The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Volkswagen Group of America Inc. have announced plans to accelerate their longstanding research partnership through new programming.
Building on the program’s initial success of executing more than 25 joint research projects over the last three years, both partners aim to kick off more than 10 new joint research projects through 2025, introduce more Ph.D. fellowship and internship positions at Volkswagen, establish dedicated guest lectures with Volkswagen senior experts and create additional student engagement programs starting in October.
“The future of mobility is happening in Tennessee — and it’s happening now. That’s why we are grateful to partner with a global industry leader like Volkswagen to bring together the real-world experience of industry and the expertise of our state’s flagship research institution,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Together we are developing the technologies that will transform the automotive industry and build the workforce of the future. We are excited about the new opportunities ahead.”
The long-standing partnership was formalized in 2020 with the establishment of the Volkswagen Innovation Hub Knoxville, located on the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm, and recently celebrated its third anniversary.
Research and Innovation
“We are leveraging the ingenuity and innovation of the Tennessee Valley,” said Pablo Di Si, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America. “Through our great partnership with the University of Tennessee, we are driving Volkswagen’s vision to build more sustainable transportation for all. Additionally, engaging with leading research institutions in Tennessee and across the United States also helps to source engineering talent for Volkswagen.”
The hub is an industry-leading technology unit focused on advanced research in automotive lightweight structures, sustainable materials and electric mobility, and it serves as an exemplar of UT’s innovative research model. It is the kind of partnership the university pursues — one that holistically aligns the efforts of academia, industry and government to tackle complex challenges through place-based innovation.
Teams within the hub are developing composites for car body parts that are lighter yet stronger and paper-based materials for interior designs; advancing vehicle electrification, including new wireless charging concepts; and creating upcycling concepts and processes for materials conventionally deemed nonrecyclable, such as fiber-reinforced composites.
Through the fellowship program, doctoral students such as Cecelia Grubb are seamlessly integrated into Volkswagen and share their time as Volkswagen employees while working on their dissertations at UT.
“I want to work on reducing the carbon footprint and fighting climate change — that’s my big driver for being here. And by getting to work with Volkswagen, the research I’m doing has the potential to make a much larger impact,” said Volkswagen Ph.D. Fellow Cecilia Grubb. “I’m working on replacing completely oil-derived plastics in cars with renewable materials, and hopefully those will be in cars in just a couple of years.”
Students can locate at the Innovation Hub Knoxville or at Volkswagen’s Engineering and Planning Center or Battery Engineering Lab, both in Chattanooga.
Tennessee is home to Volkswagen’s electric vehicle assembly in North America. Its factory in Chattanooga is assembling the all-electric ID.4 as well Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs. Volkswagen directly employs more than 5,000 people in Chattanooga. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, more than 137,000 Tennesseans are employed by more than 920 automotive establishments, making Tennessee the leading state in the Southeast for the automotive sector.
Volkswagen, the UT System, UT Knoxville and UT Chattanooga are also working to develop a strategic roadmap for a comprehensive partnership involving expanding research, educational and internship opportunities in Knoxville and Chattanooga.
Further solidifying the state’s role as a global leader in the advanced mobility economy, UT Knoxville was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Engines Development award to head up a 90-member mobility coalition which will create a roadmap to outline a statewide transportation mobility strategy. The work will conceive, invent and commercialize new transportation systems and technologies and help prepare Tennesseans for good jobs as well as creating, recruiting and retaining the innovation industries of Tennessee’s future.
Christie Kennedy (865-974-8674, firstname.lastname@example.org)