The initiative could make the Upstate the epicenter of a regional knowledge-based cluster attracting high-tech, high-paying jobs. The focus of the project is to provide the research infrastructure needed by existing industries and nurture growth in the emerging photonics industry.
Advanced materials, the backbone of such industries as automotive, microelectronics, chemicals and ceramics, has already been identified as an emerging seed cluster by Palmetto Institute, an economic public policy group.
The linchpin is already being put into place - a $21 million complex that will initially house two proposed Research Centers of Economic Excellence in electron imaging and photonics. The centers will be backed by what could become one of the finest electron microscopy research laboratories in the United States. Access to electron imaging - essential for advanced materials R&D because it gives researchers the ability to "see" objects at the atomic and molecular level - will make existing state industries more competitive and help attract new industries.
Clemson University President James F. Barker announced the initiative today (Oct. 29) at a briefing attended by leaders from Anderson County and Upstate industry.
"Electron imaging is absolutely essential in any aspect of advanced materials R&D, and a list of the industries needing access to this kind of facility would essentially be identical to the list of industries that are critical to South Carolina's economic future," said Chris Przirembel, Clemson vice president for research.
Advanced materials industries in South Carolina employ 52,000 workers and generate $15 billion in revenues. In South Carolina alone, there are 50 advanced materials companies needing R&D support. The automotive industry is closely tied to advanced materials through products such as fuel sensors, advanced braking sensors, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and catalysts. Nationwide, the automotive industry is expected to spend $275 billion on materials-related components by 2010.
The 111,000-square-foot advanced materials complex is being built on a 31-acre site in the Clemson Research Park, one mile off Interstate 85 in Anderson County. The brick, glass and steel facility will include two wings with an electron microscopy facility, laser and chemical labs, office space and one of the nation's most advanced university optical fiber draw towers, used to produce optical-communication materials. Clemson's nanotech-related research will also be housed there.
The electron microscopy facility, which expands on Clemson's current lab, will contain new equipment including $1.5 million worth of electron microscope equipment installed this year. When fully equipped, the facility will be one of the top research EM facilities in the nation. Clemson is forming an industrial consortium of S.C. companies that require access to advanced electron microscopy to remain competitive.
The first-phase portion, which received state approval in fall 2002, should be completed by July 2004. It will house up to 150 graduate students and other researchers.
The park is managed by the South Carolina Research Authority and is part of its statewide system. University officials envision related companies building on adjacent land, creating a dynamic synergy which benefits both industries and students.
Clemson's photonics initiative has already spun off companies in Clemson and Fort Mill, which have generated more than $1 million in investment through grants and start-up investments.
Clemson's $70 million investment projection is based on the following:
- $21 million research facility, funded through several university resources, including research revenue.
- Anticipated external research support of at least $25-$30 million over the next five years. That figure is based on the track record of Clemson's photonics research group, which brought in more than $13 million in sponsored research its first three years, and the additional funding expected if Clemson's request for endowed chairs is approved.
- Clemson has submitted proposals for $10 million through the state's Research Centers of Economic Excellence program, which earmarks lottery funding for research related to economic development. The proposals require Clemson to raise matching funds of $10 million. Clemson submitted the requests for endowed chairs on photonics materials and in electron imaging earlier this month; the review board is expected to announce endowment selections in April 2004 after site visits in January.