Illinois Tech Hosts U.S. Secretary of Energy for Roundtable on Electric Vehicles

Government and industry leaders and consumer advocates gathered on Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus last week to discuss the future of electric vehicles in a U.S. Department of Energy-led roundtable



By Kevin Dollear
US Energy Secretary Granholm hosts EV roundtable at Illinois Tech

Building on its reputation as a hub for pioneering tech advancements and as a nexus to chart the path forward in green energy technology, Illinois Institute of Technology hosted a roundtable discussion on October 12, 2023, highlighting electric vehicles with United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, consumer advocates, and leaders of the rental car industry. 

Granholm thanked Illinois Tech for hosting the important discussion about the commercial future of electric vehicles, highlighting and applauding the university’s own groundbreaking research in green technology.  

“We are grateful to be at Illinois Institute of Technology for this important roundtable and at the Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation. When reading about your vision and its principles for the institute, I was quite inspired by what you had to say and how in tune it is with your mission and why we’re here in Chicago,” said roundtable moderator, Alycia Gilde, the national manager for ZEV (zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) partnerships and engagement for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office. “The principles spoke to serving a role as an engine for opportunity, being a national leader in economic mobility, fueling the future of innovation, and exemplifying purpose-driven citizenship for local communities.”

Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi introduced the roundtable discussion and highlighted three of the university’s researchers and their innovations in the field of EVs and green tech: Henry R. Linden Professor of Engineering Hamid Arastoopour, who also serves as director of the Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research (WISER); Professor Matthew Spenko, one of the leaders of Illinois Tech’s team in the DOE’s EcoCAR EV Challenge, a  four-year collegiate automotive-engineering competition that is also sponsored by General Motors and MathWork; and Assistant Professor Mohammad Asadi, whose novel lithium-air battery design was recently published in the journal Science and has the potential to store four times more energy than current technology, revolutionizing the capabilities of electrified transportation.

“It  was an honor to host this roundtable with Secretary Granholm and leaders in industry. This is well-deserved recognition of Illinois Tech as a leader in sustainable energy research and the work of our incredible faculty,” Echambadi said after the event. “As Illinois Tech continues its legacy as a catalyst for innovation, it’s inspiring  to see meaningful collaboration between government, academia, and industry to address some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

Granholm highlighted the importance of the rental vehicle industry for the future of EVs, noting that rental cars are often the first experience that consumers have with them, and she praised industry leaders’ eagerness to electrify their fleets and ensure that EVs are available for their customers. Granholm outlined the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure plan, a $5 billion project to help states build EV charging sites, including about 150 million in Illinois over five years.

Also participating in the roundtable were representatives of the American Car Rental Association, who acknowledged the Biden administration’s investments into EV infrastructure and voiced optimism about the future of electric vehicles.

Following the discussion, Granholm and her team visited the Bronzeville Microgrid, where she spoke with community leaders and Illinois Tech experts about microgrid technology.

Granholm’s visit to Illinois Tech’s campus was arranged through University Distinguished Professor Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation and associate director of WISER. Shahidehpour has worked closely with the Department of Energy—including securing an $8 million grant for the development of Illinois Tech’s own microgrid

Illinois Tech’s microgrid was one of the first functional smart-campus microgrids in the country and has become a paradigm for other microgrids that have followed. It has saved Illinois Tech $10 million over 10 years, including an average of $200,000 per year in energy savings, and has provided reliable, sustainable power on campus while serving as an invaluable learning resource for Illinois Tech students and the greater Chicago community.

“Secretary Granholm’s recognition of the innovations developed here at Illinois Tech is humbling and invigorating,” said Shahidehpour. “Illinois Tech’s research into microgrids and sustainable energy has always been driven by an aspiration to create a transformative impact on our communities and the broader environment. Secretary Granholm’s visit has underscored the tremendous potential and vital importance of our work, ensuring that we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in energy research for the betterment of society.”

Photo: Illinois Tech President Raj Echambadi, left, participates in a roundtable discussion on electric vehicles and the rental car industry with U.S. Secretary of State Jennifer Granholm, right. To Echambadi’s left are Shonna Jackson from U.S. Congressman Jonathan L. Jackson (D-1st)’s office; Kara Eastman, a representative from the National Consumers League; Damon Aldrich and Mike Filomena from Enterprise Holdings; and Alycia Gilde, national manager for ZEV partnerships and engagement with the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, who moderated the discussion.