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Michigan Tech receives $4.5 million from U.S. Energy Department for NEXTCAR program

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says the money will fund projects to reduce energy consumption in light-duty cars.
Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 5:23 PM EST
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - Michigan Technological University is receiving $4.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The university’s Advanced Power Systems Research Center was one of four institutions across the country chosen for Phase II of the Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program. $18 million will be divided between the four recipients. The program is funded by the energy division of the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says the money is intended to fund projects that will reduce energy consumption in light-duty cars.

“It makes the cars more fuel efficient, so it saves money and it has the benefit of being able to create jobs, assuming that this technology is put into vehicles,” said Granholm.

Dr. Jeff Naber, director of the MTU’S research center, says staff and students are working to make vehicles self-driving with optional override by the driver.

“They really don’t know what’s coming—at least from the perspective of the propulsion systems or what the engine does—but it doesn’t really see the future,” Naber said. “We’re using perception to make it more intelligent using this external information.”

Secretary Granholm says transportation is the largest carbon-emitting sector in the country. She believes Michigan Tech will bring the U.S. closer to the Biden administration’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“We haven’t been as successful as we have been in buildings, for example, in taking away carbon,” said Granholm. “The bottom line is that we’re going to be all in on making sure that the transportation sector is both electrified and efficient.”

She says the Energy Department is also developing strategies so Americans in mining and oil communities aren’t left behind.

“We want to make sure that the workers in those communities see their future in getting other kinds of energy in addition to the kinds of energy that they have done in the past,” Granholm said.

Dr. Naber says those involved in the NEXTCAR program will be prepared to impact the energy industry on their own upon graduation.

“The project doesn’t end with our development,” said Naber. “We’re producing students that will go out and make a difference in the real world.”

Senator Gary Peters, Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight, and Ports, praised MTU for this recognition.

“This investment will spur future innovation and development surrounding mobility as we work to usher self-driving cars safely onto our roadways, while ensuring Michigan remains on the forefront of automated transportation,” Peters said.

Senator Debbie Stabenow also applauded the university, saying in part, “Michigan Tech is one of those institutions leading the way in creating longer range electric and autonomous vehicles, improving safety and making our cars more energy efficient. This investment will ensure Michigan remains a global leader.”

Michigan Tech’s Vice President of Research, David Reed, released a statement saying, “We are proud to continue our support of advancing autonomous and connected vehicle technologies through collaborative research with industry and the Department of Energy. This program builds upon our strengths in power systems, controls, and systems engineering to improve driver safety for all.”

Michigan Tech was awarded $4,498,650. The University of California Berkeley received $3,474,864. Ohio State University received $4,933,933, and Southwest Research Institute was awarded $5,250,000.

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