University of Nebraska-Lincoln leaders plan to partially heat a planned 2.1 million-square-foot technology park using runoff from a Lincoln wastewater plant, Chancellor Harvey Perlman said Tuesday.

The university also is considering building a data center on Nebraska Innovation Campus, should it find enough tenants to justify it, he told the Lincoln Rotary Club.

“Innovation Campus is a place where we hope to attract private-sector companies who have an interest in forming a relationship with the university to promote innovation, research and the production of talent,” he said. “All we need is tenants.”

Earth-moving equipment and workers are busy on the first phase of the 240-acre public-private research and technology park being built at former State Fair Park.

Scott Woodbury Wiegert and Nebraska Nova are the private investors in that first phase, which includes work on laboratory, greenhouse, conference and office spaces and creation of 280,000 square feet of space through new construction and renovation of four buildings.

In November, UNL announced it had signed ConAgra as the first official tenant for the campus. ConAgra plans to lease greenhouse space in the renovated Industrial Arts Building and do research on tomatoes and popcorn.

“We’re, in effect, leveraging the success we’ve had both on the research side and the student side to try and bring economic development to the state of Nebraska,” Perlman said.

He said the university hopes to entice potential tenants through construction of core facilities, including the data center and a phenotyping machine that would allow researchers to regulate the amount of water and nutrients that go to plants.

The university has signed an agreement with the city of Lincoln to use water from a treatment plant that it then would run through a heat exchanger to heat nearly half of the 2.1 million square feet of space UNL hopes to have at Innovation Campus eventually, Perlman said.

He said nearly 60 companies have expressed interest in leasing space.

“We expect that the presence of ConAgra will draw some of its own partners to the campus as well,” Perlman said.

He said a particular challenge to developing Innovation Campus has been negotiating with companies to ensure both the university and private companies gain economic benefit from intellectual property and innovation.

“It’s been the hardest issue to negotiate,” he said. “Who gets it when a faculty member and ConAgra scientist come up with the next great thing? Who gets the economic value of it?”

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.