Will Utah become ‘epicenter’ of research to electrify transportation?

LOGAN — In another step to advance the research of sustainable electrified vehicles, Utah State University is asking state higher education officials to authorize the university to issue up to $9.2 million in revenue bonds to update and expand its Electric Vehicle and Roadway building.

Utah stands to become the “epicenter” of electrified transportation nationally, if not worldwide, according to USU trustee and former Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser.

“Utah is in a prime situation with the inland port and other initiatives as well as the Olympics because they’ve got to be zero emissions. This electrification of transportation is a huge deal and Utah can be the epicenter for that and USU is playing a big, big role in it,” Niederhauser said in a recent trustees meeting.

The updated building will accommodate a new program called ASPIRE, or the engineering research center for Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification. The program is made possible by a $26 million grant over five years, renewable to $50.6 million, from the National Science Foundation.

The research is dedicated to advancing sustainable, electrified transportation in all vehicle classes with the goal of improving air quality and creating a more equitable transportation and electrical utility infrastructure.

Last week, USU’s board of trustees agreed to refer the request to the Utah Board of Higher Education, which is expected to act on the matter Friday.

The bond proceeds will be used to construct a 23,741-square-foot facility to expand the Electric Vehicle and Roadway building. The bonds will be repaid through donations and research funds. No state funds will be used for construction or design nor operation and maintenance, according to the request.

A planned expansion of Utah State University’s existing electric vehicle and roadway building on its Innovation Campus is pictured in an architectural rendering. The expansion will accommodate the new Engineering Research Center for Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification or ASPIRE. The program is made possible by a $26 million grant over five years renewable to $50.6 million from the National Science Foundation. The research is dedicated to advancing sustainable, electrified transportation in all vehicle classes.

Utah State University

Niederhauser lauded the work of USU professor Regan Zane, ASPIRE center director. Zane has raised more than $30 million in research funding since his arrival at USU in 2012 and the 10-year ASPIRE award brings the total to more than $80 million.

ASPIRE will be headquartered at USU and operated through strategic partnerships with Purdue University, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Auckland New Zealand. Other partners include researchers at Colorado State University, University of Colorado — Colorado Springs, Virginia Tech and Cornell University, and four national laboratories. There are also global industry partnerships with more than 45 companies and organizations across the transportation and electric utility industries.

In 2015, Zane launched the multi-institutional, industry-sponsored Center for Sustainable Electrified Transportation, known as SELECT.

That same year, USU unveiled the world’s first electrified test track. The solar-powered track is equipped with power transfer coils embedded in the roadway, which enable properly equipped electric vehicles to charge while in motion.

Wireless charging reduces the need for heavy battery packs and numerous charging stations, according to the university.

Students and professors look over a solar-powered track equipped with power transfer coils embedded in the roadway, enabling properly equipped electric vehicles to charge while they’re in motion, at Utah State University’s Engineering Research Center for Electrified Transportation in North Logan on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. USU will be the lead institution for a five-year, $26 million grant to develop an international research center dedicated to advancing sustainable, electrified transportation.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Niederhauser said the new center’s research complements other initiatives underway in the state such as the Utah Inland Port, Point of the Mountain Development Commission and Little Cottonwood Canyon Transportation.

“We’re going to pursue a grant from the Legislature for the inland port, but USU will be a big part of this because they provide the technology and know-how to electrify the inland ports so there’ll be no emissions in this port. There’s some rural implications to this, because a lot of the transportation distribution nodes will be along some of our other highways like Highway 6 (U.S. 6), I-70. I-15, I-80 outside the metropolitan areas,” he said.

The bonding authorization will be addressed by the Board of Higher Education’s Finance and Facility Committee on Thursday. If approved by the committee, it will advance to the full Board of Higher Education.