A possibly unprecedented coalition of universities, industry leaders, state agencies and regional economic development groups from across Louisiana has come together to pursue $160 million in National Science Foundation grant funding.
The Engine for Louisiana Innovation and Transition of Energy, or ELITE, hopes to help the state become a leader in the shift to a lower-carbon future, which could be worth 260,000 jobs and $13 billion in new payroll, says Samuel Bentley, vice president for LSU’s Office of Research and Economic Development.
“This is a transformative opportunity for us to change the economic landscape of Louisiana,” he says.
About two years ago, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy began urging Louisiana’s research universities to prepare for federal funding opportunities in hydrogen technology and carbon capture, utilization and storage, subjects university faculty had been researching for years, Bentley says. In May, the NSF announced the Regional Innovation Engines program, seeking to “build innovation ecosystems” around questions of national importance in places that aren’t currently considered economic innovation leaders.
“We’re not Silicon Valley,” Bentley says. “We’re underdog Louisiana.”
But Louisiana does have multinational energy and petrochemical companies, geological conditions necessary for carbon and hydrogen storage, and pipelines to carry those materials. Every major energy company is trying to reduce its carbon footprint, he notes.
“It’s not about tree hugging,” he says. “The big drive for most of these companies is pure economics. That transcends politics.”
ELITE’s application seeking $160 million over 10 years, due Jan. 30, would support:
- Applied research and development aimed at decarbonizing Louisiana’s industrial corridor.
- Technology transfer to commercialize that research.
- Development of a workforce that can sustain the energy transfer, with an eye toward socioeconomic equity.
The coalition includes virtually every university with an engineering program, Bentley says, along with several state agencies, regional economic bodies including BRAC, and big-name companies such as Shell, Dow, BASF and ExxonMobil.