Lugar Renewable Energy Forum at IUPUI: Vehicle Electrification ‘Born and Raised’ in Indiana

Posted on June 28th, 2011 by

While gas prices skyrocket to alarming levels and dependence on foreign oil grows even riskier in today’s increasingly-tumultuous global political environment, vehicle electrification is garnering increasing amounts of attention as an attractive alternative to its fossil fuel-burning counterpart.

And in Indiana, vehicle electrification is a thing of the past—as well as the future.

Recently, the Lugar Forum on Electric and Hybrid Vehicles at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) brought together top experts from business, government and academia for an in-depth exploration of the most pressing issues – past, present and future – related to electric and hybrid vehicles.

Perhaps the most significant invention of automotive history, according to forum speaker Dr. William Wylam, President of International Energy LLC, was a starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) system, which allowed motorists to generate electricity, store electrical energy and use the energy for multiple purposes wherever they went. This technology not only allowed cars to become ubiquitous and drivable by anyone, but also began to lay the groundwork for today’s hybrid and electric vehicle (HEV) industry.

Since the SLI was introduced by Indiana’s Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) in the early 1900s, Hoosier businesses have literally been leading the charge in electric vehicle advancements ever since.

Pioneering companies from Allison Transmission, who over the past century has built a strong portfolio of technologies and products that are driving today’s HEV industry, to younger veterans like Cummins and Navistar and newer businesses such as Ener1 and Think, provided a fascinating collection of insights on the pertinent issues of today’s marketplace.

Across the board, the overarching themes that emerged from the conference were the need to decrease cost and improve charging infrastructure while encouraging business adaptation/system integration of HEV technologies. And, as is clearly evident with the current U.S. Administration’s push to promote and support vehicle electrification on American soil, the government plays an integral role in businesses’ ability to accomplish these goals.

Edwin Owens of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) noted that America’s foreign oil dependence is primarily driven by the transportation sector – to the tune of $1 billion per day. And, because electricity production in the U.S. uses almost no petroleum, every mile traveled on electricity eliminates the equivalent amount of oil consumption. Vehicle electrification, therefore, will be essential to cutting oil imports by one third by 2025.

As a result, the DOE is promoting this cause through battery R&D, electric grid infrastructure, vehicle deployment and other policy initiatives. In fact, through the Recovery Act funding in Indiana alone, the government has already invested $296 million in advanced vehicles. And, in addition to federal support of Indiana’s hybrid and electric vehicle industry, a number of state and local groups are instrumental to the advancement and bringing-to-market of these technologies throughout Indiana, the Midwest and the United States.

Two of these key players – the Energy Systems Network (ESN) and the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition – are maximizing on the tremendous potential contained in Indiana, the “Crossroads of America,” and are fostering partnerships throughout the state to make vehicle electrification a reality. To date, shares Paul Mitchell, President and CEO of ESN, Indianapolis has been ranked as the most “Plug-in Ready City,” Indiana was the first state to deploy EVs into its fleet operations, and it is on track to meet Phase 1 of its goal to get 100 EVs deployed by Q2 2011, representing one of the highest concentration of EVs on the road in the nation.

The final piece in the electric and hybrid vehicle puzzle, as acknowledged by the brightest minds in the field, is academia. The Forum’s host organizations, the Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy and the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology on IUPUI’s campus, are bringing together the best resources to conduct groundbreaking research on fuel cells, advanced battery technology, plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles and policy and societal issues, among others. This research, in addition to collaborative initiatives such as the Renewable Energy Forum Series, are key to powering the continual advancement of electric and hybrid vehicles and developing the next wave of leaders who will drive this industry into the future.


Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy, Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, IUPUI. For more information and to view presentations about the industry from participating speakers, visit




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