Chicago-based Great Lakes collaboration awarded up to $160M for water innovation hub

The National Science Foundation recently announced it will award up to $160 million to a multi-state Great Lakes collaboration, led by Chicago-based nonprofit Current and supported by Argonne National Laboratory.

The collaboration, Great Lakes Water Innovation Engine, is one of 10 regional teams. Each represent investments in place-based research and development: For instance, while the Great Lakes will focus on water innovation, New York will research energy storage and North Dakota will look at agriculture technology.

The Great Lakes team, which includes Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and three other states, will use the funding over the next ten years to create and operate Great Lakes ReNEW. Built on partnerships across academia, government and industry, ReNEW aims to support sustainable water-intensive economy growing in the region.

“We have all the research and commercialization strengths here in the Great Lakes region to become a water innovation superhighway,” Junhong Chen, co-principal investigator of Great Lakes ReNEW and lead water strategist at Argonne National Lab, said in a press release. “Now we can start building it.”

Among ReNEW’s broader goals to discover, develop and deploy innovative water technologies is its proposal to “turn waste into wealth” by removing chemicals, minerals, and critical materials from wastewater and repurposing them for products like batteries and fertilizer.

By removing valuable minerals like lithium from our wastewater, ReNEW’s vision is that American manufacturers would then reuse the extracted material and enable domestic production of batteries and fertilizers — almost all of which are currently imported.

“Waste has no place in this world of increasing water and resource scarcity,” Alaina Harkness, executive director of Current and principal investigator for Great Lakes ReNEW, said in the release. “Our engine will find new ways to recover and reuse water, energy, nutrients, and critical materials from our water. These innovations will create economic opportunities for residents of our region; help strengthen our domestic supply chain for clean energy technologies; and address water quality and security issues around the world.”

Alaina Harkness, the principal investigator for Great Lakes ReNEW, also serves as executive director of Chicago-based nonprofit Current. Current

• Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

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