A collaboration between the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, the Center for Economic and Community Engagement, private industry, and several community partners is helping Hampton Roads meet its growing energy needs while also serving as a key initiative in the drive to expand energy sources across Virginia.

The Corporate Research Center, a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Foundation, oversees Tech Center Research Park in Newport News where $1.6 million in GO Virginia funds will be used to develop a 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot demonstration lab for the production of green hydrogen. Another $5 million in investments will come from ITA International, Genplant, W.M. Jordan Co., and the city of Newport News.

Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable energy sources — in this case, capitalizing on Dominion Energy’s $9.8 billion investment in its Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project. The 2022 Virginia Energy Plan specifically calls on the commonwealth to embrace and invest in hydrogen. The fuel is a leading option to store renewable energy so it can be used to power heavy industry, long-haul freight, aviation, and homes. As part of the demonstration lab, a small-scale power system will provide electricity to Tech Center and nearby Jefferson Lab.

“A clean energy initiative that integrates the expertise within Virginia’s academic, public, and private sectors is essential to asserting leadership and contribution in global energy,” said Elizabeth A. McClanahan, CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation. “As a subsidiary of the foundation, and as a force in entrepreneurship, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center is well-positioned to coalesce the delivery of research, industrial production, and worker education.”

The initiative establishes industry-driven training, education, and community awareness programs about the best applications of hydrogen. It is expected to create 230 high-paying jobs, build strategic partnerships with industry, and attract more investment from the private sector.

Brett Malone, president and CEO of the Corporate Research Center, said the regional teamwork around the effort sets the stage for much larger projects in the near future.

“I’m thankful for GO Virginia’s support and proud to be part of a coalition that has come together so quickly to support economic growth with advancements in energy solutions — creating locally produced clean hydrogen gas to serve the growing energy capacity and sustainability demand from critical industry sectors,” he said. 

Portrait of Brett Malone
Brett Malone, president and CEO of the Corporate Research Center, said the GO Virginia grant sets the stage for much larger projects in the near future. Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center photo

The initiative leans on Virginia Tech’s presence in the region, including the Center for Economic and Community Engagement (CECE) and the Newport News Center — a Commonwealth Campus Center located at Tech Center that connects university resources and expertise to Hampton Roads. The two centers, part of Outreach and International Affairs, will connect the green hydrogen initiative to Virginia Tech faculty for the development of workforce training curriculum as well as opportunities for applied research. CECE will lead engagement efforts with community, workforce, and industry stakeholders.

“Hydrogen creates a new opportunity for the Hampton Roads region, and CECE can work with heavy energy users in the maritime, defense, and aviation industries to make a successful transition to hydrogen fuel,” Executive Director John Provo said. “The demonstration site can also help attract new businesses — especially those with strict clean energy requirements — to the region.”

Mallory Tuttle, associate director of the Newport News Center who also works with CECE to identify economic development opportunities in the region, said it’s important to build an advanced workforce to support the clean energy sector and a supportive, educated community.

“Helping private industry to fill the jobs emerging within the hydrogen sector is a key component of the GO Virginia grant,” Tuttle said. “Along with that workforce training, other programs will take community members back to science class and explain the production process and what having green hydrogen in their own backyard will mean for them.”

College of Engineering faculty members Jim Egenrieder of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity and Rohit Pandey of the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering will help develop curriculum and deliver training.

Virginia Tech is well-positioned to play a pivotal role in the transition to a hydrogen-powered ecosystem, Pandey said.

“It will require highly synergistic efforts between all stakeholders — from producers to end users. The planned effort in Newport News will play a crucial role in this transition, especially as we target reducing the cost of green hydrogen production,” he said. “The future of hydrogen is very exciting and provides a perfect opportunity for the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering to leverage our expertise to help achieve the nation’s clean energy goals.”

Egenrieder has already begun developing a Hydrogen Academy framework to help guide the development of a skilled workforce locally. "Our curricula will promote themes of innovation and the importance of technical skills and communication in how the Hampton Roads communities and their leaders adapt to change," he said.

Community and private industry partners include the city of Newport News and companies founded by two distinguished Virginia Tech alumni.

John Lawson ’75, president and CEO of W.M. Jordan — the developer of Tech Center Research Park — has been a longtime supporter of the university, including serving on the Board of Visitors from 2002 to 2010. The research park’s second building, which will house the demonstration lab, is expected to be completed this summer. Plans call for the lab to be operating in about 18 months.

“This joint initiative adds critical programs to understand, test, and start implementing clean hydrogen and related technologies for reaching the sustainability goals of private industry,” Lawson said. “We’re proud to be a partner with Virginia Tech, the foundation, and the Corporate Research Center to make Tech Center a world-class destination for energy solutions.”

Meanwhile, ITA International, which provides analysis planning, curriculum development, and training for customers including the U.S. Department of Defense, will provide expertise in advanced modeling and data analytics — including artificial intelligence — to help its customers take advantage of hydrogen research.

“This project addresses the vital need for reliable energy sources to support businesses and military operations in Hampton Roads,” said ITA International founder Mike Melo ’79, who is also a member of the Virginia Tech Foundation board. “We believe this effort will foster the creation of a new industry subsector around clean energy in the region, create a path to grow multiuse, vibrant hydrogen-based energy, and help make our communities more secure, stable, and sustainable.”

Florence G. Kingston, director of the Newport News Department of Development, said the university’s presence in the city is a boon to its growth and technology assets.

“Tech Center Research Park, with an emphasis and focus on technology transfer and commercialization, is the ideal place for this activity and these collaborative partnerships,” she said.

Share this story