Statewide partnerships, talent pipeline touted as key in state’s automotive future

KNOXVILLE – On July 14, the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) held a virtual Statewide Automotive Innovation Roundtable featuring electric vehicle (EV) and mobility experts from across the state’s leading research, academic and government institutions. Cortney Piper, TAEBC Executive Director,moderated the discussion on how Tennessee is becoming the #1 state in the country for the EV supply chain, and what’s next for the state after it accomplishes this goal. 

“Media reports often characterize Tennessee as ‘the next Detroit’ because of the massive investments in next generation auto manufacturing. But our world class innovation assets can also carry that label into the future by establishing the next generation of automotive technology here, in Tennessee,” said Piper.“Bringing together key stakeholders and decision makers from across the state in forums such as these to help educate, establish partnerships and advance solutions is what TAEBC is all about.”

Experts from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Vanderbilt University, University of Tennessee Knoxville (UT), University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC) and the University of Memphis participated in the panel and answered a range of questions – from EV adoption, charging infrastructure and grid capacity, to connected or “smart” infrastructure and innovative technologies, such as lightweight materials and hydrogen fuel cells.

Ryan Stanton, Senior Project Manager, EV Evolution at TVA, discussed TVA’s role helping to recruit significant OEM and component manufacturers to the state, as well as the organization’s partnerships with state government agencies in developing a fast-charging network across the region and an EV roadmap to address consumer adoption barriers. 

“EV growth is one of many factors contributing to increased demand on the power grid over the next two decades,”said Stanton. “TVA is confident we can meet that increased demand through current and additional capacity. To put it in perspective, there are approximately 27,000 EVs on TVA’s power system currently. Even if we were to increase that amount to 200,000 EVs by 2028 – our goal set in TVA’s Drive Electric TN Roadmap – that would still only make up about a half a percent of TVA’s load today.”

Alexa Voytek, Energy Programs Administrator at TDEC, who also serves as Coordinator for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Clean Cities Middle-West Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, spoke about TDEC and the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT) work in developing a statewide plan to prioritize and allocate Tennessee’s portion of funding – approximately $88 million – from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program.

“The partnerships and collaborations that we have here on this panel are critical in establishing Tennessee as the EV innovation epicenter of the U.S.,” said Voytek. 

During her presentation, Deborah Crawford, Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at UT, announced a new statewide consortium to strengthen Tennessee’s mobility innovation ecosystem through partnership-based investments in R&D and workforce development and the creation, recruitment and support of high-growth, traded sector companies. 

Participants also heard from Reinhold Mann, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at UTC,about Chattanooga’s transformation from “Gig City” to “Smart City” through data collection technologies that UTC, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), Vanderbilt University and others are deploying at city intersections, making them testbeds for connected infrastructure. 

Doug Adams, Daniel F. Flowers Professor, Associate Provost, Office of Research at Vanderbilt University, and Sabya Mishra, Faudree Associate Professor, Director, C-TIER, at the University of Memphis, also discussed collaborations between state and academic institutions to tackle mobility challenges throughout the region, such as pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, rural charging infrastructure and vehicle efficiency through technologies including artificial intelligence and advanced composites. 

Finally, Rich Davies, Sustainable Transportation Program Director & EERE Coordinator at ORNL,spoke to the extensive transportation and electrification R&D taking place at ORNL, the nation’s largest science and energy national lab in the Department of Energy system. 

To view a recording of TAEBC’s Statewide Automotive Innovation Roundtable click here

About Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council

TAEBC champions advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy. Advanced energy is technology neutral and includes electricity and transportation. Anything that makes energy cleaner, safer, more secure, or more efficient is in the tent. No other entity in the state concentrates specifically on this robust sector. We educate public officials and business leaders about Tennessee’s advanced energy economy, establish strategic partnerships to connect assets with opportunities, and inform policy that expands and strengthens the industry. For more information, visit: https://tnadvancedenergy.com/.

Michelle Price is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached via email. Send an email.

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