Last year, Binghamton University’s New Energy New York (NENY) won more than $113 million. This year, an expansion of NENY, NENY Storage Engines (NENY SE), was selected as a finalist to potentially win another $160 million in the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines Competition.
Created and funded with federal money, the NENY program seeks to harness and utilize new battery-making technology to revitalize the Southern Tier’s economy. According to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the program began as a submission to the agency’s 2022 Build Back Better Regional Challenge, a federal competition that encouraged smaller regions to identify potential investments that would spur growth in the local economy. The program consists of five different project initiatives and goals — battery-NY, workforce development, supply-chain, innovation and entrepreneurship and equity and justice.
Introduced as a part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 — a law passed by the U.S. Congress — the NSF Engines program is designed to spur programs that promote investment in research, workforce training and entrepreneurship in the realm of energy and battery technology, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. Other applicants for grant funding involved investments in technologies like artificial intelligence, biotechnology and semiconductor construction.
After first narrowing the competition to 34 semi-finalists, the NSF announced on Aug. 2, 2023 that BU’s NENY program advanced to the final round. Schumer’s office wrote a letter of support for the NENY program urging the NSF to award BU the grant.
“I am pleased to write in support of the application submitted by [BU] to the [NSF Engines] program for their New Energy New York Storage Engine (NENYSE) proposal,” the letter said. “The Engine’s comprehensive approach will connect key stakeholders across sectors and provide competitive advantages to the ecosystem, helping the United States gain global leadership in advanced battery innovation, development and manufacturing.”
According to the NSF website, a selected NSF Engine would undergo three major development phases over 10 years — nascent, emergent and growth. A chosen engine would first receive an initial grant of $15 million over the first two years, with the potential for up to $160 million later. The goal is for BU’s NENY program to transform the Southern Tier into a nationally-recognized hub of economic activity for battery technology and sustainable energy.
Along the way, NENY has worked to benefit both BU and the surrounding community. According to an innovation fact sheet provided by NENY, the program has partnered with local start-ups to help battery innovators employ their technologies in the New York energy market. NENY has also helped startups to test facilities and supply-chain connections.
Olga Petrova, the director of the office of entrepreneurship and innovation partnerships at the University, expanded on how the NENY program has benefited the community.
“We are looking to boost research and development around battery storage and clean energy,” Petrova said. “We are also looking to build out more infrastructure in upstate New York and in the Southern Tier to enable the development of more battery and energy storage technologies. We’re looking to attract more companies to the region to support economic development and job creation.”
Students are encouraged to get involved in the NENY Program through paid student internships in fields, including clean energy development and entrepreneurship advancement.
“As of today, we’ve placed over 70 BU students — [graduates], [undergraduates], [business students] and [engineering students] — with approximately 20-25 high-tech clean energy startups,” Petrova said. “It has been a very successful program.”
Editor’s Note (8/29/23): This article has been edited to include the full name of the program in the first paragraph for a more accurate representation.