CLEMSON — The quick rise of electric cars amid a global crackdown on tailpipe emissions is driving Clemson University to strengthen ties to India in a series of moves that some officials said could lead to new businesses in South Carolina.
Students and faculty members are shuttling between Clemson and India for a flurry of new exchange programs, most centering on the auto industry and PSG College of Technology in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
Activity began to surge last year after Tata Trusts, chaired by Ratan Tata, agreed to pay for five PSG students to work toward master’s degrees at the Clemson University-International Center for Automotive Engineering. The Tata Fellows program is among Clemson’s connections to Tata, who in 2015 received an honorary doctorate from the University in automotive engineering.
The collaboration has gone well, officials and students said, and the number of PSG students at CU-ICAR increased to nine when the fall semester began last week.
The various exchange programs are loosely connected, but could add up to a big impact on South Carolina, said Brij Khorana, chief scientific advisor for Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
“I think Clemson could become a household name in India in electric and hybrid vehicles and biomedical devices,” he said. “Once some of that recognition arises, the number of Indian-based companies that want to locate in Greenville will just keep increasing. We just need to keep building up those connections.”
Clemson’s collaborations with India come as momentum for electric vehicles picks up, even as gas prices remain low. More than 2 million electric vehicles are on the road around the world, and that number could rise to 40 million to 70 million by 2025, according to the International Energy Agency.
Major factors driving the growth include pollution concerns in congested cities, climate change, falling prices for electric cars and new advances in battery technology that allow vehicles to travel farther without being recharged.
The ripple effects are expected to hit South Carolina, where 66,000 people are employed in the auto industry.
Volvo, which is building a $500-million plant in Ladson, announced last month that all car models launched in 2019 and beyond will be electric, mild hybrid or plug-in hybrid. BMW announced last year that it wants electrified vehicles to represent 15-25 percent of its sales by 2025.
Proterra has its electric buses on the streets of Seneca and is working to expand in Greenville, the city where the company started and still has a manufacturing facility. The company also won an initial bid to provide 11 no-emission buses to Clemson Area Transit, according to The Greenville News.
The move to electric vehicles is territory that South Carolina and India have in common. The country of 1.3 billion people hopes to end sales of new gas and diesel vehicles by 2030. Tata Motors, India’s largest integrated automotive manufacturer, is planning to roll out an electric car.
India is forecast to be the world’s third largest auto market by 2020, according to IHS Markit.
Amid this backdrop, Clemson has formed new ties with India that include:
• Simona Onori, an assistant professor of automotive engineering at Clemson, is helping PSG College of Technology set up a lab to study electric- and hybrid-vehicle technology, similar to the one she has established at CU-ICAR .
• A conference on hybrid and electric vehicles that was held in India in January this year will have its sequel at CU-ICAR on Feb. 27, 2018.
Fred Cartwright, the executive director of CU-ICAR, said that the strategic collaborations are helping combine resources to do what no single institution could do on its own.
While electric vehicles represent about 60 percent of the focus, the collaborations also include work on developing sustainable materials, decreasing vehicle weight and connected and autonomous vehicles, he said.
“In the end, if we could get an electric vehicle company to open in the Upstate, it would be great,” Cartwright said. “It could be a smaller organization, or it could be a well-established organization. The bigger opportunity is to bring battery companies and other suppliers of EV technology to the state.”
One of the first beneficiaries of Clemson’s new ties to India was Sesha Sai Yalamuru, who was among the first five Tata Fellows at CU-ICAR. The honor comes with a full scholarship to study automotive engineering at Clemson and a stipend for living expenses and books, altogether totaling $29,000.
Yalamuru had a summer internship with automotive supplier Prettl and is now entering his second year as a master’s student at CU-ICAR. He hopes to work for a Tier 2 auto supplier after graduation.
“The first thing I noticed when I came here is that the faculty and staff were really great,” he said. “We also got free copies of software. Everything was up-to-date– the same software we would use if we went out into the automotive world.”
Akalya Anandan is also going into the second year of her master’s program, while working an internship at Magna Drive Automotive. She said she feels glad and lucky to be a Tata Fellow.
“My dream of studying toward a master’s degree has come true through this fellowship,” she said. “Ratan Tata provided me with the opportunity to explore further in my field of study, and I’m grateful for the opportunities the fellowship provided me.”
Funding for the nine PSG students at CU-ICAR comes from Tata Trusts, which is among India’s largest philanthropic organizations.
Tata Trusts controls 66 percent of Tata Sons, the principal investment holding company and promoter of Tata companies. The Tata group is a global enterprise, headquartered in India, comprising over 100 independent operating companies in diverse sectors such as automotive, steel, IT, communications, retail and consumer products, financial services and hospitality.
R. Venkataramanan, the managing trustee for Tata Trusts, said the Tata Fellows program at CU-ICAR is providing new opportunities in education, one of the organization’s key focus areas.
“The collaboration is giving nine students a chance at a world-class education in automotive engineering,” he said. “But even more than that, it is building a technology bridge between Clemson and PSG College of Technology. It is our hope that the tie-up, as it flowers, will provide much needed support to India’s automotive industry.”
The collaboration with PSG has also extended to faculty. Clemson’s visitors from India have included Suresh Kumar, who is an assistant professor at PSG College of Technology.
He took a class last November with Onori and learned about her lab at CU-ICAR, where she works on developing advanced algorithms to improve batteries performance and longevity for electric and hybrid vehicles. Kumar is now putting together a similar lab at PSG.
“I’m helping him select the testing equipment and showing what kind experiments he can do, what kind of answers he can get from data collected and how those answers are going to be helpful in his work with sponsors,” she said.
Onori expects to continue helping with the lab next year when she visits PSG as part of a distinguished professorship.
Onori’s work with PSG is of particular interest to Indian automotive manufacturer Jayem Automotive, which has a strategic partnership with Tata Motors and whose headquarters are in Coimbatore, the same city as PSG, said J. Anand, the company’s managing director.
“Research and design form the cornerstone of our business, and we see a bright future for electric vehicles,” he said. “We have close connections to Tata Motors and PSG College of Technology. The college’s collaboration with Clemson is fertile ground to explore an international public-private partnership.”
PSG College of Technology is among the 29 educational and health institutions founded by PSG & Sons’ Charities Trust since 1926.
L. Gopalakrishnan, chairman of the trust’s Governing Council, said the collaboration with Clemson is off to an auspicious start.
“The collaboration between Clemson University and PSG College of Technology is creating a bridge not only between two pioneering institutions but between two of the world’s largest nations,” he said. “We are empowering students in both countries and creating the conditions for innovation.”
The collaboration is expected to take a step forward next year when Clemson and PSG work together to hold the second International Conference on Automobile Engineering.
It will be at CU-ICAR and is expected to draw some of the world’s top experts in electric and hybrid vehicles.
The gathering’s first installment was held in January at PSG College of Technology and included five Clemson representatives, including Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
“We are planting seeds for the future in the United States and India,” he said. “Our combined strength in technology and education is providing students with global engagement experiences that enhance cross-cultural understanding. We are also ensuring industry will be well-supplied with the diverse, globally-aware and highly-skilled talent it needs to be competitive.”
Also at the first conference, PSG College of Technology recognized Khorana as the chief architect of the PSG-Clemson Partnership, enshrining the honor on a trophy he keeps in his CU-ICAR office.
This year’s installment will be held during South Carolina Auto Week and will fall one day before the start of the capstone event, the Auto Summit, which runs Feb. 28-March 2 in Greenville.
Subramanyan Neelakrishnan, head of the automobile department at PSG College of Technology, said the collaboration brings together two of the world’s leading automotive programs.
“This is opening new opportunities to provide students with international exposure and clearing a path for new research in areas of critical importance, including battery technology and manufacturing,” he said. “The collaboration is already having an impact as a new lab is established at PSG College of Technology and students succeed at CU-ICAR.”
The collaboration so far has centered on automotive engineering but could expand. Martine LaBerge, chair of Clemson’s Department of Bioengineering, said she is seeking ways to collaborate with PSG College of Technology.
“PSG’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has an international reputation for excellence, and we are exploring potential areas of collaboration,” she said. “We see potential for PSG students to study toward master’s and Ph.D. degrees at Clemson. There is also strong potential for the two institutions to work together to nurture medical-device businesses.”
Paul Alongi is a staff writer for Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.