NSF-Funded Research Projects Aim to Create Economic Shift
East Carolina University (ECU) is part of two multi-institutional teams that have received $1 million each from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program. The aim of the program is to create economic, societal, and technological opportunities in their regions. The North Carolina Ecosystem Technology project and Clean Carolinas initiative are among the first teams to receive an NSF Engines Development Award, created by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.
About the NSF Engines Program
The NSF Engines program was launched by NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. It harnesses the nation’s science and technology R&D enterprise and regional-level resources. The program aims to catalyze robust partnerships to positively impact regional economies, accelerate technology development, address societal challenges, advance national competitiveness, and create local, high-wage jobs.
North Carolina Ecosystem Technology Project
The North Carolina Ecosystem Technology project aims to develop an economic engine that uses ecosystem technology (eco-tech), an emerging branch of applied science, to drive improvements in rural coastal communities’ quality of life. NCET’s team consists of 11 researchers from seven institutions, including Duke University, ECU, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
The team will focus on three key areas – coastal infrastructure, aquaculture, and renewable energy ancillary services – to improve the infrastructure of North Carolina’s coastal region and solve problems. Currently, NCET has nearly 40 supporting partners from a variety of sectors statewide. The project’s aim is to turn North Carolina into a national, and eventually, global hub of eco-tech innovation that will integrate economic, community, and ecological sustainability.
Engineering with Nature
The first subfield of focus is engineering with nature. It involves using natural materials to create infrastructure that can withstand coastal hazards such as storms, flooding, and rising sea levels. For example, 3D printing living shoreline implants to protect the coast from erosion.
Environmental Sensing and Signaling
The second subfield focuses on environmental sensing and signaling. It involves developing sensors and technology to monitor the environment and improve decision-making in coastal regions.
The third subfield focuses on using ecosystem-inspired materials to create innovative solutions for infrastructure challenges in coastal regions.
Ecosystem Genetic Engineering
The fourth subfield focuses on ecosystem genetic engineering. It involves using genetic engineering to improve aquaculture and enhance the sustainability of food production in coastal regions.
Ecosystem Service Measuring and Modeling
The fifth subfield focuses on measuring and modeling ecosystem services. It involves using advanced technology to understand the benefits that ecosystems provide to human society and improve decision-making in coastal regions.
Clean Carolinas Initiative
The Clean Carolinas initiative is designed to support the economy and growth of the Carolinas through clean energy technology. It targets North and South Carolina, a region that has already made significant investments in clean and renewable energy. The aim of the initiative is to achieve a net-carbon-neutral electric grid by 2050.
The initiative will focus on technology acceleration, research and development, and workforce development. The project director is Michael Mazzola, executive director, UNC Charlotte Energy Production and Infrastructure Center, and lead principal investigator for the award. ECU’s Tarek Abdel-Salam is the co-principal investigator on the initiative. Abdel-Salam said: “The collaboration to try to reach this goal is really one of the big things about this project, the collaborators and the partners, and ECU is playing a leadership role in that.”
- NCET and Clean Carolinas are among more than 40 teams to receive an NSF Engines Development Award.
- The aim of the NSF Engines program is to create economic, societal, and technological opportunities in their regions.
- ECU’s Tarek Abdel-Salam is the co-principal investigator on the Clean Carolinas initiative.
- The North Carolina Ecosystem Technology team consists of 11 researchers from seven institutions, including Duke University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
The two NSF-funded research projects aim to create an economic shift in North Carolina and South Carolina using ecosystem technology and clean energy technology. The North Carolina Ecosystem Technology project focuses on improving rural coastal communities’ quality of life by improving infrastructure, aquaculture, and renewable energy ancillary services. The Clean Carolinas initiative focuses on achieving a net-carbon-neutral electric grid by 2050 through technology acceleration, research and development, and workforce development.
ECU’s involvement in the two NSF-funded research projects is significant, showing the potential for innovation in North Carolina and South Carolina. The projects’ focus on ecosystem and clean energy technology will impact regional economies, improve quality of life, address societal challenges, and advance national competitiveness.