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UT has expanded its role in green technology over the past few years, adding everything from car charging stations to classes designed to tackle issues in the emerging and burgeoning field.

Now, thanks to support from Eaton Corporation, Nissan USA, and the University of Tennessee System, that growth includes both a new lab for engineers and a pair of Nissan LEAFs—all-electric, zero-emission cars—for university use.

From left to right, Nissan USA’s Gary Edwards, University of Tennessee System associate vice president and director of research Stacey Patterson, UT Knoxville Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science head Leon Tolbert, Eaton Coporation’s Jim Batey, and UT Knoxville College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis stand together at the dedication of the Solar Convergence Lab.

“This latest example of our university partnering with the corporate sector to provide new and exciting opportunities for our students also highlights our devotion to a greener campus,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “It’s a true win-win for us and our partners.”

The Solar Convergence Laboratory draws upon the Eaton Laboratory and the Power Electronics Lab, both located in the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building, the solar array on the Eleventh Street Garage, and the West Tennessee Solar Farm to create a virtual lab space, giving students the opportunity to collect and analyze data in real time.

Revenue from the solar farm, located about fifty miles northeast of Memphis, also helped fund the project, according to Stacey Patterson, University of Tennessee System associate vice president and director of research.

That data will play a key role in helping students draw conclusions about solar energy and its changing role in the overall power grid, according to Leon Tolbert, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“This lab will help further our efforts to improve not only solar energy as a viable widespread source of power, but also our focus on energy in general within our department,” said Tolbert, who also serves as the Min H. Kao Professor in the department.

“Through CURENT (the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks), students will be able to take information from the arrays and from our West Tennessee solar farm to learn more about current technology while working on developing next-generation technology.”

Tolbert said that Eaton helped make those studies possible by donating not only the technology that helps students interact with the solar arrays, but also the garage’s car charging stations.

The Nissan LEAF electric vehicles are the newest additions to the partnership between UT and Nissan.

“Nissan is recognized as one of the world’s greenest brands, so we are pleased to support the University of Tennessee’s efforts to advance sustainable energy and sustainable mobility,” said Gary Edwards, vice president, Nissan Powertrain Operations. “These LEAF units will not only serve as valuable research tools, but they will allow students and faculty to experience the benefits of going electric and to enjoy LEAF’s performance as a fun-to-drive car.”

Nissan actively recruits students from the university for co-ops and internships, and earlier this summer the company invited a student from the College of Engineering to participate in a national design competition to design a test track.

Nissan is the global leader in electric vehicles, with more than 188,000 LEAF sales globally and more than 84,000 in the United States. Each Nissan LEAF is powered by an advanced lithium-ion battery and an 80kW motor. The new model boasts an EPA-rated driving range of 107 miles on a fully charged battery and a starting price of less than $30,000.


About Nissan North America

Nissan’s operations include automotive styling, engineering, consumer and corporate financing, sales and marketing, distribution, and manufacturing. Nissan’s Green Program has been recognized annually by the US Environmental Protection Agency as an ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year since 2010. Information and news about the company can be found here and here, respectively.

About Nissan Motor Co.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Japan’s second-largest automotive company, is headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, and is part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Operating with more than 247,500 employees globally, Nissan sold 5.32 million vehicles and generated revenue of $103.6 billion in fiscal year 2014. Nissan manufactures more than sixty models under the Nissan, Infiniti, and Datsun brands. Nissan leads the world in zero-emission mobility, dominated by sales of the LEAF, the first mass-market pure-electric vehicle. It is the best-selling EV in history.



David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)