NDSU receives $6 million research infrastructure award to develop an AI-enabled sustainable energy infrastructure network

NDSU is leading a cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation (NSF) into how innovative artificial intelligence (AI) research methodologies across the disciplines of engineering and economics can create solutions to counter problems such as the negative impacts of energy disruptions on the nation’s infrastructure.

The nearly $6 million award is funded through the NSF EPSCoR Track-2 program and will result in the creation of an AI research center that will work to prepare a knowledgeable workforce with the skills to create tools that leverage AI within a broad cross-section of industries.

NDSU associate professor of civil engineering Ying Huang is the principal investigator on the project and will coordinate an interdisciplinary team of researchers including co-PIs Trung Le, PhD (NDSU); Haitao Liao, PhD (University of Arkansas); Eakalak Khan, PhD (University of Nevada Las Vegas); and Kerry Hartman, PhD, (Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College).

The four-institution collaboration has great promise for positively impacting both NDSU and industry partners said Huang - especially in how it will create and equip a strong workforce with knowledge of AI. “NDSU will become a leading institution in AI-secured energy systems that will offer degree programs and undergraduate research opportunities,” she said.

Industries such as the energy sector are desperately in need of an AI-proficient workforce, and Huang believes the collaboration will quickly address this need through the creation of an AI-related certificate degree at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish and minor programs at the other three institutions. The center will also support early career faculty, postdocs, graduate, and undergraduate students, including both Native American and Hispanic participants, from tribal and minority serving institutions.

Co-PI Le is positive about the impact the collaboration will have on other industries as well. “The collaborations from the project and the new center will generate novel knowledge, cyberinfrastructure and a skilled workforce to tackle challenges in the era of AI and advanced data science,” he said.

“Dr. Huang and her team's efforts to address infrastructure and workforce issues in energy will safeguard a critical sector in North Dakota's economy while strengthening NDSU's state and national partnerships in the top priority area of artificial intelligence,” commented Colleen Fitzgerald, PhD, vice president for research and creative activity at NDSU.

The project involves senior personnel Saeed Salem, PhD, Nita Yodo, PhD, Di Wu, PhD, and James Caton, PhD from NDSU; Xintao Wu, PhD, Yue Zhao, PhD, Roy A. McCann, PhD, Edward Pohl, PhD, and Xiao Liu, PhD from the University of Arkansas; and Erica Marti, PhD and Krystyna Stave, PhD from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

The group’s first steps will focus on developing an implementation plan that will include both research and education components and will assist in developing clear milestones for evaluation and reporting for the project.

The original NSF proposal was organized by Om Prakash Yadav, PhD, who was an industrial and manufacturing engineering professor at NDSU before moving to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2021. Yadav was instrumental in obtaining the research award and putting together the team of researchers and has agreed to continue advising Huang and the research team to ensure successful implementation of the research plan.

EPSCoR, or the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is an NSF program designed to fulfill the federal agency’s mandate of promoting scientific progress nationwide, especially in smaller jurisdictions across the country. Through this program, NSF establishes partnerships that are designed to effect sustainable improvements in research infrastructure and research and development capacity and competitiveness.

For additional information, see NSF Award Abstract # 2119691, "RII Track-2 FEC: Artificial Intelligence on Sustainable Energy Infrastructure Network (AI SUSTEIN) and Beyond towards Industries of the Future" 

Top of page