There is no issue more pressing to mankind right now than the
energy challenge, said James MacBain, director of research
relations at the College of Engineering. Not only is energy
important for the country and world, but in Michigan, where half a
million jobs are either directly or indirectly associated with the
automotive industry, it is important that Michigan take the lead in
researching energy-efficient ways to power vehicles, he added.
With the $40 million research contract the U.S. Army has awarded
the College of Engineering, the University-housed Automotive
Research Center has the potential to lead energy-efficiency
research for the next five years. The research grant is the largest
that the college has ever received.
The ARC, a collaboration of eight universities, has dedicated
its past 10 years to researching fuel efficiency and the
improvement and stability of the mobility, handling and safety
aspects of an automobile. For the next five years, the U.S Army
will continue to be one of the largest sponsor of the research, as
it has been in the past.
“With Michigan being the heart of the automobile world and
us (being) counted on to be leaders, we have to be able to produce
first class research. We are trying to enhance the competitiveness
of our automobile industry and strengthen the military,” said
ARC Director Dennis Assanis.
He added that with the funding, the organization will be able to
address problems and initiatives that will reach extensively into
“We are not concerning ourselves with problems of next
year. (The ARC) works together to come up with solutions that will
make a difference in vehicles for the next 10 or 20 years,”
While the army has been the primary source of funding for the
center, Assanis said that military-sponsored research is very well
funded and often leads to byproducts that benefit the market
industries in addition to the Army.
“One of our big things is dual need and dual use. We want
to basically streamline the design process so different costumers
can essentially benefit. We say, ‘let’s find a common
set of problems and work with those. Problems that will be
beneficial to both the military and the industry,’ ”
Assanis said these problems fall into five areas —
developing tools to evaluate and consequently improve the way cars
drive in various terrain and climate, accommodating a broad range
of operators, developing materials to make cars lighter,
high-strength and safe, developing high performance, clean and
efficient engines from traditional and alternative power sources
and creating a design process that will benefit both the military
as well as the civilian market.
McBain said that because the ARC is a basic research center they
will be looking at technology that can be transferred from the
research center to places like the automobile and trucking industry
and then will be implemented to accommodate specific
“We’re looking at larger vehicles, but if
you’re looking at an efficient running power train, it can be
scaled up or scaled down for any vehicle. That’s the beauty
of the center. With the basic research that we’re doing,
we’ll be able to look at various options. If (we) came
through with some breakthrough, (we) could apply it to many
different sizes,” MacBain said.
The ARC has received $30 million from the Army over the past 10
years. The new five-year contract will enable the center to
continue its research.
The organization creates a unique environment where
next-generation engineers have the opportunity to work on cutting
edge problems with professors, researchers and post-doctoral
students. The resulting technology will enhance national security
and increase the economy, Assasin said.
“Just as important as the research is that we’re
training the engineers and scientists of tomorrow because
it’s very possible that this may take a couple generations to
solve completely,” McBain said.
About 40 professors and 100 graduates from the University
coordinated with the University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin,
Wayne State University, University of Alaska (Fairbanks),
University of Tennessee and Clemson University through
teleconferencing, meetings in Michigan, annual conferences and the