UTRGV, USMFS Awarded Federal Grant To Fund Solar Startups

Photo above — UTRGV is part of a series of 18 projects the U. S. Department of Energy has funded to promote equity and diversity in clean energy innovation. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Victoria Brito Morales

EDINBURG, TEXAS – NOV. 22, 2022 – UTRGV is part of a series of 18 projects the U. S. Department of Energy has funded to promote equity and diversity in clean energy innovation.

The $3.6 million – the U.S. DOE’s Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize – awarded to the projects supports teams of entrepreneurs, community organizers, nonprofits and academic institutions working to achieve energy justice in clean energy.

The U.S.-Mexico Science Foundation for Science (USMFS) project, in partnership with UTRGV Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center, UTRGV Commercialization and Innovation Center, I-DREAM4D at UTRGV’s College of Engineering and TMAC, is called the “Solar Utilization and Commercialization Coalition for Energy Efficiency Devices.”

The project seeks to bolster the solar manufacturing industry in Texas and support startups in the industry to build economic potential in the Rio Grande Valley. The funding will support 10 start-up companies.

“Our project is focused on the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” said Jessica Lillie, U.S. executive director of the USMFS. “We looked at the demographics and statistics of the region, which are considered economically and historically underserved, making it eligible for this award.

More than 200 applications were submitted to the DOE for phase one of funding, and the USMFS/UTRGV’s project was one of the 18 selected to receive $200,000 each.

“It was really competitive. And we’re really proud that our team was selected,” said David Ortiz, director of TMAC.

Ortiz said UTRGV CECS will provide assistance with additive equipment and provide necessary prototyping.

“There’s a lot of technical expertise and equipment here at UTRGV, including some metrology (the science of measurement) equipment and laser-cutting processes, which is good for prototyping as well,” Ortiz said. “The type of support that they’ll get is prototyping plus other technical specifications to consider during the solar production, as well. We have two faculty members involved in the project.”

Ortiz, along with Dr. Jianzhi “James” Li, UTRGV professor and interim chair of Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering, and Dr. Farid Ahmed, assistant professor of MAIE, will provide direct support to the project where necessary.

“This grant is like a seed. We hope to leverage on this and bring in more energy manufacturers to the region,” Li said.

Additionally, the UTRGV CIC and ECC will provide business-side support to the start ups.

The goal is to offer support to entrepreneurs and start-up companies who are interested in clean energy and need support.

Evaluation of applications begins in December, with the program starting in January 2023.

There will be six phase-two awardees who will receive $500,000, and this project is eligible to apply.

“How we perform and what we’re able to accomplish in phase one will set us up for being in a really competitive position to get even more funding for phase two,” Lillie said. “That will let us expand the program so we can serve more companies, bring in more students and more resources to the region.”

For more information or to apply, contact Lillie at [email protected].