The University of Nevada, Reno has been awarded a Type-1 Engine, approximately $1M from the U.S. National Science Foundation's Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, program. The University is one of 44 unique teams to receive one of the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards, which aim to help partners collaborate to create economic, societal and technological opportunities for their regions. The University’s region of service is the state of Nevada.
The NSF Engines Development Award: Advancing the circular economy for lithium batteries (NV), envisions a region in which workforce and economic development practices, private-sector innovation, and use-inspired research are coordinated and aligned to support the circular lithium economy. Through its many academic, industry and non-profit partners, the proposing team aims to pioneer a complete lithium supply chain, from resource management of critical materials, to the rejuvenation, repurposing, and recycling of lithium batteries, and to the reinvention of the future generations of batteries. This development award will enable the project leadership team to guide all regional partners and collaborators through a 24-month process of co-creation of ideas, strategies and innovations. Through these activities, the project leadership will build a diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem that drives economic growth, workforce development, use-inspired research and development, and the translation of innovations to practice around the lithium lifecycle.
“This award signifies the University of Nevada, Reno’s expertise and leadership in a critical time for renewable energy,” University President Brian Sandoval said. “We are proud that our University – among many core partners – is contributing to northern Nevada’s essential role in the global lithium supply chain.”
The NSF Engines program is a transformational investment for the nation, ensuring the U.S. remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.
“The work undertaken during the award period will be transformative for our regional economy – technological advancements, workforce development and job creation in the lithium sector,” Mridul Gautam, project director and vice president for Research & Innovation at the University, said. “We will align among our core partners – in an inclusive, equitable and meaningful way – on joint priorities and goals for a regional economy built around the circular economy of lithium.”
This NSF Engine development region – the state of Nevada – is uniquely suited to support America’s lithium independence because it contains the only operating lithium mine in the U.S., the largest lithium mine in North America under construction, and large sources of lithium in clay and brine throughout. Nevada is the only state in the country that produces lithium, manufactures lithium batteries, and is starting to recycle the batteries.
“Lithium is a critical element that powers our society today and is necessary for our clean energy future,” Co-Project Director and technical lead Dev Chidambaram, director of the Nevada Institute for Sustainability and a Nevada Regents’ Researcher in the College of Engineering at the University, said. “There is significant need not only to identify domestic sources of critical materials and to develop domestic processing capabilities, but also to advance recycling methods to reuse critical materials already in use.”
The proposing team will be led by Gautam and Chidambaram, in partnership with Kreg Mebust, interim dean of technical sciences at Truckee Meadows Community College, and Karsten Heise, senior director for strategic programs and innovation with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).
The region became the first state to manufacture electric vehicle batteries with the Tesla Gigafactory and is now home to several next generation battery startups. Recently, the region has started to attract several recyclers and repurposers of lithium batteries that have begun commissioning large facilities. The broader impacts of the work undertaken through this NSF development award will support the move toward clean, reliable domestic energy production to fuel a prosperous American economy.
"These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF's vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation."
The awardees span a broad range of states and regions, reaching geographic areas that have not fully benefited from the technology boom of the past decades. These NSF Engines Development Awards will help organizations create connections and develop their local innovation ecosystems within two years to prepare strong proposals for becoming future NSF Engines, which will each have the opportunity to receive up to $160 million.