The University of Louisville will lead a new consortium focused on cementing Kentucky’s role as a hub for innovation in energy, including batteries, hydrogen, solar power and biofuels.
The consortium — known as REBECCA, short for Regional Energy Business, Education, and Commercialization Convergence Accelerator — has been selected for a $500,000 Phase 1 planning grant under the U.S. Tech Hubs Program. The program, authorized by the federal CHIPS and Science Act, aims to transform high-potential regions across the country into globally competitive innovation centers.
“UofL is a top-tier, community-engaged research institution, and we’ve developed a solid track record of partnering with industry to solve important problems,” said Kim Schatzel, president of UofL. “With REBECCA, we are excited to build on UofL’s already impactful energy research and work with our industry partners to develop Kentucky’s energy strength.”
At UofL, work on REBECCA will be led by researchers Mahendra Sunkara and Sundar Atre in the UofL J.B. Speed School of Engineering. Consortium partners include the Transit Authority of River City (TARC), Louisville Metro Government, Clariant and GE Appliances, a Haier company.
Together, they will use the Phase 1 Tech Hubs funding to study the region’s energy economy and develop a plan for its continued growth, including needed technology, infrastructure and workforce. As a successful Phase 1 applicant, REBECCA also is eligible to compete for up to $75 million in Phase 2 funding to implement their plan.
“The UofL REBECCA consortium aligns with Louisville’s economic development and net-zero energy goals,” said Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg. “We are very eager to see this project bring new green jobs and advance our state’s investment and leadership in renewable energy technology.”
Energy is a driving force in the state’s economy, with more than a third of all energy produced going toward agriculture, the production of food and beverage, manufacturing and other industry. As both the public and private sectors invest in new energy technologies — such as renewables — there’s a need for more innovation, infrastructure and talent.
“We’re excited to be a part of this project and what the future holds for this region and job growth in the renewable energy space,” said Kevin Nolan, president and CEO of GE Appliances, a Haier company. “This aligns with our focus on net zero energy homes, and how we can innovate products that use less energy and work with renewable energy sources and energy storage solutions.”
Beyond developing a strategy for the energy Tech Hub in Kentucky, the consortium will conduct workforce development programs and partner with UofL researchers on pilot projects related to energy production, use and efficiency. GE Appliances will work on a solar power microgrid, TARC will work to introduce extended-range battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses into the fleet, and Clariant will work on hydrogen storage and delivery.
“We at Clariant are thrilled that UofL will be leading a new Tech Hub focused on the energy transition in Kentucky through the new consortium REBECCA,” said Victor Johnston, head of Clariant’s Louisville R&D Center. “With our longstanding ties to Louisville, we have had the privilege of partnering with the university for many years on critical research in catalyst development, materials science and cultivating STEM talent. This recognition is well-deserved. We eagerly anticipate continuing our collaboration with REBECCA, which will drive innovations that shape the future of energy.”
UofL has significant expertise in working with industry to innovate in renewable energy and energy efficiency, including through the Speed School’s Conn Center — established more than a decade ago in honor of major donors Hank and Rebecca Conn, for whom REBECCA is named. Emmanuel Collins, dean of the Speed School, said partnership with industry is critical to understanding gaps and growing the state’s capacity to manufacture, commercialize and deploy these technologies.
“UofL and the Speed School have a long track-record of success and leadership in energy research and academics,” Collins said. “I’m looking forward to working with our partners to build on that success, strengthening the regional innovation ecosystem and advancing the state’s bright energy future.”