Ten years ago, the closed Chrysler plant that stood at what is now 201 Discovery Place in Newark was torn down.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” said Sen. Tom Carper, who, along with Gov. John Carney, County Executive Matt Meyer, and University of Delaware President Dr. Dennis Assanis, spoke on Monday at the ribbon cutting for Chemours’ new research and development building, dubbed the Discovery Hub.
The site of the former plant is now occupied by UD’s STAR Campus and its newest addition, Chemours, a spinoff of the DuPont Company that inherited Teflon — and with it, DuPont’s environmental liabilities and debt.
Many expected Chemours to fail, but instead, the company took off when Opteon, its line of environmentally friendly refrigerants, became widely adopted. (Opteon YF, a hydrofluoro olefin-based refrigerant with a global warming potential that is 99.9% lower than previously used refrigerant, is among the Chemours products used in the construction and maintenance of its Discovery Hub).
Before the building broke ground just two years ago, the powers that be at Chemours considered leaving Delaware.
But Dr. Assanis saw an opportunity for a partnership that could benefit both the university and the five-year-old chemistry company. After meeting with Chemours President and CEO Mark Vergnano, a collaborative partnership was born. UD would have a Fortune 500 R&D facility on its campus, offering opportunities for students in STEM fields, and Chemours would have a state-of-the-art facility on campus with access to a pool of rising talent, a complement to its headquarters in the downtown Wilmington DuPont Building. (The DECO food hall in the same building was developed partly as an incentive to keep the Chemours HQ in that location).
“At 312,000 square feet, it’s one of the largest R&D facilities,” said Vergnano. The building, which displays a 17-foot molecule-inspired sculpture by Maryland artist Matthew Harris, has 50 huddle rooms and 130 laboratories, floor-to-ceiling windows for natural light, and an open space office concept where, instead of individual offices, scientists share a work space, each with their own stand-sit desk.
Previously, the 300 scientists were spread out across 19 buildings on two campuses, said Bill Raiford, senior director of technology for Titanium Technologies, one of three of Chemours’ business segments, along with Fluoroproducts (which includes Opteon) and Chemical Solutions.
“Now [some scientists] have collaborated more in the last five weeks than the last five years,” Raiford said.
Chemours has also committed to the state in the form of scholarships, including increasing its HBCU scholarship program from $400,000 to $2 million.
“If you’ve ever met one of our [HBCU] scholarship recipients, you’ll know why we increased it,” Vergnano said.
The company has also awarded $60,000 in education grants, including funds for a birtual reality kit for Newark Charter School and a girls-only STEM workshop at Kirk Middle School.
“Chemours is all in,” said Vergnano.
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