Author: Heike Brueckner

Using Software to Blacklist Blackouts, One Community at a Time

Source: UConn Today,  Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research

(Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash)

Yet another nor’easter, hurricane, tornado, or other kind of severe weather hits your town and the power goes out – and stays out for hours or even days.

One of the reasons power outages last so long is shortcomings in our technical infrastructure which relies on distributed energy resources (DERs). DERs cannot ride out sustained grid failures and so consumers experience extended blackouts.

But a better technology exists. Smart programmable microgrids (SPMs) have demonstrated that they have much more electric resiliency than DERs. SPMs were used during Hurricane Harvey to keep power running for vital services in Houston.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy process to switch systems that rely on DERs to SPMs. Since the existing hardware is designed for DERs, changing the hardware would be an incredibly difficult and costly task. But a researcher in the Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut has received funding to develop a way to make this transition much easier.

Professor Peng Zhang from UConn’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has received $800,000 from the National Science Foundation through its highly competitive Smart and Connected Communities program. Zhang will work on creating a software network that can transition DERs to SPMs without the need to alter the hardware.

“This project will provide groundbreaking, replicable technologies to modernize America’s energy infrastructure in a cost efficient manner,” Zhang says.

SPMs are scaled versions of regular power grids but that serve much smaller communities. SPMs can integrate renewable resources available in a given community into their power grid, and they allow communities to take advantage of local sources of renewable energy that would not be sufficient to power a larger DER grid.

Because power is produced and stored locally, it can be distributed to critical service centers in the event of a disaster and is more energy efficient.

This technology could lead to more autonomous and flexible energy networks that require less repair and upkeep. Due to the security features in Zhang’s SPM software, the grids would be less vulnerable to cyber attacks.

The software platform will be piloted in Milford, CT where segments of the population suffer from high electricity costs, low energy reliability, and poor resilience performance of their electrical grids – all of which are problems that can be helped by SPMs.

Zhang received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His current research interests include microgrids and networked microgrids, power system stability and control, networked systems, and cyber-physical security.


Workshop: Grid Modernization and Distributed Energy Resources

Image Source:
Image Source:

The Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut (UConn) is hosting a workshop aimed at identifying key challenges and potential solutions related to the modernization of electric grid. The focus will be on enhancing stability and resiliency of the grid in an environment of increasing penetration of intermittent renewables and other Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) as well as other potentially disruptive factors such as climate, extreme weather events and the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

The workshop will explore possible solutions by considering the complex interdependencies of technology, economics, regulation and energy demand. Also considered will be the relationship between natural gas and the electric grid. Included will be a discussion of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs), where the utility controls and synchronizes multiple DER technologies such as renewable power generation sources (PV, hydropower and wind), micro Combined Heat and Electricity (mCHE) devices, pump-hydro, and battery storage. The workshop will also consider the dynamics of energy demand and supply, and discuss implications of the above technological solutions under alternate futures and extreme weather and security based outage events.

The workshop outcome will be a report summarizing research gaps and development needs, and ultimately a roadmap for their implementation.

The workshop outcome will be a report summarizing research gaps and development needs, and ultimately a roadmap for their implementation.


Workshop Session I – Identifying the challenges

In this session we will identify and explore the challenges electric utilities have maintaining stability and enhancing resiliency in response to intermittent renewables, peak loads and ramp-up effects, and other stresses on the grid caused by load profiles, electric vehicles, climate, and other factors.
We will also discuss how these conditions are expected to change over time, and the potential impact of these changes on the grid.

Workshop Session II – Identifying the technologies

In this session we will begin by identifying the current state of technology for addressing these challenges, and then explore the leading technologies that can address these challenges going forward.
The focus of the discussion will be to understand the costs and risks associated with the widespread deployment of these technologies, including social acceptance and the capacity to include Low- and Medium-Income consumers in the adaptation of DER solutions. Included in the discussion will be an overview of different DER-based solutions, including mCHE, pump-hydro, and batteries, and what role a dispatchable network of such technologies could play in addressing the challenges. A few case studies will be presented.

Workshop Session III – Potential solutions and gaps

Session III will focus on identifying potential solutions, and where there are gaps in research or methodologies for understanding and evaluating them. With the inherent complexity and interdependency of the various technologies, economics, and regulations that make up the electric grid, as well as the relationship between the electric grid and natural gas, robust methodologies are essential for finding optimized solutions.

This session will include a discussion of a virtual power plant (VPP) approach, where the utility controls and synchronizes multiple distributed energy resource (DER) technologies, as well as the Distributed Generation (DG) models currently being used in Europe and how similar models might apply here.
By identifying the gaps in research and methodologies for utilities to evaluate potential solutions, we will be able to ultimately develop a roadmap for their implementation.

Target Attendees:
Electric and Natural Gas Utility managers and planners.
• Professionals in the energy industry, including Energy Project Developers and VPP software providers.
• Utility Regulators.
• Academics interested in the technological, economic, regulatory, and social challenges of energy and energy distribution.


Day 1 (Thursday, June 14th)

11:30 – 12:00 Registration
12:00 – 12:15 Opening Session – Keynote Speaker [Jennifer Schilling, Grid Modernization Director, Eversource Energy]
12:15 – 1:15 Luncheon and Keynote Speaker [Katie Dykes, Chair, CT PURA]

1:15 – 2:30 Workshop Session I – Identifying the challenges
2:30 – 2:45 Break
2:45 – 3:15 Summary I – Challenges

3:15 – 3:35 Keynote speaker [Ray Samuels, Senior Vice President,  DBS Power & Energy]
3:35 – 3:55 Keynote speaker [Dan Bradley, Managing Director, Navigant]

3:55 – 5:15 Workshop Session II – Identifying the technologies
5:15 – 5:30 Break
5:30 – 6:00 Summary II – Technologies

6:00 – 7:00 Social

7:00 – 9:00 Dinner / Keynote Speaker [David Owens, Retired Executive Vice President, Edison Electric Institute]


Day 2 (Friday, June 15th)

8:00 – 8:20 Breakfast/ Opening Session – Keynote Speaker [Watson Collins, Technical Executive, EPRI]
8:20 – 8:40 Keynote speaker [Walter Rojowsky, Senior Analyst, ICF]
8:40 – 9:00 Keynote speaker [Jeff Nehr – Vice President, Production & Business Development, Peoples Gas]

9:00 – 10:30 Workshop Session III – Potential solutions and gaps
10:30 – 10:45 Break
10:45 – 11:15 Summary III – Potential solutions and gaps

11:15 – 11:30 Closing remarks & Next Steps
11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 14:00 Steering team meeting

Workshop format:

Workshops will be comprised of roundtable discussion groups of 8-10 attendees and a coordinator who will introduce the topic and facilitate the discussion. After each session, the coordinators from each group will summarize the key points and present them to everyone.

Prof. Emmanouil Anagnostou | | 860-486-6806
Eversource Energy Center, University of Connecticut

IPB hosts Dedication Ceremony for Nature Park

Mike Enright ’88 (CLAS), University Communications, UConn Today

State Senator Mae Flexer '02 (CLAS)
State Senator Mae Flexer ’02 (CLAS)

The Hillside Environmental Education Park provides a quiet sanctuary and nature preserve for the UConn community, but isn’t that far from the hustle and bustle of everyday college life. The proximity of a nature park so close to the core of campus is an asset to UConn, and the opportunities at HEEP are now even greater with the recent addition of more land and trails and more than a dozen trailhead and interpretive signs.

HEEP first opened in 2008 in the North part of campus following the remediation and closure of the former UConn landfill, which dated back at least 50 years. It was established as a 64-acre preserve by a conservation agreement with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

After UConn removed 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated debris and completed other aspects of an extensive cleanup, the University began the process of creating and restoring wetlands, and removing invasive species throughout the site. Now, 10 years later, the area once again supports healthy ecosystems and active wildlife habitat.

With the latest addition of land and trails, HEEP currently consists of 165 acres, with three miles of trails through a variety of habitats – uplands, meadows, woodlands, and wetlands. The entrances are located in C-lot, next to the Innovation Partnership Building, and on Hunting Lodge Road.

On April 26, a dedication ceremony was held for the expanded park, new interconnected and blazed trails, and improved signage. The ceremony was the final event in UConn’s semester-long Environmental Metanoia.

“The HEEP’s expansion and improvements are the result of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by people from all over campus,” said Rich Miller, UConn’s director of environmental policy. “It’s a  real-life trash-to-treasure story, where UConn has not only cleaned up an environmental problem, but created in its place a terrific outdoor recreational and educational resource for everyone in the area.”

The new addition to the HEEP is covered under the amended state conservation agreement. The agreement serves to protect and preserve a complex of vernal pools and other natural resources throughout the park, while allowing the construction of Discovery Drive and future development of the Tech Park.

UConn faculty members from the Green Campus Academic Network and students of the EcoHouse learning community played a key role in writing, reviewing, and editing interpretive signs, and creating wooden trail blazes.

“This was one of the higher-profile landfill cleanups in the state of Connecticut over the years,” said Miller. “For a long time, this part of campus was an eyesore. Now, it is symbolic of UConn’s commitment to environmental stewardship and responsible growth. We’re developing a technology park and preserving a natural IPB hosts Dedication Ceremony for Nature Park side-by-side.”

The uses for the park range from recreational, such as walking, hiking, running, birding, and biking, to academic pursuits.

“There have been a number of classes, projects, and even research conducted out there,” said Miller. “UConn faculty and contractors are continually monitoring and recording a number of different species that live in the HEEP.”

UConn’s has a strong relationship with the DEEP, and several UConn graduates are on its staff.

“Trails are one of the most basic signs that life exists,” said Commissioner Rob Klee at the dedication ceremony. “They started when the earliest creatures crawled onto land the first time. Here in North America, trails for Native Americans eventually became roads and modern hiking paths.”

The park now features the original and new interpretive signs, natural and man-made vernal pools, and remnants of a turn-of-the-century stone wall. Cedar Swamp Brook runs through it towards Mansfield’s Pink Ravine, and there are three wildlife viewing platforms overlooking sections of the park.

“Trails provide the needed mental break from the hectic pace of our daily lives,” said Klee, “whether it is studying for finals, grading papers, running a large complex state agency or daily chores. For the students of UConn, this network of trails provides an opportunity to learn and explore their natural world.”

For more information, visit

Congressman Courtney Comes to UConn

Jessica McBride – Office of the Vice President for Research, UConn Today

U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) visited the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus on May 12, 2018. (Chris Larosa/UConn Photo)
U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) visited the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus on May 12, 2018. (Chris Larosa/UConn Photo)

U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) visited the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus last week to meet with researchers from the School of Engineering and tour several of the University’s state-of-the-art research centers.

“Congressman Courtney is a dedicated advocate of higher education and UConn is very grateful for his longstanding support,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Craig H. Kennedy. “He understands the role and value that a public research university plays in advancing new discoveries, innovation, and knowledge with industry partners to drive economic growth throughout the state.”

The visit began at one of UConn’s most specialized R&D facilities, the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at the UConn Tech Park. Made possible through state investment in the $1.5 billion Next Generation Connecticut initiative, the IPB brings together world-class academic researchers with industry partners from the private sector. The unique space was specifically designed to fuel collaborative research between UConn scientists and businesses of all sizes, and to accelerate the development of ground-breaking technologies in materials science, additive manufacturing, cybersecurity, flexible electronics, energy, and other fields.

Some of Connecticut’s – and the world’s – leading corporations and industries are serving as anchor partners for the IPB, including United Technologies Corp., General Electric, Comcast, Pratt & Whitney, and Eversource.

The IPB is home to one of the most advanced microscopy centers in the country thanks to a partnership with one of the world’s leading scientific instrument makers, Thermo Fisher Scientific. Industry partners also have access to more than $40 million in high-end research equipment operated and maintained by faculty experts within the IPB’s eight research centers. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for June 2018.

The Congressman also toured UConn R&D labs focused on developing technologies and workforce training in areas that are critical to U.S. defense capabilities, such as naval engineering.

Courtney, whose district includes the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in southeastern Connecticut, has been a strong proponent for defense related research and training programs at UConn. Along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Courtney was instrumental in helping UConn win a $1.3 million grant from the Office of Naval Research for an undersea engineering program.

Courtney also helped provide additional funding this year for the Navy to fund stronger partnerships between the Navy and universities with an interest in undersea vehicle research and naval engineering.  UConn, General Dynamics Electric Boat, and the University of Rhode Island recently established the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technologies (NIUVT), a collaboration that aims to enhance performance and reduce the cost of building the U.S. Navy’s fleet of highly specialized submarines and autonomous underwater vehicles. NIUVT will compete for this new Navy funding opportunity.

U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) met with researchers from UConn’s School of Engineering on May 12, 2018. (Chris Larosa/UConn Photo)
U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) met with researchers from UConn’s School of Engineering on May 12, 2018. (Chris Larosa/UConn Photo)

“We had a great brief at UConn updating us on the growing research and development taking place to further our national security priorities,” said Courtney. “I was very pleased last year that my office was able to assist UConn with obtaining a $1.3 million grant through the Office of Naval Research to conduct research on undersea engineering. During our visit, Richard Christenson, the co-director of NIUVT, showed us some of the research projects underway to increase submarine efficiencies and further quiet undersea operations by our Navy. Last week, as a further boost, the House Armed Services Committee, which I serve on as ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, authorized $20 million to support Navy partnerships with academic institutions. This funding will be used by institutions conducting research on undersea unmanned warfare and energy technology, such as NIUVT that is a collaborative program between the University of Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island. I am grateful for the impressive work that the researchers and engineers are carrying out at UConn in support of our undersea fleet.”

Headquartered at the UConn Avery Point campus, NIUVT leverages several sites in the region that are important to the naval industry.  These sites include the naval submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, General Dynamic Electric Boat’s facilities in Connecticut and Rhode Island, the main campuses of both UConn and URI, the Naval War College, and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NIUVT and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Middletown, Rhode Island, have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement that further reinforces the institute’s regional significance.

Courtney’s visit to the IPB wrapped up with a presentation from the director of the Quiet Corner Innovation Center (QCIC), a UConn School of Engineering program that was established in 2016 through grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and additional investments from Connecticut Innovations and UConn. The program provides crucial research and development services, state-of-the-art equipment, and leverages UConn expertise to accelerate growth at small- and medium-sized businesses in the manufacturing sector located in Connecticut’s “quiet corner” comprised of Tolland, Windham, and New London counties.

QCIC, along with its sister program the Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center (CMSC), are expected to help almost 300 manufacturing companies and support the creation of nearly 2,500 jobs to the state’s economy. QCIC also aims to bolster new startups and product lines, with the potential of attracting millions of dollars in private investment and revenue to Connecticut’s most rural region.

Professor Pamir Alpay Receives 2018 UConn-AAUP Excellence Award

By Amanda Olavarria

(Left to right:) State Representative Gregg Haddad, IPB Director and GE Professor of Advanced Manufacturing Pamir Alpay
(Left to right:) State Representative Gregg Haddad, IPB Director and GE Professor of Advanced Manufacturing Pamir Alpay

IPB Director and GE Professor of Advanced Manufacturing Pamir Alpay was one of the few distinguished recipients of the 2018 UConn-AAUP Excellence Awards. He received the Excellence in Research & Creativity: Career Award, which is given to faculty who have contributed to a field of knowledge or area of inquiry. This award honors research excellence and creativity that enhances the University’s academic reputation. It recognizes scholarship with a national and international reputation, outstanding service in promoting scholarship at UConn, and long-term impact on UConn scholarship. The recipient must have a record of scholarly and creative productivity and must have worked at UConn for at least 10-years.

The UConn-AAUP seeks nominations of its member in areas of Teaching, Research, and Service Recognition. A formal presentation was held April 23, 2018, at the State Capitol building to honor this year’s recipients. Colleagues, friends, and families gathered to congratulate these deserving recipients on their achievements.

Startup Advances Carbon-Zero Fuels through UConn Partnership

Jessica McBride – Office of the Vice President for Research for UConn Today

Researchers Rob McGinnis (foreground) and Jeff McCutcheon. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
Researchers Rob McGinnis (front), holds a nanotube membrane, and Jeff McCutcheon and at the TIP program on April 24, 2018. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

When Rob McGinnis needed a well equipped lab for his startup company, his graduate school friend, Jeff McCutcheon, associate professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, suggested he apply for UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) at the Storrs campus.

The lab gave McGinnis the research facilities and access to other University resources that he needed to launch his business. He developed carbon nanotube technology that will have multiple, far-reaching business applications.

“UConn is far ahead of other institutions,” says McGinnis, who met McCutcheon when they were both at Yale University working on their doctorates. “It’s not just the physical space that provides value. I am pleased to be treated as a member of the University community.”

McGinnis joined TIP when he formed Mattershift, a company that designs and manufactures nanotube membranes for carbon-zero fuels, optimized air and water, and precision medicine. The company seeks to convert carbon dioxide from the air into fuels, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and construction materials without using fossil fuels as inputs.

Nanotube membrane developed by startup Mattershift through the TIP program. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
Nanotube membrane developed by startup Mattershift through the TIP program. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

McGinnis sought to find a way to make carbon nanotube membranes – which he calls a “wonder material” – in a way so they could be mass produced. The technology had been around for about a decade when he started his company.

“This technology gives us a level of control over the material world that we’ve never had before,” McGinnis says. “We can choose which molecules can pass through our membranes and what happens to them when they do.”

Currently, the company is working to remove carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into fuels, a task that has been done using conventional technology, but is too expensive to be practical.

“Using our tech, I think we’ll be able to produce carbon-zero gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels that are cheaper than fossil fuels,” says McGinnis.

McGinnis didn’t share intellectual property with McCutcheon or explain how he cracked the code. But McCutcheon tested the technology and confirmed its accuracy. McCutcheon, who owns less than a 1 percent stake in Mattershift, says his credibility as a scientist is paramount because he has a reputation to maintain.

“I enjoy serving as a consultant and as a member of their Scientific Advisory Board,” says McCutcheon. “But as with any new tech that comes into the membrane field, I am going to be extremely critical. Mattershift needs someone like me to be impartial evaluating their technology. I can be that person since I don’t work with competing forms of technology.”

In today’s environment, a good idea is not enough to garner research and development funding from some sources, McCutcheon says. Entrepreneurs need this type of unbiased review to prove that their theory works. They also need partners to publish this work in the scientific literature and seek grants.

McGinnis says he benefits from proximity to researchers like McCutcheon and highly trained student talent. McGinnis, who says he “lives in a sea of risk,” says he appreciates the resources offered through TIP. Universities typically offer startups some desks with laptops, he says.

“Very few places provide material science space for a startup,” says McGinnis. Unlike some universities, UConn provided the lab space and assistance with no strings attached. His inventions and intellectual property belong to him exclusively, the entrepreneur says, adding, “There’s no attempt to try to own it.”

McCutcheon and his students benefit as well.

“I was glad to be part of it. I was excited to see a startup from the inside, and I learned a lot about not only the business aspects, but how technology is vetted by different members of the finance community,” McCutcheon says. “Having Rob around gave me a sounding board for my ideas and I learned how the two groups, academics and entrepreneurs, with divergent incentives, could work together for mutual benefit.”

There are more tangible benefits as well. The group published a paper March 9 in Science Advances. And, one of McCutcheon’s graduate students, Kevin Reimund, from East Haven, Connecticut, worked for McGinnis as an assistant for two years, gaining real-world experience before pursuing his Ph.D. with another one of Mattershift’s advisors, Benny Freeman, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin.

Mattershift has completed development of its programmable molecular gateway technology, and the company has already booked its first sales to Trevi Systems of Petaluma, California. It will ship products later this year for use in a seawater desalination process.

“Academics should seek to work with someone like Rob,” says McCutcheon. “He’s a pure entrepreneur. He offers me a window into a world I know little about. ”

Thermo Fisher Scientific Fellowships

MoS2 flakes on TiO2 nanotubes imaged at a landing energy of 700 eV.
MoS2 flakes on TiO2 nanotubes imaged at a landing energy of 700 eV.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is sponsoring Thermo Fisher Scientific fellowships in relation to the new UConn Thermo Fisher Scientific Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis.

Five fellowships in the amount of $10,000 will be given this year. Students are eligible for 1 award during their Ph.D. program at UConn.

The guidelines for Thermo Fisher Scientific fellowships are as follows:

  1. All Thermo Fisher Scientific Fellows must be Ph.D. level candidates in good standing at the University of Connecticut.
  2. All Thermo Fisher Scientific Fellows must show research competence in the area of Electron Microscopy.
  3. All Thermo Fisher Scientific Fellows must use Thermo Fisher Scientific instrumentation and follow rules of the UFCEM.
  4. All Thermo Fisher Scientific Fellows will participate in UConn Thermo Fisher Scientific events such as poster sessions, workshops, and meetings.
  5. All Thermo Fisher Scientific Fellows will acknowledge their Thermo Fisher Scientific fellowships in their research publications, theses, and presentations.

Five page proposals will be due June 30, 2018 for the fourth annual round of proposals. Proposals should contain a resume of the student, endorsement of their major research director, and a research plan including specific usage of Thermo Fisher Scientific instrumentation. If a previous Thermo Fisher Scientific fellowship has been awarded to that research group, then results of that work should be presented including a list of presentations and publications. All content including figures, references, letters and plan should fit in 5 pages of 12 font single spaced writing. Awards will be determined by the Director of the UConn Thermo Fisher Scientific Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis, Steven L. Suib, in consultation with Thermo Fisher Scientific. Send all fellowship proposals to