Opinion: UGA ready to support Georgia’s booming EV ecosystem

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Jere W. Morehead is the president of the University of Georgia, and S. Jack Hu is the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

In a guest column, the pair detail UGA’s involvement in Georgia’s growing electric transportation effort, along with other research contributions by university staff.

By Jere W. Morehead and S. Jack Hu

Investments in electric mobility-related projects have contributed $23 billion to our state’s economy since 2018, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. These projects include SK Battery America’s plant in Commerce, Rivian’s electric truck manufacturing complex near Atlanta, and Hyundai Motor Group’s first fully dedicated electric vehicle (EV) and battery manufacturing facility near Savannah.

Credit: Courtesy of UGA

Credit: Courtesy of UGA

Georgia’s momentum in the rapidly evolving EV sector is impressive, and our state’s leaders and business community deserve a great deal of credit for nurturing this vibrant ecosystem. As the flagship of the state’s system of higher education, the University of Georgia is committed to working alongside state and local government, business and industry, and our sister institutions to help Georgia build upon this remarkable opportunity.

On April 21, UGA hosted its second annual E-Mobility Summit. Industry leaders, government officials, researchers and economic development professionals came together to explore opportunities to advance the adoption of electric mobility, the educational programs needed to support the industry’s growth, and the future of e-mobility in Georgia and beyond. Connecting these key stakeholders is a vital step toward accelerating the EV industry’s momentum in Georgia.

As part of the summit, UGA announced new investments and initiatives designed to expand our footprint in e-mobility research and education. These efforts include an interdisciplinary faculty hiring initiative aimed at attracting 10 leading researchers and educators in areas such as engineering, public policy, business and public service and outreach.

We also created a $2 million seed grant program designed to jump-start new and innovative faculty research around e-mobility. Highlighting our strong collaboration with industry, Georgia Power announced a $5 million investment in UGA at the summit that will support partnerships with communities and other University System of Georgia institutions.

Credit: Courtesy of UGA

Credit: Courtesy of UGA

UGA’s strength in teaching, research and service makes it a powerful asset in the development of Georgia’s electric mobility industry. In fiscal year 2022, our research and development expenditures surpassed $545 million, a 55.8% increase over the past nine years. In addition, UGA consistently ranks among the top five U.S. universities for the number of research-based products brought to market by industry partners, and we rank among the top 30 universities for active startup companies created by our faculty. More than 900 products and over 200 companies have sprung from UGA research.

From vaccines and immunology to precision agriculture and cognitive health, UGA is engaged in next-generation research that promises to benefit the citizens of Georgia and people around the world. Recent examples include our work with Dalan Animal Health to conduct field trials on the world’s first honeybee vaccine. The vaccine would combat spread of a disease that puts entire colonies of these vital pollinators at risk.

Last year, UGA established the Institute for Integrative Precision Agriculture. The new institute will strengthen industry ties and catalyze interdisciplinary research to help sustainably feed the growing global population. The Johnny Isakson Center for Neurological Disease Research, also launched in 2022, is developing therapeutic strategies for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease.

To support this burgeoning research enterprise, UGA continues to make significant investments in state-of-the-art facilities that are critical to attracting the best and brightest students and world-renowned researchers. The Interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Research Complex, completed last fall, adds more than 200,000 square feet of new space for instruction and collaborative research in chemistry, engineering and other scientific disciplines. A new Poultry Science Building, now under construction, will solidify UGA as a global leader in poultry research.

The trajectory of UGA’s research enterprise is one of many factors propelling the university’s economic impact on Georgia to a record $7.6 billion in 2022. An expansion of public service and outreach activities and growth in the number of degrees conferred at the undergraduate and graduate levels added to UGA’s growing impact. Two out of every three UGA graduates remain in Georgia to work, making significant, positive and sustained contributions to economic prosperity and quality of life in our state.

As a land-grant and sea-grant institution, UGA has a strong and special relationship with the great state we call home. We use our expertise and resources to improve lives and strengthen communities across Georgia. By further accelerating the growth of Georgia’s booming EV sector, we are seizing an exciting opportunity to fulfill this mission.