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Purdue educating skilled workforce for electric vehicle industry

Purdue educating skilled workforce for electric vehicle industry

Magazine Section: Innovate
College or School: CoE
Article Type: Article
Purdue University is not only spearheading the Electric Vehicle Grand Prix, but also working to help train a new generation of engineers and technicians needed to design, manufacture and service electric vehicles.

Purdue and Ivy Tech Community College have received $4.7 million in federal funding and the same amount from non-federal sources to update and develop education and training programs related to electric vehicles and a "smart" power grid capable of handling the demands posed by thousands of charging electric vehicles.

Eight new smart grid courses are being created in the colleges of Engineering and Technology, said Joseph F. Pekny, a professor of chemical engineering. The smart grid training will be compatible with a number of electric vehicle courses also under development, including courses to educate emergency responders in how to handle electric-vehicle crashes.

"The curriculum will be developed and put in place over the next couple of semesters and integrated either into the engineering or technology programs within the next year or so," said J. Eric Dietz, an associate professor of computer and information technology and director of the Purdue Homeland Security Institute.

Military veterans are able to take advantage of GI benefits to pursue degrees related to smart grid and electric vehicles, he said.

"Basically, a four-year college degree is fully paid under federal GI benefits," Dietz said. "Every year Indiana gets about 6,000 veterans back from active duty who qualify. The military is among the best at training young people vocationally, so we felt that would be a good place to look for the smart grid workforce we are going to need."

James Caruthers, Reilly Professor of Chemical Engineering, leads the electric vehicles initiative at Purdue. He is director of the Indiana Advanced Electric Vehicle Training and Education Consortium (I-AEVtec), a partnership between the College of Engineering and the College of Technology created to educate a new generation of highly skilled workers.

The consortium of Indiana colleges and universities is working to develop degree and training programs for the emerging electric vehicle industry. It also is focusing on engineers and technologists currently in the Indiana workforce. 

Purdue is providing electric-vehicle courses to help train employees at Delphi Electronics and Safety in Kokomo.

The program, organized through the state's Department of Workforce Development, costs about $1,000 per student, said Vic Lechtenberg, Purdue's vice provost for engagement.

More than 50 of the company's engineers and technicians have taken advantage of the opportunity to advance their skills through the course.

"And we expect several hundred more to follow," said Chris W. Jones, technical manager of hybrid vehicle systems, Delphi Electronics Group. "Delphi wants to build on its rich legacy in power electronics to develop a robust and competitive design and manufacturing capability in Indiana. We have been very pleased to partner with the deep technical resources of Purdue University to develop hybrid electric vehicles 101 to address these needs."

Leading the instruction are Oleg Wasynczuk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Athula Kulatunga, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering technology.

The components for electric and hybrid vehicles are based on new technologies that are different from those that support Delphi's traditional automotive electronics products.

"Power electronics are key to the 'green' propulsion systems that are used in hybrid and electric vehicles," Jones said. "These technologies are needed to respond to the twin requirements of cutting fuel consumption and minimizing pollution – both critical to vehicle manufacturers and their customers. Implementing these advanced vehicle technologies requires that more of our employees are skilled in areas that weren't even covered by the engineering curriculum when they went through college – things like high-power switches and magnetics, and inverters and converters, and energy storage systems and battery management systems in the 300-volt range."

Purdue's Electric Vehicle Grand Prix will begin 1 p.m. on Saturday (April 30) on the university's Grand Prix course northwest of campus. The event will be a prelude to the inaugural Purdue Collegiate evGrandPrix on May 7 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.