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Volume 58, Issue 1

June, 2009

UCCS faculty to help guide electric car of future

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A UCCS professor will be part of a partnership of university and automotive engineers tasked with designing components for the next generation of cars in cooperation with General Motors and the University of Michigan.

Gregory Plett, associate professor, Engineering, is joining three UM engineering faculty members and a team of engineers at General Motors as part of a five-year $5 million award that established the GM/UM Advanced Battery Coalition for Drivetrains.

The GM/UM ABCD will accelerate development of advanced battery technology for use in future electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles and extended range electric vehicles.

Plett, whose specialty is electrical and computer engineering, will concentrate on creating controls for batteries used in vehicles that will extend their life cycle and provide data about their condition to vehicle computer systems and drivers. UCCS will receive $750,000 over five years, allowing Plett and two graduate students to concentrate on their research in new battery control mechanisms, most of which will be done on campus with computer simulations with regular trips to Ann Arbor to collaborate with UM faculty and students.

Plett joins four other faculty in the effort, along with about twenty affiliated students, and a similar number of GM engineers. The GM/UM ABCD is led by co-Directors Ann Marie Sastry, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Engineering at UM, and Bob Kruse, executive director of hybrids, Electric Vehicles and Batteries, at GM.

“Professor Plett brings critical controls expertise to our team, and we look forward to working together in model development and implementation in real vehicles,” said Sastry. “Professor Plett’s membership on our team is an example of our approach, in seeking talent globally to work in the coalition. And, his outstanding track record, obvious passion for EVs, and drive to advance the state of the art, make him an excellent colleague.”

Adds Kruse, “Plett’s track history of work with CPI, the North American subsidiary of LGChem, the supplier of Volt batteries, made him a good choice for us, and we aim to build on his and the team’s work to advance electrification technologies rapidly. We want to see battery models scale seamlessly from materials to vehicles, and his expertise helps us do that.”

The central challenge in controlling battery systems is in understanding and tracking energy consumption.

“For a gasoline-powered vehicle, it’s pretty simple to measure the amount of fuel in a tank,” Plett said. “There’s no obvious way to accurately and reliably measure remaining energy in batteries that are used in high-power applications like the electrified drivetrain. That’s our challenge”

But Plett doesn’t hope to design only a fuel gauge for the 21st century. He hopes to build controls that will maximize battery life and prevent damage, all in a package that is compact and simple.

“We’re all fairly used to replacing the lead-acid batteries in our current cars every four years or so and spending around $80 to do it,” Plett said. “These new batteries are large, expensive, and complex. It’s important that they last. But, with careful engineering both in battery design and controls, our team is confident that we can make the batteries last the life of the vehicle.”

Plett called the GM/UM ABCD an amazing opportunity.

“This is a critical time,” Plett said. “Events are conspiring to make the electric drivetrain a practical reality. But we need to do this right for there to be real change.”

Other faculty members of the coalition are Wei Shyy, chair, UM Department of Aerospace Engineering, Wei Lu, associate professor, UM Department of Mechanical Engineering and Anton van der Ven, UM Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

For more information about the coalition, visit

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