New engineering research center aims to electrify transportation, expand education

CU Boulder will play a major role in a new center focused on developing infrastructure and systems that facilitate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

ASPIRE-Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification-will explore a diverse range of transportation questions, from electrified highways that energize vehicles to the placement of charging stations, data security and workforce development.


Qin Christine Lv

Dragan Maksimovic works with a student

Qin (Christine) Lv discusses the four areas of research within ASPIRE. (Credit: CU Boulder) Bottom: Dragan Maksimovic working with a student, before COVID-19. (Credit: CU Boulder)

The center is funded by a $26 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and is led by Utah State University. CU Boulder will receive $4 million over the first five years. If renewed for another five years, CU Boulder will receive another $4 million out of the total $50.6 million grant.

“CU Boulder has a well-earned reputation as a leader in sustainability-focused research and innovation,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Terri Fiez. “ASPIRE will provide our researchers with an exciting new opportunity for global impact through the collaborative reimagining of the future of transportation as we know it.”

ASPIRE’s work will be based on research, education and workforce development, diversity and culture of inclusion, and innovation-and aims to improve health and quality of life for everyone by catalyzing sustainable and equitable electrification across the transportation industries.

“We need to understand the factors that are impacting the development and adoption of this technology so that we’re solving the right problems,” said Qin (Christine) Lv, ASPIRE’s CU Boulder campus director and co-Principal Investigator of the Engineering Research Center.

ASPIRE will create a connected system encompassing K-12 experiences, undergraduate and graduate degrees, trades and professional workforce learning pathways, with seamless transitions among them, to develop a diverse engineering workforce trained to support cross-industry transformations.

“Convergent multidisciplinary thinking together with diversity and culture of inclusion will be tightly integrated into our curricula and research projects. We aim to break boundaries among disciplines and develop a diverse engineering workforce whose members strive for inclusion and equity for all, not only in engineering, but also in the society as a whole. Our students are excited about opportunities to contribute to the electrified transportation infrastructure based on sustainable, environmentally sound, just and equitable solutions,” said Dragan Maksimovic, co-director of ASPIRE’s Engineering Workforce Development, member of the power research thrust and co-director of the Colorado Power Electronics Center (CoPEC).

An interdisciplinary engineering effort


Group photo of CU faculty involved in ASPIRE

Electric car

Top: ASPIRE CU Boulder faculty, staff and students pose for a photo before COVID-19. From left to right: Marija Markovic, Ana Maria Ospina Sierra, Katharine Ann Doubleday, Dragan Maksimovic, Beth Myers, Bri-Mathias Hodge, Jana Milford, Sebastian Damm, Associate Dean Massimo Ruzzene, Nick A. Stites, Qin (Christine) Lv, Emiliano Dall’Anese, Jennifer Taylor. (Credit: USU) Bottom: Partners in ASPIRE include the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. Shown here is the Power Systems Lab in the Energy systems Integration Facility. (Credit: NREL)

Under research, ASPIRE will focus on transportation, adoption, power and data. When this proposal was first presented to Lv, she saw great potential for data analytics research and application.

“If you look at all these pieces, there are a lot of data-and data really can play a very important role in terms of connecting the different components together,” said Lv, who will lead the data research thrust within ASPIRE.

Data is important for electrifying transportation not only because it can help plan how much charge is available at which charging stations and when, but where they should be built, based on traffic data, consumer preferences and more.

“We’re looking at various kinds of scenarios where you can get data and leverage data to analyze the patterns, to optimize or plan and also to improve the performance of the system,” said Lv.

Data security is also important to protect charging infrastructures and individual vehicles from malicious attacks.

CU Boulder faculty from multiple departments within the College of Engineering and Applied Science are involved with ASPIRE.

In addition to Lv from the Department of Computer Science, they include Dragan Maksimovic, Bri-Mathias Hodge and Emiliano Dall’anese of the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; Jana Milford from the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Environmental Engineering Program; and Jacquelyn Sullivan and Nick Stites from the Engineering Plus Program and Integrated Teaching and Learning Program.

“Advancements like this require interdisciplinary engineering efforts. That is why faculty with diverse backgrounds from across our departments and programs make up the core of this new center,” said Keith Molenaar, the college’s interim dean. “The questions they will study are important ones here in Colorado, across our nation and around the globe. I have no doubt that we will see the impact of their work on our transportation systems in the near future.”

The new ASPIRE director is Regan Zane, previously a professor of electrical and computer engineering at CU Boulder, where he also received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering. ASPIRE builds on the multi-institutional, industry-sponsored Center for Sustainable Electrified Transportation, known as SELECT, that Zane launched in 2015.

While headquartered at Utah State, it will be operated through strategic partnerships with several universities, including Purdue University, University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Auckland New Zealand. Additional partners include researchers at Colorado State University, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Virginia Tech and Cornell University and four national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Lab.

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