A Milwaukee hub for water technology, management and conservation is one of 44 organizations nationwide to receive a $1 million planning grant from the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engine program.
The Milwaukee-based Water Council and its partners will use the grant to focus on developing what NSF calls an “innovation engine,” a network of universities, two-year colleges, small and large businesses, utilities, non-profits and investors, to address the challenges of water-dependent industries and utilities in the face of climate change and increasing water scarcity, said Dean Amhaus, the Water Council’s president and CEO.
The result, he said, is expected to be a long-standing, multi-disciplinary network spanning eastern Wisconsin and parts of Illinois that can quickly take ideas for water-use management, conservation and stewardship from the academic sphere to practical, marketable solutions.
“What the goal is, and this was really the intent of NSF, is to get all those moving parts together so that it is literally working as a fine-tuned engine — and we need to be able to have all those different components together to make that engine work,” said Amhaus said.
The program dovetails with the Water Council’s mission since 2009 of bringing together the Milwaukee-area’s large, established water engineering companies, its academic and research campuses, startup companies and others focus on water issues and business development.
The grant program, created under the federal CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, is a first of its kind effort to leverage regional academic and business expertise to develop solutions and technology to address critical environmental, social and economic challenges.
The goal of the NSF Engines planning grants is to create hubs of knowledge and expertise to find innovative solutions to regional and national isses, develop and bring to market solutions to address those challenges, spur economic development and job growth, and to develop a diverse workforce.
A second round of NSF grants could provide up to $160 million in ongoing funding for that work.
Amhaus said winning the planning grant “speaks volumes of what we have in the eastern side of Wisconsin — that we can be extremely competitive when it comes to that water energy nexus.”
“It’s the combination of the businesses that are already here and have been here for decades, it’s the universities, the utilities — it’s all here, and pulling them all together as a region we believe can be a solution that not only the country needs, but the world needs around this resiliency,” he said.
The MKE Tech Hub Coalition, Wisconsin Technology Council, Marquette University, Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, and Madison Region Economic Partnership partnered with The Water Council to prepare the grant application.