Pitt building lab space in Energy Innovation Center

As Western Pennsylvania becomes a growing cell of energy research and innovation, its nucleus is taking shape in a refurbished vo-tech school in the Hill District.

The Energy Innovation Center, housed in the former Connelley Trade School along Bedford Avenue, has positioned itself as a collaborative space for private industry, universities and foundations to work side by side on research in a space that hosts job training programs sponsored by the center.

Two and a half years after the nonprofit Pittsburgh Gateways Corp. broke ground on a conversion of the shuttered school to modern lab, classroom and office space, only 40,000 of its 180,000 square feet are still available, said Bill Miller, the group’s chief operating officer and vice president.

“It’s all market driven. We’re satisfying a need,” he said of requests from companies for more job training, and from academia for more direct access to industries.

The building’s conversion is continuing with the announcement Thursday that the University of Pittsburgh is building labs for four energy-related programs at its Swanson School of Engineering in the Energy Innovation Center. When completed in the fall, they will occupy more than a quarter of the center’s lab space and make Pitt its largest tenant.

“We’ll have in this facility in the next few months some of the most advanced laboratories and operations and capabilities in different areas of energy technologies anywhere in the country,” said Greg Reed, director of Pitt’s Center for Energy and a professor of electrical engineering.

Pitt got financial support from companies including Eaton Corp. and Duquesne Light Co., as well as foundations, to build the labs. The project will involve four programs, including the school’s Electric Power Technologies Lab and its Next Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Laboratory.

The work will include research on energy storage, AC and DC systems, and special materials used to conduct electricity.

The university said it needed more space than it has in Oakland and wanted to find a location where other researchers, students and industry leaders would be right down the hall.

“Innovation is a team sport,” Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said. “It requires that kind of shoulder rubbing between the innovators, the market and partners in the community, the users.”

Having all those people under one roof is a big draw for groups working in what Reed called an “energy nexus” in the Pittsburgh region.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz last year visited the Energy Innovation Center to announce a joint project between the city and his department’s National Energy Technology Lab to experiment with district energy, a small-scale model of electrical generation and distribution that could power urban areas.

The South Park-based NETL is coordinating several multimillion-dollar projects announced by the Energy Department in January that seek to better integrate solar power systems into the grid. Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University are involved as well.

“This is a place where some of our best and brightest are tackling some of the biggest challenges,” Gallagher said.

NETL is considering building a presence at the center to make government resources more accessible to those working there, said its director, Grace Bochenek.

“It’s an opportunity to engage with small businesses earlier than we normally would,” she said.

Other tenants include Community College of Allegheny County, Penn State University, energy storage maker Concurrent Technologies Corp. and the IT firm Zeo Technologies.

By David Conti, the assistant business editor at the Tribune-Review. Thursday, March 3, 2016, 10:33 a.m.



Read more about this story from the Swanson School of Engineering:

Pitt, Swanson School of Engineering to begin construction on 18,600 square feet at Energy Innovation Center