Tennessee shut out of tech, hydrogen hub grants as federal government selects 31 other cities for such projects

Chattanooga still eager to lead in quantum research with EPB network

FIle photo / EPB President David Wade is shown in July in the quantum lab built in EPB's downtown headquarters. EPB has developed the nation's first commercial quantum network. Although Chattanooga was not selected for a federal technology hub grant Monday, officials said they will continue to promote EPB's unique technology offering.
FIle photo / EPB President David Wade is shown in July in the quantum lab built in EPB's downtown headquarters. EPB has developed the nation's first commercial quantum network. Although Chattanooga was not selected for a federal technology hub grant Monday, officials said they will continue to promote EPB's unique technology offering.

Proposals to develop a technology hub focused on quantum technologies in Chattanooga and a hydrogen hub for a cleaner energy source in Tennessee have failed to win support from a pair of federal programs that will pump $7.5 billion into more than three dozen other projects across the nation.

But even without the federal aid, Chattanooga is well positioned to help develop the emerging quantum technology industry, city leaders said, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is still moving ahead to explore hydrogen energy plans at a former Tennessee coal plant, according to the agency.

The Biden administration on Monday designated 31 technology hubs to help spur innovation and create more U.S. tech jobs under the CHIPS and Science Act, adopted last year. The hubs were picked from among 400 applications by cities and regional economic groups around the country, including unsuccessful tech hub grant requests from Chattanooga and five other Tennessee cities.

CHIPS takes its name from creating helpful incentives to produce semiconductors.

"I have to say, in my entire career in public service, I have never seen as much interest in any initiative as this one," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told the Associated Press. "No matter where I go or who I meet with — CEOs, governors, senators, congresspeople, university presidents — everyone wants to tell me about their application and how excited they are."

The federal program, formally called the Regional Technology and Innovation Hub Program, is designed to stimulate investments in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotech outside of the traditional technology centers in Austin, Texas; Boston; New York; San Francisco; and Seattle. Each of the selected hubs will receive up to $75 million in federal aid.

The selected tech hubs "will catalyze investment in technologies critical to economic growth, national security and job creation" and help to broaden the growing technology industry across the nation, the White House said in a statement Monday.

"We're obviously disappointed that there were not any tech hubs in Tennessee, but given the federal interest in supporting innovation and technology development, this is not the last program of this type that we're going to see," Lindsey Cox, chief executive of LaunchTN, said in a telephone interview Monday.

The city of Chattanooga had sought funding for a technology hub capitalizing on EPB's new quantum network, which is the first such commercial network for sharing quantum technology anywhere in the United States.

EPB's quantum technology network is the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and continues to attract widespread interest from business, academic, research and government leaders around the globe, said Ellis Smith, director of intergovernmental and external affairs for Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly.

"This is the next generation of computing, and Chattanooga has a lead that we intend to exploit," Smith said. "We're having meetings and conversations on a regular basis about ways to develop and grow this tremendous technology. So while we're disappointed that we didn't receive this particular funding, we're pursuing a number of other funding streams, and there is a lot of work that can be done with what EPB has now put in place."

EPB, which developed the first communitywide high-speed internet service more than a decade ago using its fiber optic smart grid technology, has advanced that same fiber optic network to create a commercial quantum network to offer researchers and startup companies the chance to get in on the ground floor of the emerging quantum industry. EPB activated its first quantum node in July and has set up a research lab for quantum technology research.

READ MORE: EPB quantum network to attract researchers, entrepreneurs to Chattanooga

Because quantum technologies offer the capability to encrypt and share far more data, quantum has the potential to dramatically boost computer calculations, cybersecurity and communications. By 2035, the business value of quantum computing for the automotive, chemical, financial services and life sciences industries could total more than $1.3 trillion, the business consulting firm McKinsey & Associates projects.

EPB and the San Diego-based quantum development company Qubitekk developed the hardware for the quantum network over the past six years to create the quantum network built on EPB's fiber optic backbone in downtown Chattanooga. To provide the software to enable more and easier use of the new quantum network, EPB announced last month it also has partnered with Aliro Quantum for its AiroNetTM system to help users take advantage of different network configurations.

Hydrogen hubs

The tech hub selection announced Monday by President Joe Biden follows last week's launch of seven hydrogen hubs across the nation under an initiative the Department of Energy will support with a $7 billion grant. Funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law adopted in 2021, the hydrogen hubs are projected to produce 3 million metric tons of hydrogen annually to use as an alternative, green fuel in hard-to-decarbonize industrial sectors and some transportation sectors. Together, the selected projects will cut about 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from end-uses each year.

READ MORE: TVA joins with other utilities in the Southeast to pursue Hydrogen Hub

TVA joined with the other major utilities in the Southeast to try to create a Southeast hydrogen hub, but that proposal was not selected by the U.S. Department of Energy. But TVA "remains confident hydrogen will play an important role in our clean energy transition" and will continue to evaluate sites for producing hydrogen, including the retired Johnsonville Fossil site in New Johnsonville, Tennessee, agency spokesman Scott Fiedler said. TVA shut down that coal plant in 2017.

"While we did not get the grant, TVA will continue to explore commercial hydrogen projects with companies interested in locating in the Tennessee Valley," Fiedler said in a statement Monday. "We believe hydrogen is a critical component of synthetic fuels."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

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