Nice work, University of South Carolina! The university was recognized “among the top 100 universities in the world based on the number of U.S. utility patents that faculty members received in 2019.” (Source)
In this case the word “utility” is not the kind like a power company, but a kind of patent instead. “A utility patent is a patent that covers the creation of a new or improved—and useful—product, process, or machine.” (Source)
Make no mistake that the University of South Carolina does research into energy. This research is important. “Success in research related to utilities is important because of the economic impact felt by customers and businesses alike,” said Travis Knight, Program Director, Nuclear Engineering Graduate Program and Professor, Mechanical Engineering at UofSC. “Cost savings by utilities has benefits for residential customers but keeping the prices of electricity low is important to attract and retain businesses and industry to the area which directly impacts jobs.”
Knight has a long history in nuclear energy research. He and two other researchers have recently filed for a patent to quantify small amounts of water remaining in the process of preparing spent nuclear fuel for long term, dry cask storage. That is done with the Department of Energy and several engineering companies.
UofSC mechanical engineering professor Fanglin Chen is lead inventor on two utility patents aiming to maximize renewable clean energy use. “The patents are related to inventions that utilize excess renewable clean energy, such as from solar and wind, to convert carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases that cause global warming) to chemicals for industrial applications,” Chen says.”UofSC has invested significantly in energy research that helps improve the energy efficiency and energy security of our nation.” (Source)
Knight puts energy research in perspective. “The challenges in this research is that all the easy stuff has been done, low hanging fruit. We are left to tackle the really difficult problems which usually requires better materials, better control, better modeling and simulation … various needs.”
The patent ranking places South Carolina on par with or ahead of some peer and peer-aspirant universities like Texas A&M and Penn State (tied at 65) and the University of Connecticut and Washington State (tied at 98), according to the university’s press statement.
Feature photo credit: The University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing