Seed Funding Will Also Foster Research on Biomechanics, Medical Imaging and Biomedical Informatics

Wind energy research

The newly proposed Emerging Energy Innovation Institute will help strengthen UMass Lowell’s reputation as the region’s leader in clean-energy technologies.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

UMass Lowell’s role as a leader in the emerging energy industry got a lift from a recent $95,000 grant from the UMass President’s Science & Technology (S&T) Initiatives Fund.

Prof. Christopher Niezrecki, who chairs the Department of Mechanical Engineering and directs the National Science Foundation-funded WindSTAR Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, will use the funds to establish a new Emerging Energy Innovation Institute (EEII) in Lowell. Plans call for the proposed institute, which will allow university researchers to work closely with companies to develop, validate, advance and license clean energy technologies, to be based in the city’s Hamilton Canal District. EEII will be similar in structure to the university’s Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) incubator, which was also initially funded through an S&T award.

Aside from Niezrecki, other faculty team members leading the institute include Asst. Profs. Juan Pablo Trelles, Ertan Agar and Hunter Mack, Assoc. Prof. Fuqiang Liu and Lecturer Walter Thomas of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as well as Assoc. Prof. Sukesh Aghara of the Department of Chemical Engineering’s Nuclear Energy Program.

“The Emerging Energy Innovation Institute will generate economic growth in the Commonwealth and foster scientific advancement by leveraging the university’s expertise wind turbine technology, solar energy systems, nuclear energy, biofuels and energy storage,” says Niezrecki.

The primary goal of the EEII is to build a nationally recognized academic and research hub for energy innovation in the City of Lowell through company outreach, cross-campus collaboration with other UMass campuses and regional universities, seed-funding venture competitions and clean energy workshops.

“The institute will bring together a dynamic group of faculty, entrepreneurs and researchers that encompasses the diversity of the New England institutions to work collaboratively with regional, national and international partners to address the national and global challenges of energy and environmental sustainability,” says Niezrecki.

The UMass President’s Science & Technology Initiatives Fund is a competitive program supporting faculty projects from the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester campuses that advance research in areas of strategic importance to the Commonwealth.

Solar energy research

University faculty and students are conducting cutting-edge research on wind turbine technology, solar energy systems, nuclear energy, biofuels and energy storage.

“These S&T funds empower our faculty, strengthen our research enterprise and spur breakthroughs that boost the economy and improve lives,” says UMass President Marty Meehan. “I’m proud to support our faculty while advancing our critical mission as a world-class public research university.”

Meehan says the grants have generated a tremendous return on investment to the UMass campuses and to the state, strengthening the UMass system’s engagement in key research areas including life sciences, data science, climate science and advanced manufacturing. “This program underscores how critical a strong public research university is to the future of the state,” he adds.

Industry Collaboration and Workforce Development

According to the Mass Clean Energy Center, in 2015, clean energy in Massachusetts was an $11 billion industry, supporting more than 98,000 jobs in over 6,000 companies.

“The continued growth in this sector is supported by the Commonwealth’s nation-leading policy commitment to carbon reduction and related research investments,” says Niezrecki. “UMass Lowell is well-positioned to become a major research and development partner and supplier of highly qualified workers for companies in this rapidly growing and dynamically changing energy sector, building on our current successful industry collaborations.”

Two other projects led by UMass Lowell faculty also won S&T grants.

ChemistryAssoc. Prof. Matthew Gage, who directs the department’s Protein Chemistry Laboratory, was awarded $25,000 to form UMOVE, the UMass Movement Research Center. Gage is collaborating with researchers from UMass Amherst and UMass Medical School to study the mechanics of movement and muscle function as people age. 

Electrical and computer engineeringAssoc. Prof. Hengyong Yu, working with Prof. Michael King of UMass Medical School, received $25,000 to create a new UMass Consortium for Research on Imaging and Informatics (CORMI). “CORMI’s mission is to foster new interdisciplinary collaborations among researchers involved in medical imaging and biomedical informatics with clinical physicians that would lead to improved cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” says Yu.