Wells Fargo Grant Supports Water, Energy, Food Projects

UC Merced researchers will develop solutions to regional problems that arise from balancing three limited resources – water, food and energy – thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation.

“Wells Fargo recognizes that the health of our environment is critical to fostering more sustainable communities today and for years to come,” said Ashley Grosh, head of Wells Fargo Environmental Affairs Clean Technology program. “We’re pleased to announce UC Merced as a recipient of Wells Fargo’s environmental grant program to help provide long-term solutions to the world’s greatest environmental challenges.”

The School of Engineering will use a grant from Wells Fargo to develop a new challenge focused on water, food and energy.
The grant, part of Wells Fargo’s Clean Technology and Innovation program supporting technology advancements for a clean-energy future, funds the beginnings of the Water, Energy, Food Challenge that will involve student teams from UC Merced’s School of Engineering, the Gallo Management Program and across campus.

“Decisions in the Central Valley about technologies or regulations related to water will impact energy and agriculture, and vice versa,” School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman said. “Most organizations focus on one of these, related to their mission, rather than all three as interrelated systems. But concentrating on the nexus of all three will bring about the best long-term solutions for the region and the world.”

As the lead on the challenge, Hirleman will develop three water, energy and food-related challenges and involve partnering organizations or companies and student teams led by faculty mentors.

Each project will be chosen for its potential to have significant near-term effects on the community and/or partners’ industries.

Student teams will develop preliminary designs for their solutions to their partners’ challenges and present them at the annual Innovate to Grow competition held near the end of the spring semester.

Their work will be judged by a panel, and the best ideas will be developed into marketable proprietary products, with intellectual property rights assigned and patent applications in process.

Success will be measured by the viability of the project designs, the number of provisional patents submitted and the quality of student-partner-mentor engagement. 

The Clean Technology and Innovation program began in 2012 as part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to provide $100 million to environmentally focused nonprofits, colleges and universities by 2020. It is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and is aligned with the company’s vision and values to foster economic development, especially in underserved communities, to accelerate the global “green” economy, the foundation said. The program’s goal is to inspire innovation from entrepreneurs and fund research entities working on critical environmental issues. 

Hirleman expressed his thanks for Wells Fargo’s grant, emphasizing how important such partnerships are to the university, the students and the region.

“These are not routine exercises. These are real projects with real effects targeted to the huge problems the Valley faces,” Hirleman said. “UC Merced sits at the epicenter of converging world challenges in water, energy, food and the environment. This gift helps us define public-good projects that inform the hard tradeoffs and educate the next generation of people who will be making those decisions for the Valley.”

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