Volkswagen, UT, ORNL to collaborating to make electric vehicles, lighter components


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Volkswagen Group of America, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee announced a collaboration Friday, Jan. 17, that will focus on developing lighter vehicle components made from composite materials and the electrification of vehicles.

The trio will create Volkswagen’s first innovation hub in North America at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.
“Working with the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a great opportunity to continue growing Volkswagen’s engineering footprint in the North American region,” Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner, executive vice president and CEO for Volkswagen’s North American region, said. “This hub, along with other research institutions here, is an integral part of Volkswagen’s global research and development efforts and can also directly contribute to vehicles in North America.”
The collaboration involves research opportunities for UT doctoral students and accommodations in the Innovation North building at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm in Knoxville.

Volkswagen has been a partner with UT since opening its Chattanooga assembly plant in 2011. The facility assembles the VW Passat sedan and Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs.

UT Chattanooga and Volkswagen developed an MBA program allowing Volkswagen employees to earn the degree by taking classes at the plant or on campus.

“The partnership between UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Volkswagen strengthens Tennessee’s position as a significant source of innovation and talent for Volkswagen’s North American manufacturing base, especially at the flagship Chattanooga facility,” UT interim President Randy Boyd said. “These types of partnerships are transforming the Tennessee Valley Corridor into a global innovation leader.”

IACMI’s Sean Lee and Tessa Patton work on the composite liftgate created for Volkswagen in their lab at SERF (Science Engineering Research Facility) on the campus of UT Knoxville. December 11, 2019. Photo by Sam Thomas.

ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said the power of aligning industry, academia and a national laboratory has many positives.

“By identifying difficult challenges and pursuing creative solutions with immediate industrial application, we can accelerate fields such as materials science, energy storage and advanced manufacturing while making vehicles better, safer and more fuel efficient,” Zacharia said.

Volkswagen also is a member of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a nonprofit organization established by the UT Research Foundation. IACMI is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and has supported UT researchers, Volkswagen engineers, and their collaborators in the creation of the liftgate for the Volkswagen Atlas.

“The innovations stemming from the IACMI partnership with Volkswagen have a direct and immediate impact on vehicle design and manufacturing right here in Tennessee,” UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said.  “These collaborative discoveries demonstrate the real-world potential of public-private partnerships.”

House Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he was “elated” to see the continued growth of Volkswagen in East Tennessee.

“This multimillion-dollar partnership to establish a groundbreaking ‘Innovation Hub’ will bring together the greatest talent from Volkswagen, UT-Knoxville, and the Oak Ridge National Lab to develop cutting edge technologies necessary for the electrification of Volkswagen vehicles, and support countless jobs across the Oak Ridge Corridor,” Congressman Fleischmann said. “I look forward to hearing of the technological successes of the new Innovation Hub, and I would like to thank Volkswagen for being a strong force in the prosperity found across East Tennessee.”


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