TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama is one of four universities selected by the National Science Foundation to team together with government agencies and private companies to tackle challenges facing technological advances in automobiles.
UA joins the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, or IUCRC, for Efficient Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation Systems, established to support efforts by the automotive and ground transportation industries to meet demanding new federal regulations governing vehicle fuel economy and emissions, as well as society’s expectations for improved sustainability.
As part of that mission, researchers at the University will focus on electric vehicles, working to help them become more efficient, cheaper and rely on more sustainable materials, said Dr. Yang-Ki Hong, principal investigator on the project and the E. A. “Larry” Drummond Endowed Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“This is a landmark opportunity for the University,” he said. “NSF approval of this center certifies the quality of academic research here at the University, and that will help in collaborating with industry.”
NSF I/UCRC’s are designed to encourage industry to partner with university researchers through paid memberships that fund research work and drive ideas for proposals.
This center will engage a range of industry partners from vehicle manufacturers, components and suppliers, fleet operators, energy companies, ground transportation industry infrastructure providers, and state and local governments. The group will work together to identify important problems related to efficiency and sustainability, and they will formulate research projects that develop innovative solutions to these problems.
Along with Hong, co-principal investigators are Dr. Tim Haskew, professor and head of the department of electrical and computer engineering, and Dr. Hwan-Sik Yoon, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. The team also includes professors and students from across engineering and computer science as well as chemistry and physics.
“The center expands the critical mass needed to address some of the problems facing these industries,” Haskew said.
As electrical components continue to replace mechanical parts inside cars, including the engine, further research is needed to help drive down costs and improve efficiency, Hong said.
Automobiles increasingly need more advanced technology, too, including antennas to communicate with each other and infrastructure such as traffic lights. The permanent magnets that fuel the electric motors also rely on expensive, hard-to-process rare earth minerals.
As part of the center, research at UA will attempt to provide solutions for some of those issues. Areas initially part of the project include improving magnetic materials for electric motors and generators, high performance electric motor controls, thermoelectric materials for automotive energy recovery, 5G-ready telematics antennas and telematics-based predictive diagnostics of engines.
“The center is a great opportunity to not only improve related research capabilities but also promote the automotive engineering education program at UA in both undergraduate and graduate levels by directly interacting with automotive industries,” Yoon said.
Hong said students benefit by working on the leading challenges in areas such as material science, renewable energy, automotive engineering and wireless communications.
“To develop these materials, components and devices, we have to understand the fundamental science of the materials in the devices or we cannot help develop product for industry,” he said. “Students learn the science and engineering, and they will learn how to communicate with engineers and scientists in industry.”
UA comes on board with the University of Texas to the I/UCRC for Efficient Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation Systems, which was established by the University of Louisville and Arizona State University in 2016.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.