ITHACA, N.Y.—The National Science Foundation has picked Cornell University as a finalist for the Regional Innovation Engines Program with its “Upstate 2.0” program proposal, aimed at transitioning the region “from a fossil-fuel dependent region to an inclusive, prosperous, sustainable Climate Smart Bioeconomy.”

Being named a finalist brings with it a $1 million prize for proposal development, but if Cornell’s proposal is selected as a winner of the Regional Innovation Engines Competition it would be in line for up to $160 million in federal investment over 10 years to enact the proposal. The announcement came from U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand on Thursday afternoon, and the winners will be announced in Fall 2023.

As outlined in the announcement, the plan would “replace fossil fuels with bio-based feedstocks, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and energy production, and leverage automation for the greener production of goods.” The description continues that the overall goal of the project is to generate a model that can feasibly be employed in rural regions around the country to “build an ecosystem of partners and stakeholders to transform their economy by sustainably using locally available biomass and talent resources.”

Academics at Cornell and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry will be utilized to further the goals, which will focus on sustainable food systems, climate beneficial technology and nature-based innovation and bio-based industrial processes.

“Upstate 2.0 will become a model for how rural areas nationwide can transform their economy through the sustainable use of locally available biomass industries, including agricultural and forest products,” the plan states.

“This $1 million NSF grant and chance to compete for a bigger national prize is a major step to help further establish the Ithaca area as a leader in climate-forward research and innovation,” Schumer said. “This proposal will create a more resilient supply chain and grow the regional economy, all while reducing the use of fossil fuels and creating good-paying jobs.”

Gillibrand agreed, saying that if Cornell’s proposal is selected it would provide a new boost for research about how to protect and fortify existing systems against climate change, as well as further the battle against it. Plus, the resulting emerging industry would provide local, well-paying jobs in the area.

The news continues the friendly relationship between Cornell and its representation in the U.S. Senate. Just eight months ago, Schumer announced that through the CHIPS and Science Act, which he championed, a federal Innovation Corps Hub would be created, with an Interior Northeast Region which is led by Cornell and includes five other nearby universities. That program was allocated $15 million.

“This NSF Regional Innovation Engines development award presents a tremendously exciting new opportunity for Cornell to help map a more prosperous and sustainable future for New York, and for our planet,” said Cornell University President Martha Pollack, thanking Schumer for his leadership on innovation investment specifically. “I look forward to the collaborative innovation of our teams at Cornell and SUNY ESF, and the way they will bring theory to practice as we work to address our most urgent global challenges.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief at The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at