Last fall, a group of University of Michigan students took their solar car to Australia and finished third in the Global Green Challenge a grueling 1,880 mile race across the country. Their car – the Infinium – finished the course in five days, using only solar panels and lithium batteries to move along at nearly 60 miles per hour.
The efforts in just one of the numerous sustainable transportation initiatives happening in Michigan’s universities. Many of these involve programs designed to educate and train a green-focused engineering workforce. For example, Wayne State University in Detroit recently launched a groundbreaking program that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in electric drive vehicle engineering.
The state’s universities are also at the forefront of green automotive research. Wayne State has programs exploring fuel economy, emission controls and alternate and renewable fuels. The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is home to a wide range of research efforts, including the Transportation Energy Center, which looks at everything from hydrogen power to synthetic fuels and advanced chemical energy conversion. Southfield’s Lawrence Technological University operates an alternative energy engineering lab focused on integrated fuel cell and hydrogen systems as well as solar, wind and bio-diesel technologies. And Flint based Kettering University’s Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration enables faculty, students and manufacturing suppliers to conduct cutting edge fuel cell systems research, testing and evaluation.
University research often involves collaboration with the state’s private sector. For example, U-M has teamed up with Ford Motor Company to work on computerized hybrid vehicles controls and with General Motors to work on battery research. Last year, the university also announced a new GM/U-M Institute of Automotive Research and Eduction, which is focused on “reinventing the automobile and developing the next generation of high-efficiency vehicles powered by diverse energy sources.”
This kind of collaboration is vital to effective research. With that in mind, three major universities – Michigan State University in East Lansing, U-M and Wayne State – created the University Research Corridor (URC), and alliance founded to leverage the research power of these institutions. Together, they conduct some $1.3 billion a year in research, including automotive and alternative energy work.
The URC recently established a transportation research consortium to promote a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional initiative that looks not just at technology, but at planning and policy, as well. As a URC statement on the changing auto industry pointed out, “The work ahead requires a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach utilizing a wide array of disciplines in addition to engineering, including economics, management, social science, policy, law, public health, medicine, natural resources and the sciences. We are committed to expanding our longstanding relationships with the American auto industry in ways that contribute to its competitiveness in the global marketplace.”
Source: Automation Alley