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Grant is matched by UKRI to fund Global Center UK partner institutions

September 18, 2023 (CHICAGO) —The Discovery Partners Institute, part of the University of Illinois System, has been awarded $5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) simultaneous to a grant by the UK Research and Innovation Engineering and Physical Sciences Council for nearly £5 million to the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom to establish the NSF-led Global Center for Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions (CLEETS). CLEETS will bring together eminent climate, energy, data science, and transportation experts to search for ways to reduce carbon emissions in road transportation.

The NSF-UKRI partnership for the CLEETS Global Center aims to accelerate equitable, use-inspired decarbonized road transportation pathways — meaning, fair and useful alternatives to current high carbon options — by engaging government, the private sector, and communities in collective research, education, and problem-solving for transitions to clean energy. The insights gleaned from this work will be designed to inform local and international policy decision-making and contribute directly to carbon neutrality goals. Road transportation is essential to the global economy. However, it is still largely powered by fossil fuels, which are a key source of pollutants and carbon emissions impacting public health and the climate. The transportation sector accounts for over one-fifth of global CO2 emissions, and three-quarters of these emissions originate from road transport.

“Climate change is a global problem,” said Ashish Sharma, climate and urban sustainability lead at the Discovery Partners Institute and CLEETS Global Center’s director, “but its solutions are local. Through these joint awards, we will be able to test and quantify the anticipated impact of policy change scenarios to reduce carbon emissions while also supporting economic opportunity, workforce resilience, and public health.”

The CLEETS Global Center includes researchers from the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), Arizona State University (ASU), the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the University of Birmingham and Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. The Global Center will focus on the Great Lakes megaregion of the United States under the direction of Sharma, lead-principal investigator, and the West Midlands and South Wales in the U.K. under the direction of Jonathan Radcliffe at the University of Birmingham. These regions are fertile grounds for use-inspired analysis with well-established research networks, road transportation congestion hotspots, and vehicle manufacturing hubs, as well as pressing local issues related to congestion, pollution, the environment, and social justice. Co-principal investigators include Eleftheria Kontou and Petros Sofronis at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), PS Sriraj at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), and Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of research at Discovery Partners Institute (DPI).

“Our team is delighted to be recognized with an inaugural Global Center award and to be able to bring together this exciting interdisciplinary team of researchers, non-profit organizations, and industry across continents to address transport-energy complexities in a changing climate,” said Venkatakrishnan. “In our CLEETS work, we will also be able to examine the issues of data and cybersecurity that affect clean energy and connected vehicles, as well as various approaches to mitigating potential risks.”

“I am thrilled to see the impact of DPI’s international partner program come a full circle through this Global Center effort,” added DPI Executive Director Bill Jackson, who will serve on the advisory board of the CLEETS Global Center.

University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen said the new center is an example of the power of partnerships like those DPI was designed to build.

“This new center aligns directly with the mission of Discovery Partners Institute — creating innovative international partnerships, training the workforce of the future, and applying research to tackle the major challenges we face today,” he said. “Crucially, the award provides support and training for undergraduate and graduate students and early-career scientists, as well as educational outreach to K-12 students, teachers and the public. Involving students from the grass roots up and reaching outward to engage the public maximizes the power and impact of these partnerships.”

This Global Centers (GC) NSF program supports research addressing global challenges in climate change and clean energy in partnership with leading counterpart funding agencies committed to addressing shared challenges through joint research. Partnerships with Australia (Commonwealth Science and Innovation Research Organisation, CSIRO), Canada (Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NSERC, and Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, SSHRC), and the United Kingdom (UK Research and Innovation, UKRI) leverage resources to support innovative joint research by bilateral and multilateral teams at a larger scale than would be possible for one funding agency alone. NSF and UKRI are jointly sponsoring this Global Center award. Each partner funds its own researchers.

“NSF builds capacity and advances its priorities through these centers of research excellence by uniting diverse teams from around the world,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Global Centers will sync talent across the globe to generate the discoveries and solutions needed to empower resilient communities everywhere.”

The CLEETS Global Center team includes:

U.S. members: Ashish Sharma (DPI), Venkat Venkatakrishnan (DPI), Eleftheria Kontou (UIUC), Petros Sofronis (UIUC), PS Sriraj (UIC), Sandra Gesing (DPI), Peiyuan Li (DPI),  Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia (UIUC), Timothy Lindsey (UIUC), Fabio Miranda (UIC), Bo Zou (UIC), Carol Fendt (UIC), Curtis Walker (NCAR), Rajesh Kumar (NCAR), and John M Anderies (ASU).

U.K. members: Jonathan Radcliffe (Birmingham), William Bloss (Birmingham), Lee Chapman (Birmingham), Dilum Dissanayake (Birmingham), Phil Jones (Birmingham), Andrew Quinn (Birmingham), Louise Reardon (Birmingham), Suzanne Bartingon (Birmingham), Neha Mehta (Birmingham), Paul Anderson (Birmingham), Omer Rana (Cardiff), Dimitris Potoglou (Cardiff), Crispin Cooper (Cardiff), Liana Cipigan (Cardiff), Duncas Wass (Cardiff), Maurizio Albano (Cardiff), and Neetesh Saxena (Cardiff).

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