Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification (ASPIRE)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen Purdue University to participate in a new Engineering Research Center dedicated to advancing sustainable, electrified transportation.

Purdue will be part of a multi-university, public-private collaboration, led by Utah State University (USU), which has received a five-year, $26 million NSF grant, renewable to 10 years and $50.6 million. The center is expected to raise more than $200 million over the next decade in government and industry support.

Photo of Nadia Gkritza
Konstantina "Nadia" Gkritza, Purdue Campus Director of ASPIRE

The grant establishes an Engineering Research Center (ERC) focused on developing new infrastructure that facilitates widespread adoption of electric vehicles. The center is named ASPIRE – Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification.

“Selection for the ASPIRE team is a prestigious honor that builds on a proud heritage, speaks highly of our faculty and research capabilities, and enables our researchers to play a central role in transforming transportation,” said Mark Lundstrom, acting dean of Purdue University’s College of Engineering. “In these early days of electrified transportation, it is important to address the challenges and opportunities of the next decade and beyond. Purdue is pleased to collaborate with the exceptional ASPIRE team to develop innovations that will improve our nation’s health and quality of life while fostering a diverse next-generation engineering workforce.”

Lundstrom added: “Our inclusion in ASPIRE is a tribute to our faculty’s leadership in the critical area the new center will pioneer and our rich background in academic and industry collaboration.”

Purdue Engineering has a strong track record with ERCs. The College has led one of the first centers, on Intelligent Manufacturing Systems, and CISTAR (Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources), launched in 2017.   

Serving as Purdue campus director for ASPIRE and leader of the Adoption research thrust will be Nadia Gkritza, professor of civil engineering and agricultural and biological engineering – a prominent expert and innovator in transportation energy and sustainability, including electrified vehicle infrastructure. In addition to teaching courses in transportation engineering, economic analysis of transportation investments, and transportation data analysis, she is an associate editor of the Journal of Transportation Engineering. Gkritza also is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) committees on Freight Transportation & Regulation and Agriculture & Transportation, and a former co-chair of the TRB Committee on Transportation & Economic Development.

Before joining the Purdue faculty, she was an Iowa State University faculty member, director of the Sustainable Transportation Systems Program at the Institute of Transportation, and associate director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mid-American Transportation Center.

“The field of transportation is in the midst of a transformation not experienced since the invention of the automobile,” Gkritza said. “Efforts are also underway to reduce emissions by improving vehicle and fuel technology and by promoting alternative, sustainable modes of transportation. Although the emergence of electric vehicles has shown capabilities of decreasing energy use and emissions levels, the EV market is developing slowly, due mainly to drivers’ range anxiety and to charging time.”

She continued: “ASPIRE researchers will convert the threats and weaknesses of this innovation ecosystem to opportunities and strengths through adoption of technologies across diverse users and stakeholders, vehicle classes, and urban and rural areas. We also foresee opportunities to reduce emissions and near-road exposures to pollutants, coupled with other transportation innovations in shared mobility and automation that will shape data-driven policies encouraging advances.”

Purdue faculty will be well-represented on the ASPIRE executive leadership team, as well as spanning the research, education, and diversity and inclusion pillars. Donna Riley, Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education, will lead Engineering Workforce Development efforts; Rosie Clawson, professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts, will head work toward Diversity & Culture Inclusion; and Steve Pekarek, the Dr. Edmund O. Schweitzer, III professor of electrical and computer engineering, will lead the Power Thrust area. Other Purdue faculty involved in ASPIRE include Dionysios Aliprantis, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Darcy Bullock, Lyles Family professor of civil engineering; and John Haddock, professor of civil engineering.

“We have a diverse and passionate set of researchers and educators working with other faculty and students across all campuses,” Gkritza said. “The new ERC will benefit from Purdue’s strong history on projects funded by the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Energy, NSF, and public policy forums.”

The ASPIRE research will be linked with educational, mentoring and outreach initiatives for students at all levels. Purdue graduate students will have opportunities to engage in multi-institution collaborative research, to mentor undergraduate and K-12 students in research, and to plan and participate in K-12 outreach events. Purdue undergraduate students will learn about the research through coursework and through educational training initiatives, such as Vertically Integrated Projects.

“The center launches at a critical moment in U.S. history,” USU noted in announcing ASPIRE. “Nationwide, transportation and electric utility infrastructure are in need of extensive renovation. At the same time, vehicle emissions have serious impacts on public health and the environment, and fluctuating oil prices affect household budgets and economic stability. Electric vehicles play an important role in transforming the future of transportation, yet challenges remain to achieve sustainable and widespread adoption. Key to this new model of electric vehicle use is the development of charging technology that is built into roadways and parking facilities. ASPIRE researchers are developing holistic solutions that eliminate range and charging as obstacles to the broader electrification of all vehicles, including passenger cars and long-haul, heavy-duty trucks.”

Regan Zane, USU professor and ASPIRE center director, said: “Now is the time to move past century-old mindsets and rethink how roadways and electric grid infrastructure can be co-designed to support low-cost, sustainable solutions for vehicle electrification and decarbonization of the electric grid.”

In addition to Purdue, strategic university partners with USU in operating ASPIRE are 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, Cornell University, and four national laboratories. Global industry partnerships include more than 40 companies and organizations across the transportation and electric utility industries.

ASPIRE is designated as an Engineering Research Center, the National Science Foundation’s flagship program for transformative multi-institutional research. It is one of four new Engineering Research Centers announced Aug. 4. It is the first in Utah in over 30 years and the only one dedicated to advancing sustainable transportation. After 10 years, ASPIRE will achieve graduated status and will continue as a self-sustaining research center.