CU Denver Part of New Regional Innovation Engine Focused on Environmental and Climate Change Technology 

January 29, 2024

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the Colorado-Wyoming Climate Resilience Engine (CO-WY Engine) as a recipient of a $15 million grant, which will establish an innovation hub focused on the development of environmental and climate change technology. 

The NSF selected the CO-WY Engine as one of 10 awardees of its inaugural Regional Innovation Engines program, delivering on the priorities outlined in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 that authorized the NSF Engines program to make a potential investment of nearly $1.6 billion over the next decade. The engine, which includes CU Denver, will receive $15 million for two years and up to $160 million could be slated for the region over 10 years. 

The partners in the engine also include Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, CU Boulder and several other universities, nonprofits, government entities, and businesses in Colorado and Wyoming. They will work together to develop technology that helps prevent, manage, and mitigate threats from climate change. The engine will also educate the diverse workforce needed to use the new technology and help it evolve once in the field.  

“We are thrilled to be part of the winning team and we are eager to work with our partners to make contributions in the area of research and workforce development,” said Phillip De Leon, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Creative Activities and Chief Research Officer for CU Denver. “We look forward to leveraging our research strengths in wildfire modeling and our expertise in climate change as it impacts urban environments and our communities. We envision the grant leading to technology that will help the region economically and will benefit residents impacted by wildfires, drought, and other natural disasters.  

“The collaboration also promises to give our students a wonderful opportunity to be on the frontlines of developing these innovations and then be ready to use them once they graduate to help our communities build climate resiliency here and nationwide,” De Leon added.

The NSF said that the engines represent one of the single largest broad investments in place-based research and development in the nation’s history, uniquely placing science and technology leadership as the central driver for regional economic competitiveness. The program aims to support the development of diverse regional coalitions of researchers, institutions, companies, and civil society to conduct research and development that engages people in the process of creating solutions with economic and societal impacts. Through the process, NSF Engines will train and develop the local workforce and grow regional innovation ecosystems throughout the U.S.  

The collaboration also promises to give our students a wonderful opportunity to be on the frontlines of developing these innovations and then ready to use them once they graduate to help our communities build climate resiliency here and nationwide.

–Phillip De Leon, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Creative Activities and Chief Research Officer for CU Denver

As Colorado’s most diverse research university, CU Denver will play a vital role in ensuring the diversity of that future workforce. The inclusion of the CO-WY Engine in this national effort highlights the region’s capacity to transform into a thriving hub of innovation, technology, and economic growth. The grant empowers partner universities to engage more deeply in technology transfer and commercialization efforts and play a pivotal role in driving real-world impact. 

“The diverse funding is more than an investment, it’s a statement of faith in our ability to lead the charge against climate change,” said Mike Freeman, CEO of Innosphere Ventures and incoming CEO for the engine. “The CO-WY Engine will be instrumental in bringing technology-driven solutions to life, reshaping our region’s approach to climate resilience.” 

In 10 years, the CO-WY Engine is estimated to generate an economic impact worth $1.5 billion in regional GDP impact and more than 22,000 new climate technology-related jobs, according to the CO-WY Engine. 

Other participating colleges and universities include the Colorado Community College System, Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Wyoming and its High Plains American Indian Research Institute, and the Wyoming Community College Commission. 

The other partners are Lockheed, NVIDIA, Palantir Technologies, Mars, Shell, Denver Water, Chevron, Trimble, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network, CO-LABS, Rockies Venture Club, Activate, CSU STRATA, Third Derivative, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Wyoming Business Council, City of Boulder, City of Fort Collins, City of Denver, City of Cheyenne, Local Governments for Sustainability, Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Clean Air Task Force.  

More information can be found on the NSF Engines program website

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