Automotive Campus: Creating a Greener Future

Electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems will power our economic and environmental future

After traveling via train to Eindhoven yesterday, we spent our first full day in and around Eindhoven today (July 5). Within fifteen minutes of leaving the city, we were biking through the countryside, alongside a beautiful canal and a seemingly ceaseless row of old trees. Eventually, we came upon Helmond, sometimes called the “automotive city” because of its role in vehicle innovation. In Helmond, we visited the “Automotive Campus,” where we listened to two presentations focused on the future of vehicles and their intersection with smart cities. We also were able to look around a workshop on the Automotive Campus where students from Fontys University (in Eindhoven) build their own electric cars, one of which drove to Berlin with only one recharge. While we didn’t learn much about the technical aspects of these student-built electric cars, it was impressive to witness an example of the hands-on learning that students in the Netherlands participate in to further their education and to hear about the companies that financially support this technical, hands-on form of learning. We picked up a great deal of information during our first day in Eindhoven, but I thought some of the best insights were on the future of electric vehicles and innovation ecosystems.

Just ten minutes out of Eindhoven, we already reached beautiful green areas surrounding the city.
We were able to bike alongside a beautiful canal for much of the bike ride to the Automotive Campus.
We arrived at about 1:00 at the Automotive Campus.

Both presenters prefaced the importance of transitioning to electric vehicles by mentioning the impending threat to the Netherlands from climate change. While Eindhoven would be safe, most other major Dutch cities could be underwater in mere decades if no major action occurs to combat climate change. That’s why the innovation occurring at the Automotive Campus is so crucial. Our first presentation focused on smart and green mobility, with our presenter Daniel introducing us to facts and goals for the Netherlands. The largest ambition for the nation is having one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in 2025, a huge increase from the current amount of 113,000 registered EVs. It’s pretty appealing for the Dutch to embrace EVs because gas costs are very high here, making electric a better economic and environmental option. Along with the increase in EVs will come an increase in public and private chargepoints for EVs, although our presenter emphasized that he thought the main increase would occur in private chargepoints (either at workplaces or homes).

After our presentations at the Automotive Campus, we went to a workshop where engineers and Fontys University students were piecing together electric cars.
We left the day having learned a great deal about Automotive Campus, Fontys, and all their partners. All in all, this day was fascinating and a huge success.

When electric vehicles are mentioned, the conversation often focuses around cars. But the Netherlands is truly looking to the future by investing in heavy duty electric powertrains and e-buses. As of now, 43 e-buses operate in Eindhoven and 100 operate in Amsterdam. The most complex question around e-buses is the time it takes to recharge the buses, but there seems to also be a solution for that in the Netherlands. Faster chargers, also known as superchargers, can charge a bus in as little as twenty minutes. Fast recharging could make e-buses a more viable option for public transit across the world. Because of more and more e-buses, public transportation will cause less pollution and more cars can be taken off the road, decreasing traffic and increasing efficiency.

Here is the electric engine of a beautiful white convertible, showing that while expensive, it is possible to move from a typical gas vehicle to an electric one.
Fontys students work together on elements of their “homemade” electric car.
Students listen as more is explained about building electric cars and about some specific successes of Fontys students.

In these two presentations, we also learned more about innovation ecosystems and knowledge clustering, an important part of smart cities that we have already looked at earlier in the trip. Our second presenter, Bram, discussed the so-called “triple helix,” otherwise known as the cooperation between knowledge institutes, government, and industry. This close cooperation allows innovation to occur in an environment where it is in the best interests of economic growth as well as individuals’ well-being. The triple helix is a form of knowledge clustering, with different parties bringing different viewpoints to the table and helping to create a smarter region, country, and world. These concepts are economic boons for startups and innovation and could be successfully implemented more in cities across the United States and the rest of the world.

-Joseph Womble

Automotive campus is a playground for transportation innovation

Green mobility innovations will make for an exciting future for cities

Our first class day while in Eindhoven began with the group biking to the Automotive Campus in Helmond. The Automotive Campus hosts a variety of startups that focus on innovations that will improve the efficiency of automobiles as well as help move toward the transition to electric vehicles. After our lecture we visited a workshop on the campus that is an extension of Fontys University of Applied Sciences. We made a trip to the university yesterday and today had the opportunity to see more of the kind of technical work that universities in the Netherlands do in order to foster relationships with universities and help prepare students to enter the workforce and think like “gamechangers.”

In the hall of the automotive campus is a map of automotive organizations in the Netherlands.

Our class time was in two parts: one lecture focused on innovations that are being worked on that will enable full automation of transportation and the other one focused on the transition to electric vehicles and how this would operate in an urban system. As part of the development of smart cities, we mostly talked about electric vehicles in the context of public transportation in urban areas. Green Mobility would include private cars and car sharing in addition to electric trains. Electric vehicles and automation together will decrease energy demand while also eliminating fossil fuel emissions with platooning, or the communication between automobiles and traffic lights.

Electric vehicle single-passenger charging outside of the automotive campus building.

The social implications of automation include more efficient use of space in cities. This is really important when thinking about the challenges that many European cities face when trying to expand outward. Automated vehicles and car sharing services within cities come with great potential for the development of public space due to less of a need for parking space within cities. Although less parking would mean a decrease of revenue for cities there could be more housing developments within the city. The introduction of more green spaces would improve water retention within cities as well as protect the air quality in cities.

Students watching engineering students in the Fonty’s university workshop.

Shared workspaces are an important aspect in supporting an innovation ecosystem with the development of new and improved technologies and data collection. Chapel Hill and many other cities in the United States would greatly benefit from more investments in public transportation. Public transportation intersects many different aspects of sustainability as it can decrease the carbon footprint while decreasing the collective cost of transportation resources within a city. Transportation also promotes social equity by making more of the city accessible to more people.

Timeline graphics in the hall of the Automotive campus show automobile development and innovation. They also include pivotal legislation restricting air pollution and the transition to more sustainable solutions.

As we have seen modeled in our visits to universities is that there is great potential for knowledge sharing when using triple helix solution models; using partnerships between the government, industry and universities to solve problems and improve cities. What we have found during our time in the Netherlands is how the transition toward renewable energy solutions and smart city planning is much more urgent when considering the serious consequences of climate change. Hopefully government and industry in the United States will soon realize the benefits of these innovations in strengthening the economy using the triple helix model to move the US to the forefront of innovative technology.

-Marques Wilson