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We are in a global energy transition, with countries around the world investing in renewable energy sources. At the heart of this transition are electric vehicles, which produce zero emissions and offer drivers in the U.S. a means to break the hold fossil fuels have on our society.  

Many states are embracing the transition to electric vehicles. Others? Not so much. (Wyoming legislators introduced a bill that would ban electric vehicle sales by 2035.) Texas, we’re proud to say, is among the states with the most electric vehicles. Still, there is work to be done before electric vehicles can become the gold standard, particularly in Texas. At The University of Texas at Austin, we’re working to pave the way for electric vehicle adoption. Here’s how.  

A Next-Generation Battery 

The University of Texas leads the world in many areas of energy research, including energy storage.  The university’s Energy Institute is a connector across campus, collaborating with over 350 energy researchers in schools and departments at UT Austin, including the Cockrell School of Engineering. 

The Energy Institute is spearheading the Fueling a Sustainable Energy Transition (FSET): an initiative that brings together 12 multidisciplinary teams from across UT Austin, one of which is working on a next-generation battery pack.  

Led by Arumugam Manthiram, Ph.D., and Venkat Subramanian, Ph.D., the team is experimenting with replacing traditional graphite anodes with nanocomposite foil (NCF) anodes, sourced from recycled aluminum. The project may lead to low-cost, high-performing lithium-ion batteries that will make electric vehicles that much more viable.   

A Single Charge  

What’s preventing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles? In prior years, sticker shock kept many consumers from making the switch, though now electric vehicles can be as affordable as gas-powered cars. For others, concerns persist over limited range and slow charging. That could all change with the latest breakthrough from the Yu Research Group.  

Using commercially available magnets, the Yu Research Group has fabricated a new type of electrode. The team was able to arrange the layers of an electrode vertically, as opposed to the typical horizontal alignment, creating a fast track for ions. A battery incorporating this technology could allow electric vehicles to travel twice their prior range on a single charge and, according to Guihua Yu, Ph.D., could be used “for anything that requires these kinds of fast-charging and also high energy systems.”  

The Electric Vehicle Reengineered 

UT Austin is one of 13 university teams in North America to participate in the EcoCAR Electric Vehicle Challenge. Over the course of the four-year competition, UT Austin will be challenged to reengineer a 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ (Cadillac’s first electric vehicle) and demonstrate the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies. “These types of hands-on, team-based opportunities that tackle real-world challenges are at the core of what we teach across all engineering disciplines in the Cockrell School,” said Dean of the Cockrell School Roger Bonnecaze, Ph.D

An Energy Grid for All Seasons 

As part of Energy Infrastructure of the Future, a multi-year study, UT Austin researchers assessed the amount of energy needed to charge a fleet of electric vehicles, discovering that the impact of widespread electric vehicle adoption will vary by region. If by some miracle everyone in Texas switched to electric vehicles, electricity consumption would increase by 30%, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 11 million homes. Texas would need new automotive charging infrastructure to support such a transition. 

Energy Futures Dashboard 

As part of the project, the Energy Institute developed the Energy Futures Dashboard, a web-based app that models energy infrastructure pathways. “The dashboard incorporates regional differences in climate, resources and hourly electricity demand, making some important details truly accessible for public discourse and policymaking at the state and federal levels,” said Energy Institute Assistant Director Carey King, Ph.D.  

Visitors can create “what if?” scenarios of energy consumption and generation in 2050 by choosing from one of 13 U.S. regions and adjusting three sets of inputs:  

  • Sources of electricity 
  • Electric vehicles 
  • Households heated by natural gas and electricity 

Visit the Energy Futures Dashboard to create your own “electricity mix” and vision of the future.  

An Emergency Generator on Wheels  

The Texas power grid, isolated from the Western and Eastern Interconnections (power grids), leaves a lot to be desired. (We encourage you to read this epic rant on the subject by Director of the Center for Electromechanics Robert Hebner, Ph.D.

Motivated to promote electric vehicle adoption (and maybe channel some frustration), researchers at UT Austin have found a novel use for electric buses. The project, dubbed Bus Exportable Power Supply (BEPS), examines the potential use of hybrid electric and fuel cell buses as emergency mobile generators. “Tapping into this resource and outfitting transit buses with exportable power could provide a game-changing capability for emergency response power needs,” said BEPS Program Manager Mike Lewis

A University United Behind Electric Vehicle Adoption 

UT Austin is a hub for innovative research in the field of sustainable transportation, and the number of schools, departments, professors and students involved is truly staggering. If you’re interested in taking part in the energy transition and widespread adoption of electric vehicles, there’s a place for you at our university.  

Become a Part of Texas Engineering 

The Cockrell School is ranked the No. 7 best graduate engineering school in the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report, and offers a number of programs that could propel your career forward. We do, however, think you’ll be most interested in our two 100% mechanical engineering programs: 

Executive MS in Mechanical Engineering: This 30-credit-hour, non-thesis executive program offers a broad education in mechanical engineering, exploring such topics as automatic control, heat transfer, and material science.  

Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate: This 9-credit-hour program provides specialized knowledge of the control and optimization of systems. All 9 credits earned in this certificate program can be applied to the Executive MS in Mechanical Engineering, so long as you are accepted and in good academic standing.  

A graduate degree or certificate from UT Austin and the Cockrell School can lead to new, exciting career opportunities, including those in the electric vehicle industry. Apply to one of our online graduate programs and prepare for an education and experience like no other. 

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