The electrification of the automobile is moving into high gear, and Macomb Community College is leveraging a series of grants to position southeast Michigan at the forefront of the electric-drive vehicle industry.

The National Science Foundation has announced that it is awarding Macomb a $1.4 million grant to support the college’s work focused on the growing opportunities that relate to the “electrification” of the automobile. The initial grant covers a two-year period, with NSF expecting to provide another $1.5 million for an additional two years of funding, contingent on the satisfactory progress of the project and availability of funds. The NSF grant is the latest in a series of steps the college began taking more than five years ago to support the auto industry’s push into alternative fuels and energy sources.

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“We believe that a key to reviving the vitality of southeast Michigan is to build upon our traditional strengths and transition our existing technical expertise to New Economy applications,” said James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College. “Macomb Community College is committed to play a leadership role in supporting electric-drive vehicle technology and in training our residents for growing opportunities in this emerging industry.”

The grant will be used to establish the Center for Advanced Automotive Technology at Macomb. The goal of the CAAT is to create the region’s premier storehouse of advanced automotive technology; catalog the intellectual capital that exists surrounding that technology and offer it to the region; and provide small seed grants to encourage ongoing development of training in the region to support this emerging industry. 

As a precursor this grant, the NSF awarded Macomb $150,000 in 2008 to study the needs of the auto industry as it moves toward electric vehicles and related technologies. The study identified gaps in the knowledge and skills of current engineers and technicians related to the emerging needs of the vehicle electrification industry.

“As part of the study process, Macomb has worked closely with partners in industry, higher education and government not only to determine existing needs, but to forecast the future needs in this industry,” said William Stark, director of Macomb’s Center for Alternative Fuels, established in 2006. “As the electrification of the automobile expands, there will be a growing need for trained technicians not only to service these vehicles and their components, but also to assist in their manufacture and ultimate disposal. Macomb has been providing work force training to meet the needs of the automotive industry for decades. This new initiative is a major step forward in positioning our students and the region for continued industry leadership.”

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Macomb is working with a number of local and regional partners to encourage the economic transformation of southeast Michigan and to build on the region’s heritage as the hub of the global auto industry. Notably, the college is working closely with Wayne State University to provide a spectrum of educational opportunities to meet the needs of the growing electrification field. Earlier this year, WSU approved the creation of new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in electric-drive technology. In partnership with the WSU programs, Macomb has developed several new courses in electric-drive vehicle technology that matriculate into WSU’s new bachelor of science in engineering technology degree. To support these efforts, Macomb has received or shared in more than $1.3 million in federal grant dollars over the past year, which have been used to support developing classes and acquiring lab equipment.

Macomb is a recognized leader in developing educational programming around the evolving fuel and energy technologies utilized by the auto industry. In 2005, Macomb was awarded a $300,000 NSF grant in conjunction with Wayne State University to introduce new educational programming for college-level technicians, K-12 educators and professional training for emergency first responders and consumers regarding hybrid electric automotive engines and components.

“We all know that the last couple of years have been a very challenging time in Macomb County and throughout southeast Michigan,” Jacobs said. “The move to the New Economy has not been an easy one. We will continue to work with industry and governmental partners to develop pathways for residents in creating meaningful new career opportunities. We believe many of those opportunities will exist surrounding these new automotive technologies.”

More at www.macomb.edu.

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