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Weekend edition October 20, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Five more years | Volkswagen and UTK extend partnership

The announcement continues the important partnership to develop technologies to make vehicles that are lighter, batteries that last longer, and materials that are more sustainable.

At an event Thursday afternoon on campus, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), and Volkswagen Group of America announced the signing of a new five-year Master Research Agreement, reinforcing a longstanding and productive innovation partnership.

The agreement, which also includes the UT Research Foundation, guarantees the continuation of a partnership that has already produced more than 27 active research projects, 15 publications, and multiple pending patents. Together, UTK research faculty and Volkswagen scientists are collaborating on technology to make vehicles that are lighter, batteries that last longer, and materials that are more sustainable.

Deb Crawford

“We want Tennessee, which is already a major manufacturer of automobiles, to be a destination for mobility research and innovation. That’s why we are so proud to have a partner like Volkswagen Group, who is a global leader in the automotive industry,” said Deb Crawford, UTK’s Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development. “Together, we leverage the real-world experience of industry and the ingenuity of UT faculty and students to solve critical problems and create the vehicles of the future.”

The renewal of the agreement with VW further reinforces the strong role that UTK is playing in advanced mobility. The institution is leading something called “Team TN,” a statewide partnership comprised of more than 100 entities that was one of 44 recipients of a $1 million “NSF Regional Innovation Engine Development Award.”

The joint UTK and Volkswagen Group projects include reducing vehicle weight through new fiber composites and artificial intelligence-optimized material structures, creating more sustainable vehicle interiors with new paper-based materials, and making it easier to charge electric vehicles with high-powered wireless charging concepts.

Breakthrough technologies have already made their way into Volkswagen Group brands around the world including VW, Audi, Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda, and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

Chuhee Lee

“Partnering with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for research has accelerated Volkswagen Group’s ability to bring practical innovations to our products,” said Chuhee Lee, Vice President of Mobility Design and Technology at Volkswagen Group Innovation Center California. “With this extension, we’ll be able to continue this invaluable research and bring more materials and power electronics solutions for more sustainable mobility. UTK has been an invaluable partner, bringing incredible research talent with an interest in the automotive industry and sustainability.”

He added that “innovation means getting things in the market that individuals can actually use and enjoy.”

UTK’s relationship with one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers goes back to 2011, when Volkswagen opened its Chattanooga plant. The partnership was formalized in 2018 with the first Master Research Agreement before taking another step forward in 2020 with opening the North American Innovation Hub at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

The Innovation Hub in Knoxville, one Volkswagen’s four Innovation Hubs worldwide (Tokyo, Tel Aviv, and Singapore), accelerates research for VW Group Innovation and focuses on the company’s lighthouse R&D projects such as electric mobility, sustainable transportation, lightweight composites, and recycled materials. Through the Innovation Hub in Knoxville, UTK and VW developed the VW Ph.D. Fellows program, a one-of-a-kind doctoral fellowship program that integrates Ph.D. candidates into Volkswagen as full-time employees while working toward their dissertation at UT.

Maha Krishnamurthy

In May, the university and the automaker announced plans to expand their partnership with 10 new joint research projects, additional PhD fellowship and internship positions at Volkswagen, and the creation of new student engagement programs.

“The partnership with Volkswagen is already one of the most fruitful industry relationships in university history, and as the partnership continues to deepen, we expect to see even more innovations making their way to market,” said UT Research Foundation President Maha Krishnamurthy, who is responsible for the intellectual property management. She told attendees at the signing ceremony that the partnership has already led to seven new invention disclosures, five patent applications, and a sixth application that is being finalized.

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