We have already become well known for our expertise in renewable energy technologies, and now we will have much greater resources to ensure that these technologies will be used to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our quality of life.”

Jack Hamilton will serve as the director of the Energy Innovation Commercialization Center. He is a program manager for the TCO and managed the grant application process for the center. Hamilton expects to hire several more people to help the effort, and he already has a long list of goals. The center’s objectives include:

  • Assist participating western universities and research institutions in transferring and commercializing university-developed technologies to industry and startup companies.
  • Provide resources such as mentoring, proof-of-concept validation, prototype guidance and access to the TCO startup programs.
  • Identify industry and market needs to fund the most promising projects while mitigating market rise.
  • Develop tools to help understand and quantify the impacts of technologies on job creation, fossil-fuel dependence and climate change.

“We have a lot of work to do, but it’s an effort that we need to make,” Hamilton said. “The University of Utah has long been a leader in developing geothermal energy through EGI [the Energy and Geoscience Institute] and in other clean and renewable technologies. Our new center will help us bring these innovations into the commercial marketplace. Utah has some of the best wind, solar and geothermal potential in the country, so this is a logical place for us to begin.”

The center had letters of support from the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR), Utah State University, Brigham Young University and other research organizations in the West.