Kara Kockelman part of UT Austin team to address U.S. transportation challenges

May 12, 2017

The Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin is one of four institutions selected by the National Science Foundation to partner with government agencies and private companies to tackle the nation’s most pressing transportation challenges.

UT Austin has joined the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) for Efficient Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation Systems (EV-STS), established to support efforts by the automotive and ground transportation industries to meet federal regulations governing vehicle fuel economy and emissions, as well as to meet society’s expectations for improved sustainability. The University of Louisville and Arizona State University established the EV-STS center in 2016, and UT Austin and the University of Alabama joined this year.

“This center will create valuable links across disciplines in the Cockrell School as well as across U.S. universities doing research on efficient vehicles and transportation systems,” said Ron Matthews, mechanical engineering professor and the UT Austin center’s EV-STS site director. “It will also give us the opportunity to leverage our industry partners in both the private and public sectors.”

UT Austin will receive a four-year grant for $600,000 from NSF. That funding will grow with the involvement of government and corporate partners, with membership to the center starting at $50,000 per year. The UT Austin center will be working with at least six corporate and government partners.

One of the center’s priorities is to make ground-based vehicles, everything from motorcycles to 18-wheelers, more fuel-efficient and sustainable. The Cockrell School has one of the top engine research programs in the country, with expertise in improving fuel efficiency, decreasing emissions and using alternative fuels, Matthews said.

The researchers’ work will also include the development and analysis of electric vehicle powertrains, including quantifying cost, emissions and other impacts of large-scale electric bus fleets for transit agencies. They will also address issues concerning conventional powertrains, including real-world fuel economy and CO2 emissions.

Additionally, UT Austin is one of a handful of universities with the expertise to simulate shared autonomous vehicles — anything from buses to fleets of cars — serving cities, regions and inter-city travel. The center will give UT Austin researchers the opportunity to flex their expertise in forecasting the nation’s fleet evolution and its energy emissions and greenhouse gas impacts under different demographic, fuel-cost and technology-pricing scenarios. Some of their work has already shed light on the energy implications of the nation’s transportation choices.

Along with Matthews, Kara Kockelman, professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, will lead the EV-STS center as associate site director. Co-investigators in the center include Matthew Hall, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Thomas Hughes, professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics; and Michael Lewis, senior engineering scientist in the Cockrell School’s Center for Electromechanics.

Kockelman said that the center will benefit UT Austin in multiple ways, from giving researchers the chance to work closely with industry on solving real-world problems to introducing students to potential career paths.

“It will enable our research to be implemented sooner and educate multiple industry partners in related disciplines,” she said. “It will also educate our students and help connect them directly to partners that may be employing them upon graduation.”