NC State Hosts Sustainability Event

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The North Carolina State University in Raleigh hosted “Ford Forum and Drive Event on Sustainability” this past Wednesday, an event which explored the ways that governments, businesses and citizens can reduce their dependency on foreign oil while limiting our collective impact on the environment.

light bulbSponsored by the Ford Motor Company, I was invited to attend and decided to do so on behalf of a couple of automotive sites that I own as well as for SayCampusLife as I wanted to learn what the state university’s part in the program was. Indeed, I met Ewan Pritchard who is the Advanced Transportation Energy Center (ATEC) Program Manager, who explained to me that the university was heavily involved in working with major automakers, suppliers and utility companies to get behind several green initiatives (more about that later).

Environmental Sustainability Panel

Hosted by Harvey Schmitt of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, a panel discussion involving representatives from the Ford Motor Company, Progress Energy and Advanced Energy kicked off the forum. Just prior to their talk, I was able to test drive the all new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, a car just now arriving at Ford dealerships across the USA.  A Ford Escape Hybrid and Escape PHEV were also available to drive.

Dale Crombez represented Ford and spent his portion of the talk covering the automaker’s hybrid strategy. He explained how regenerative braking works, stating that the energy from the Fusion’s brake system is used to power the battery which makes the hybrid system work. Crombez also discussed Ford’s plans for the coming years which includes its an all electric version of its Transit Connect van in 2010, followed by additional hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.

Robert Caldwell represented Progress Energy sharing his company’s role in promoting electric transportation. Specifically, he mentioned three key reasons why electric power is the way to go:

  1. Cleaner — Electric vehicles mean reduced vehicle emissions.
  2. Cheaper — The “fuel” costs less than gas. Electricity can cost just 1/4 the price of gasoline.
  3. Domestic — Reduces our dependency on foreign oil.

Progress Energy is one of a handful of energy companies across the USA who are taking part in Ford’s PHEV (plug-in electric vehicle) program where the automaker lends prototype electric vehicles to these companies in order to get a real life perspective of the technology. Progress Energy is likely to play an important part in preparing homes for EV use.

Jeffrey Barghout represented Advanced Energy, choosing to discuss “NC Get Energy” an initiative designed to help North Carolina find its place in creating energy related jobs and establishing a network of electric stations around the state. Barghout reiterated Progress Energy’s viewpoint that electric power is economically feasible, cleaner and promotes national security.

The Advanced Transportation Energy Center

Now back to what is going on at NC State. As the technology university for the state of North Carolina, the university was tasked by former governor Mike Easley in 2008 to undertake a program to help bring about cleaner technology, specifically related to the automobile industry. ATEC has been tasked with:

  • Developing a battery that is lighter, stronger and cheaper. This effort will utilize lithium-ion technology in a bid to reduce the current $10,000 cost to around $3,000.
  • Establish a grid power system for people to recharge their cars along the state’s highway system.
  • Building a safer and lighter and more aerodynamic car.

ATEC is at the center of the state’s effort to promote renewable energy and to create jobs based on this industry.

College campuses are typically one of the best places to hold these types of events as today’s students will become tomorrow’s product users. As the technology comes closer to fruition, schools across the country will play a key part in shaping the direction where it’ll be going many years down the line.

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Photo Credit: Andrzej Gdula

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