VW, Partners Pushing Materials, EV Charging Innovations in Tennessee

The Innovation Hub is in a region known as Materials Valley because of the concentration of research groups working in the materials-science disciplines.

This structure, made up of small liquid-resin pyramids, is 60% lighter than the steel currently used to house EV battery packs. (Volkswagen)

Volkswagen announced recently that its three-year-old Innovation Hub in Knoxville, Tenn., is making major gains in lightweighting, EV wireless charging and sustainable interior materials. Volkswagen’s Innovation Hub specializes in applied materials science and frequently collaborates with neighbors the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Lab.

The innovation hub includes a complex electrical grid simulator so researchers can see the effects of various charging methods. (Volkswagen)
Like many automotive OEMs, VW is striving to specify more-sustainable materials for its interior parts. (Volkswagen)

“We are accelerating innovation with electric vehicles and contributing more to sustainable transportation in America by focusing our efforts on some of the most transformative automotive research being done in the country,” said Pablo Di SI, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, in a release. He said that the research partnerships are a “unique blend of world-class academic research and Volkswagen’s leading industry capabilities.”

The Innovation Hub is in a region known as Materials Valley because of the concentration of research groups working in the materials-science disciplines. Volkswagen outlined a few of the group’s programs:

  • High-power wireless charging: This system, which would require a driver to merely park over a charging pad in a normal garage spot, has been tested at 120 kW, a considerable improvement over the 6.6-kW prototype with which researchers started. Their goal is 300 kW. The coil-and-charging-pad design uses silicon-carbide architecture.
  • Lightweight parts from new composites: Joining a trend of companies such as Magna and other vehicle-interiors suppliers that are exploring sustainable (and potentially stronger) interior materials, the team created a liftgate for a 2020 Atlas SUV using sheet molding compound (SMC). The liftgate made with SMC, a fiberglass-reinforced plastic, is more than 35% lighter than the current production version. That kind of savings could help increase the range of EVs without requiring larger, more-expensive batteries.
  • The liftgate also is designed to be incorporated into the Atlas’ current production line, so no changes in assembly sequence would be required. The new material already is being used in manufacturing the Bentley Continental and the Lamborghini Aventador.
  • Lighter battery box: Using AI and a high-performance computing cluster to crunch through millions of parameters, the Hub developed a modular design for the steel box that holds and protects an EV’s battery pack. The structure comprises small pyramids and can be 3D-primted out of liquid resin. The researchers say it can hold 30,000 times its weight and is 60% lighter than current steel battery enclosures. In testing, it proved to be more durable than current production versions.
Research team’s goal is to eventually get this wireless charging device to 300-kW charge rates. (Volkswagen)

Volkswagen said its Innovation Hub research is key to the company delivering on its goal of having 80% of vehicles sold in Europe be EVs by 2030. For the United States, that goal is 50%. Volkswagen also has R&D centers in Belmont, Calif; Wolfsburg, Germany, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and Beijing.