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Eminent Faculty team assembled

by Michael Kirk - January 20, 2009


University President Michael Hogan and Senate President Donald Williams announced last month that UConn now has six top alternative energy researchers associated with the state’s Eminent Faculty Program, including the new director of UConn’s Global Fuel Cell Center.

The Eminent Faculty Program became law in 2006, and $4 million in state funding has been provided to create this public-private partnership, enabling UConn to hire national experts in alternative energy technology.

The program was designed to attract researchers skilled in commercialization and technology transfer to UConn to promote economic development and enhance training of energy workers and entrepreneurs in the state. In addition to new faculty members and their research teams, the program also allows UConn to purchase equipment for their laboratories.

As part of the partnership, three major Connecticut energy companies – UTC Power of South Windsor, the Northeast Utilities Foundation, and FuelCell Energy of Danbury – contributed a combined $2 million as an industry match.

Sustainable energy
“The Eminent Faculty Program has given Connecticut the opportunity to provide national leadership in the development of sustainable and environmentally-sound energy alternatives,” said Hogan.

“This new research team in sustainable energy will build upon the strength of UConn’s Global Fuel Cell Center and bolster Connecticut’s emerging alternative energy industry. We owe a great deal of thanks to our elected representatives as well as our generous corporate partners.”

Williams added, “Connecticut has a proud history of innovation that has helped revolutionize our national and regional economies and improve the quality of life for its citizens: we are the birthplace of the cotton gin, the submarine, and even rubber tires. Now it’s our turn again. The Eminent Faculty Program is planting the seeds of innovation that can help us achieve energy independence. Not only that, it will help Connecticut find its niche in the ‘green economy,’ enabling us to grow jobs and create wealth.”

The six faculty members, who hold appointments in the School of Engineering, bring with them a diverse array of expertise and experience.

Among the institutions represented in their collective backgrounds are the Westinghouse Electric Corp., FuelCell Energy, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the NASA Center for Advanced Microgravity Materials Processing.

The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (CEF) also awarded a $3.5 million challenge grant to the University that was applied toward laboratory development, the establishment of the endowment for the lead Eminent Faculty researcher, and startup funding for the sustainable energy team for job creation, new business development, and leading-edge research and development.

The Fund was established by the state legislature in 2000 to develop strategies to support renewable energy sources and related enterprises.

Economic development
Mun Y. Choi, dean of the School of Engineering, said the CEF’s strong support “demonstrated the state’s commitment to partnering with higher education and the private sector to invest in cutting-edge educational and research programs aimed at strengthening and advancing Connecticut’s technological leadership.”

Lt.-Gov. Michael Fedele added, “Connecticut has taken significant steps to remain at the forefront of the hydrogen and fuel cell industry. With UConn’s Eminent Faculty Program, students will graduate as highly trained professionals in a cutting-edge industry. Gov. Rell’s commitment to the program underscores the importance of this partnership with our flagship university. Currently 20 percent of the fuel cell industry’s workforce is located here in Connecticut. This program will help grow the workforce and encourage economic development.”

The initiative is also expected to help Connecticut meet the state’s goal of reducing fossil fuel consumption by 20 percent and replacing it with clean or renewable energy sources by 2020.

The six faculty are:

  • Prabhakar Singh, director of the Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center and UTC Chair Professor of Fuel Cell Technology in the Department of Chemical, Materials, & Biomolecular Engineering;
  • Hanchen Huang, School of Engineering Professor in Sustainable Energy; Huang will join the Department of Mechanical Engineering in August;
  • George Rossetti Jr., associate professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering;
  • Brian Willis, associate professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering;
  • William Mustain, assistant professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering;
  • Tianfeng Lu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
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