In rare form: Boosting EV sustainability with non-rare earth material drivetrains

Hi, readers. Here we are, driving toward the weekend. We start today’s headlines with people who are driving innovation in the transportation field, especially for electric vehicles.

Electric vehicle charging station. Photo by Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious.

🚌 TRANSPORTATION:

  • Niron Magnetics in Minneapolis is partnering with Marquette University in Milwaukee and General Motors to develop next-generation electric vehicle drivetrains that do not contain rare earth materials. The drivetrains are expected to be more sustainable and cost-effective than existing models.

  • Public transit agencies in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin are among the dozens nationwide to receive federal funding to support transitioning diesel buses to electric.

  • A lot of U.S. cities have success with electrifying their public transit bus fleet, but Indianapolis’s transit agency, IndyGo, scrapped its electric city bus program in February. Mass Transit magazine takes a look at what went wrong, suggesting that EV bus technology is still good.

  • Former Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle startup ThorDrive has moved to Cincinnati and aims to have proofs of concept in a couple of weeks and marketable units by the end of next year, reports Cincy Inno. The business cites a partnership with Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport for AV testing as critical to vehicle development.

🌞 SOLAR: The Grand Rapids Public Utilities Commission in Minnesota approved Minnesota Power’s plan for the region’s first solar-plus-battery storage project in the region. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to implement and learn about solar-plus-storage technology,” Julie Pierce, vice president of Minnesota Power strategy and planning, said in a news release.

🌊 WATER: The University of Illinois is leading a team working to clean agricultural drainage water by installing denitrifying bioreactors and saturated buffers. Goals include making these innovations work better, increasing their use across the Midwest, and populating a database with details of all bioreactors and saturated buffers in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

A University of Illinois researcher explains the inner workings of a saturated buffer for cleaning agricultural drainage water.

🍴 FOOD: Accenture launched a food innovation center on its campus in Chicago for collaborative work on mitigating global food system challenges including food waste, reports the Chicago Tribune. Stakeholders from multiple industries will share ideas and test technologies — such as vertical farming and blockchain — for solving food chain problems such as sustainability.

🏆 HONORS: Wisconsin’s We Energies and Minnesota’s Xcel Energy received regional awards from PA Consulting in the 20th annual ReliabilityOne awards. The program recognizes North American utilities that are top performers in categories including technology and innovation. We Energies won for the Midwest region and Xcel won for the Plains region.

🗺️ JUUST OUTSIDE THE MIDWEST: Sandia National Laboratories and Albuquerque-based Guardian Sensors developed a polymer to help extinguish solar panel fires before they ignite. The polymer is inside the electrical in-line connector, which automatically predicts and prevents photovoltaic arc-faults. That's important as solar panels become more powerful.

If there were a spark, a special polymer developed by Sandia National Laboratories within the in-line connectors would melt and a spring would extend inside the connector to facilitate a larger spark gap and stop the flames. Photo courtesy of Kenny Armijo.

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Centered is a publication of the Energy News Network, in partnership with the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation and mHUB.