Partnership to deliver first Volkswagen North American innovation hub

SOURCE: Lenny Kuhne/Unsplash
The new innovation hub will join VW's global chain of research centres.

By U2B Staff 

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The University of Tennesee, Knoxville (UT), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have partnered to launch Volkswagen’s first North American innovation hub, bringing jobs and growth opportunities to a region known for its strengths in advanced materials and additive manufacturing.

The innovation hub will be located at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm and will leverage the expertise of ORNL scientists and UT Tickle College of Engineering faculty members to advance UT’s research in developing lighter vehicle components and electric vehicles. 

“Working with the University of Tennessee is a great opportunity to continue growing Volkswagen’s engineering footprint in the North American region,” said Volkswagen’s North American region executive vice president and chief engineering officer Wolfgang Demmelbauer-Ebner.

“This hub, along with other research institutions here, is an integral part of Volkswagen’s global research and development efforts and can also directly contribute to vehicles in North America.” 


Research at the hub will be led by UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Uday Vaidya. 

Vaidya and his team in the Department of Mechanical Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering will carry out several research and development activities supporting prototyping, developing a sheet moulding compound, and evaluating materials and their properties for use in Volkswagen vehicle components. 

Meanwhile, Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Leon Tolbert and Associate Professor Daniel Costinett will focus their research on wireless charging of parked electric vehicles and dynamic charging—research that has been pioneered by their counterparts at ORNL. This charging system, which will be embedded into roadways, will enable electric vehicles to be charged as they move.

Other research projects for the hub include innovative methods of packaging power sources with a wider bandgap, allowing electric vehicles to last longer between charging cycles. 

Interdisciplinary research for developing new materials for VW cars and more. Source: Christopher Burns/Unsplash.

“It is truly gratifying to be involved in developing this VW partnership with UT, which is providing our students and staff with industrially relevant research and development opportunities that are bound to have significant economic and environmental benefits for Tennessee and the country,” said UT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Peebles Professor Dayakar Penumadu who provides his expertise in materials characterisation for lightweight composites. 

The partnership will also entail fellowships awarded by Volkswagen to UT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science doctoral students Andrew Foote and Nathan Strain and Civil and Environmental Engineering doctoral student William Henken. 

According to Vaidya in a media statement, the collaboration with Volkswagen is providing unique opportunities for UT’s students and researchers in advanced materials and manufacturing. This will add value to their career paths through real-world experiences from collaborating with Volkswagen engineers and managers. 

This collaboration marks another accomplishment to elevate Tennessee as a leading region in areas of advanced materials and additive manufacturing. 


“The partnership between UT, ORNL, and Volkswagen strengthens Tennessee’s position as a significant source of innovation and talent for the Volkswagen North American manufacturing base, especially at the flagship Chattanooga facility,” said UT System Interim President Randy Boyd.

“These types of partnerships are transforming the Tennessee Valley Corridor into a global innovation leader.”

This will also expand Volkswagen’s relationship with UT as a valued partner since the launch of its Chattanooga Assembly plant in 2011. 

The facility produces Volkswagen sedan and SUV models for the North American market and has expanded to include a new electric vehicle production facility which includes a 564,000-square-foot body shop addition which provided up to 1,000 new jobs in Tennessee.

The new Knoxville innovation hub will join Volkswagen’s larger global innovation ecosystem which includes hubs in Barcelona, Spain; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Tokyo, Japan.