University joins global consortium for vehicle electrification

Work at the University of Auckland will play a significant role following this week’s launch of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Engineering Research Centre for Electrified Transportation in Utah, USA.

Power transfer testing
Coils in a roadway being tested for power transfer to a moving carriage.

Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification (ASPIRE) is led by Utah State University (USU), with the University of Auckland listed as the international collaborator and strategic partner. Its focus is on developing new technology and infrastructure that facilitates the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. ASPIRE has been awarded a US$26 million grant, renewable to 10-years to $50.6 million and is expected to raise more than US$200 million over the next decade in government and industry support.

Centre Director Dr Regan Zane believes that ASPIRE is positioned to catalyze sweeping transformations across the transportation and electric utility industries.

“The University of Auckland is our core international partner and plays critical roles in our research and educational programmes. It has been at the forefront of developments and commercialization in Inductive Power Transfer (IPT) technology and has a long history of collaboration with USU, dating back to the origins of our wireless charging programme.

“We look forward to a long and active partnership with the Auckland team as we pursue our joint vision of a brighter future with a global perspective through cross-disciplinary research into electrified transportation.”

Professor Grant Covic of the Department of Electrical, Computer and Software Engineering in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering has been working on ways to integrate IPT within roadways along with other researchers at the University, Dr Nick Long at the Robinson Institute at Victoria University of Wellington and Dr John Kennedy at GNS Science. Researchers at the University of Auckland on the ASPIRE team include Prof Udaya Madawala (ECSE), Professor Simon Bickerton (Centre for Advanced Composite Materials), Dr Doug Wilson (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Professor Basil Sharp (Energy Centre, Auckland Business School).

ASPIRE is positioned to catalyze sweeping transformations across the transportation and electric utility industries with UoA playing a critical role in our research and educational programmes.

Dr Regan Zane Engineering Research Centre for Electrified Transportation

team photo at a barbecue
The University of Auckland's IPT research team barbecue-bonding.

The power electronics research group at Auckland University, which began with Emeritus Distinguished Professor John Boys, has been advanced by Professors Covic, Madawala, Hu and Dr Thrimawithana over the last two decades, and has been a global leader of IPT technology across many applications for the past 30 years.

In the first 25 years, the group was largely funded by industry development and cooperation supported by the University’s commercialisation arm, UniServices. However, in late 2017 the Government began funding this new multidisciplinary research through a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour research-programme award for work on the development of IPT roadway charging systems. These include novel wireless charging systems with mechanical encapsulation coupled with transport road pavement material systems optimised both economically and geospatially.

Professor Covic said that the MBIE funding allowed this research to be expanded, leading to the establishment of their multi-department and multi-disciplinary research group, which opened exciting opportunities for young staff and PhD students to engage across New Zealand and globally.

“This work raised global attention and our collaborators in the US sought to enhance what we were doing in the IPT roadway charging programme. They pulled together a fantastic proposal and set of partnerships that culminated in a strategic NSF funding bid, with the University of Auckland listed as the international collaborator.”

Sustainable, electrified transportation and the enabling technologies that support this, such as the electrified road, are key to the global future.

Professor Dawn Freshwater

The ASPIRE centre builds on the work done previously in Utah under an industry collaborative program called SELECT and in New Zealand under the current MBIE funded research development of IPT roadway systems for LD vehicles he says.

Professor Covic believes the opportunities offered by ASPIRE are tremendous.

“This initiative brings together many of the world’s leading companies focused on delivering electrification technology into Light Duty (LD) and Heavy Duty (HD) vehicles.

“Awarding of the NSF centre will significantly enhance collaborative research opportunities and help fund joint activities and strategic research around appropriate transportation solutions for electrification of both LD and HD fleets.”

Professor Covic says the latter is particularly problematic, and he and his team are looking at solutions for both in and off-road wireless charging of vehicles (in road at 50-100kW levels/m and off road charging up to MW levels).

University of Auckland’s Dr Doug Wilson said that the new Centre will help develop stronger international partnerships and connections in the global transport electrification space and demonstrate how transportation systems can transition to more sustainable outcomes, encouraging the reduction of transport emissions and carbon footprints.

“It is already having a positive impact on both emerging and established researchers here, connecting researchers to like-minded groups in the US.”

He said that as a bonus it is providing opportunities for the Faculty’s commitment to a Mātauranga Māori approach, led by Dr Tumanako Fa’aui, that encompasses the unique Māori way of viewing the world – encompassing traditional knowledge and culture – and actively seeking meaningful ways to reflect this in their teaching, research, and ways of doing.

“There is a genuine level of excitement about the potential of this collaboration, to develop research careers for young staff and pathways for postgrads and undergrads.”

University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater said that the University has a proud history of research and innovation in wireless power transfer and delighted to be a partner in this exciting new ASPIRE consortium.

“Sustainable, electrified transportation and the enabling technologies that support this, such as the electrified road, are key to the global future,” she says “We congratulate the leadership of the consortium for their bold vision in establishing this important international research centre.”

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