New Venture | Origins of NTRC | Hitting
Transportation Issues Head-On
is now a magnet for transportation researchers and businesses that should
help propel the transportation revolution. The National Transportation
Research Center (NTRC) recently opened its doors in northwest Knox County.
NTRC brings together under one roof some 160 researchers120 from
Oak Ridge National Laboratory and 40 from the University of Tennessee.
With the researchers combining their expertise and the center's state-of-the-art
equipment, the NTRC should help solve complex national problems, make
the U.S. transportation industry more competitive, and attract transportation-related
firms and transportation research talent to the region.
On April 8, 1999,
U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan,
Jr., presided over the official groundbreaking of the $15 million NTRC
facility at the intersection of Pellissippi Parkway and Hardin Valley
Road. "The National Transportation Research Center is a transportation
solution that will improve safety and service for the American people
in the new century and the new millennium," said Secretary Slater.
"Just as we created a blueprint for an interstate highway system that
tied our nation together, the NTRC will help us create a 21st
century blueprint for a high-tech transportation system that saves lives,
money, and time." Calling the NTRC one of his top priorities, Duncan
said that the project" will greatly enhance the ability of the U.S.
transportation industry to access the research and technological capabilities"
of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
National Transportation Research Center in East Tennessee.
(Photo by Jim Richmond; enhanced by Vicki Beets.)
The NTRC, a collaborative
effort among the Department of Energy, ORNL, the University of Tennessee
(UT), and The Development Corporation of Knox County (TDC), was built
in less than two years on a six-acre site in the Pellissippi Corporate
Center. TDC initiated the idea for building NTRC, Inc., and provided
the site at a reduced price to the developer. Construction funds for
the 83,000-square-foot facility came from Pellissippi Investors LLC,
which will lease the facility to ORNL and UT separately. Major support
for the facility comes from DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable
Energy. The Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee (CROET) provided
capital equipment grants totaling nearly $3 million.
"Our emphasis will be
on getting technology out to the private sector as quickly as possible,"
says Bob Honea, an ORNL manager named NTRC director. "The center represents
a bold new venture that departs from the traditional ways in which government,
industry, and the public sector have operated. For example, our transportation
researchers from ORNL will no longer be behind a guarded fence, so they
will be more accessible to private companies needing help with their
brings important capabilities and assets to the facility, which we expect
to attract the best talent available in transportation fields. The center
and NTRC, Inc., will build upon and expand DOE's existing partnership
with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation
and the Department of Defense."
one of the ORNL researchers who has moved to the NTRC, believes that
the existence of the center and NTRC, Inc., will open up new lines of
research and sources of funding beyond what DOE offers. "We may have
easier access to funding from the automakers, the oil companies, the
National Science Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trust," he says.
industry, government, universities, and other laboratories around the
country can call upon NTRC, Inc., for expertise in many different fields
of transportation. NTRC researchers are determining the energy efficiency
of vehicles and engines and the effectiveness of their emissions-control
systems. Some are looking at ways to improve road-paving materials.
Others offer advice on packaging and transporting hazardous materials
and high-value products. Research is being conducted on intelligent
transportation systems, defense transportation and logistics, transportation
manufacturing research, composite materials for vehicles, and geographic
information systems used to identify alternative transportation routes
around congestion. Computer simulations of car crashes and other research
methods will be used to find ways to improve vehicle safety and to evaluate
the performance of new lighter-weight materials. The NTRC will also
house researchers doing planning and policy analysis concerning vehicle
fuel efficiency and energy use in the transportation sector.
The UT Center
for Transportation Research will be conducting research at NTRC on how
to make car interiors safer and how to prevent injury to body extremities
in car crashes. UT researchers will also be investigating better paving
materials and improved bridge beam construction. (See UT
Goal: Safer Trips.) UT brings to the NTRC several nationally
recognized R&D programs in transportation logistics and advanced
vehicle technologies, with a base funding approaching $20 million. The
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory at the NTRC, which is
staffed mostly by UT researchers, is developing a map-based application
that allows Tennessee Department of Transportation planners to identify
roadway deficiencies and model recommended improvements to determine
the costs and benefits of construction projects. The GIS group is also
involved in a number of military logistics projects, such as identifying
potential bridge and interchange deficiencies along convoy routes and
prescribing alternate routes if necessary. (See Transportation
Planners Aided by GIS Research, Defense
Transportation and Logistics Research.) Specialized transportation
research laboratories at NTRC and ORNL that have the best modern equipment
will be available to users. DOE brings to the NTRC the scientific and
technical capabilities of ORNL plus its existing funding base of nearly
$80 million in transportation research and development (R&D) from
How did the NTRC begin?
"It all began on September 10, 1993," Honea says. "A group of movers
and shakers doing transportation research at ORNL decided at an off-site
meeting at the Tellico Village Yacht Club that it would really be great
to get together in one building. At that time we were scattered all
over the Oak Ridge Complex and rarely saw each other except at off-site
meetings. But when we got together, things really clicked and we found
we all had a lot in common. So I was asked to begin looking for a building
to house the group. Initially, we thought about asking UT if the university
would be willing to build a facility to sublease to us, but UT's administrative
management couldn't do that.
"We had almost
given up when TDC expressed interest in helping us build the facility.
Then TDC officials decided that their charter only allowed them to provide
land, not construct buildings. Later, we evolved the idea of including
in the building some transportation research labs as user facilities
for outside researchers. In that way we were able to get DOE support.
We talked to several private investors and looked at many sites before
we settled on the Pellissippi Parkway site. Mr. Stan Roy, Mr. Milus
Skidmore, and the Malicote family, who own Dixie Roofing, Inc. (whose
president is Mike Malicote), formed a partnership called Pellissippi
Investors to bid on the project using private funds to construct the
building. We are now beginning to enjoy a fantastic facility."
Transportation Issues Head-On
The U.S. transportation
system, which has long been a key to the success of our American economy,
is a source of problems that could be partially solved by technology.
Integrated technologies and appropriate policies could revolutionize
the American transportation system so that its value to the economy
is no longer undermined by its external costs. NTRC researchers are
working on technological solutions to these transportation issues. Following
is a look at some of these transportation issues and the solutions proposed
by NTRC researchers.
American transportation system is responsible for one-third of the energy
we use and one-third of our carbon dioxide emissions, which could contribute
to unwanted climate changes.
One approach to
solving these problems is to educate the public about the importance
of buying cars and trucks that use fuel more efficiently so that less
carbon dioxide is emitted. David Greene of ORNL's Energy Division is
helping this effort through www.fueleconomy.gov,
a Web site he manages and writes for DOE. The Web site, which was designed
by UT's Janet Hopson, has been named "site of the day" by Yahoo (an
Internet company) and USA TODAY. It gets 1000 visitors a day.
According to Clean
Energy for the 21st Century, a document by DOE's Office of
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which funds much of the
research at NTRC, "DOE and six other federal agencies are working with
the major U.S.-based auto makers in the Partnership for a New Generation
of Vehicles (PNGV), which has the goal of creating by 2004 a full-size
car that achieves 80 miles per gallon, without sacrificing safety, affordability,
or other features we expect in an American car."
researchers are working on these transportation technologies.
Using PNGV funds,
ORNL researchers are studying better and cheaper ways to manufacture
lightweight carbon-fiber composites to replace steel for body parts
and other components of advanced vehicles; the lighter the vehicle,
the less fuel it will require. They are also developing smaller electric
motors and power electronics modules for hybrid vehicles, to make them
more efficient. Hybrid vehicles use less gasoline or diesel fuel because
they have an electric motor to help power the wheels during acceleration
and stopping. (Some of the composites and electric motor researchers
have their roots in the Oak Ridge gas centrifuge program of the early
1980s, which sought to develop a more efficient way to produce enriched
uranium for nuclear power plants.) NTRC researchers will also be measuring
the speed, power, and overall energy efficiency of engines and vehicles
(especially foreign cars incorporating new technologies, to compare
them with new American models). For this research, they will use engine
dynamometers and a chassis dynamometer, which is like a treadmill for
a car. One goal of this research is to help the U.S. automobile industry
become more competitive in the world marketplace.
of our growing transportation needs, half of the oil our nation uses
is imported, jeopardizing our national security and economic health.
According to www.fueleconomy.gov,
"The vast majority of the world's oil reserves are concentrated in the
Middle East (65% to 75%), and controlled by the members of the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel. Transportation accounts
for two-thirds of total U.S. petroleum use and nearly all of the high-value
petroleum products, like gasoline and distillate fuel. In the past,
dependence on oil has cost our economy dearly. Oil price shocks and
price manipulation by the OPEC cartel from 1979 to 1991 cost the U.S.
economy about $4 trillion, almost as much as we spent on national defense
over the same time period and more than the interest payments on the
national debt. Each major price shock of the past three decades was
followed by an economic recession in the United States. With growing
U.S. imports and increasing world dependence on OPEC oil, future price
shocks are possible and would be costly to the U.S. economy."
One possible solution
to this problem is to encourage more people to buy and drive hybrid
vehicles. ORNL and UT are working on this challenge. NTRC researchers
are developing the smaller electric motors and power electronics modules
required for hybrid cars and fuel-cell electric cars.
supplies are being gobbled up so fast that future generations may not
have much fuel left for transportation. According to www.fueleconomy.gov,
"It took more than 200 million years to form all of the oil beneath
the surface of the earth. It has taken 200 years to consume half that
endowment. If current rates of consumption were to continue, the world's
remaining resources of conventional oil would be used up in 40 years."
One approach to
sustaining future generations is to use alternative fuels from renewable
sources, such as ethanol, to power cars and trucks. ORNL researchers
are developing ways to produce more ethanol from corn and waste wood,
using better enzymes and microorganisms. Other ORNL scientists are looking
at ways to genetically alter hybrid poplar trees and switchgrass so
that they hold more carbon as they grow, making them even better sources
As part of EERE's
effort to expand the use of alternative fuel vehicles, which use ethanol,
natural gas, methanol, or electricity, ORNL has a fleet of "green cars"
that operate on E-85 fuel, which is 85% ethanol. EERE is also seeking
to stimulate the development of a refueling station infrastructure throughout
because of transportation, air quality is declining in our metropolitan
areas and national parks, aggravating the health of people with respiratory
illnesses. ORNL researchers at the Advanced Propulsion Technology
Center, a user facility that is being relocated to the NTRC, are studying
the effects of high-sulfur and low-sulfur gasoline and diesel fuel on
the emissions of vehicles with advanced emission control systems. Too
much sulfur can poison advanced catalysts, making them gradually ineffective
at removing nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulates. Federal
regulations call for reduced automotive emissions of these pollutants
and the gradual use of ultra-low-sulfur fuels in vehicles.
traffic congestion and deteriorating roads, as well as congestion on
our rivers and at our airports, are causing losses in productivity and
profits. ORNL researchers have been developing computer models of
traffic congestion on freeways, growing congestion of barge traffic
on a major river, and airplane congestion en route to airports. These
models are providing insights into how to reduce congestion. Software
tools are being developed at NTRC to help emergency responders avoid
streets that are closed or blocked. NTRC researchers are also developing
weigh-in-motion methods to speed up the accurate weighing of trucks,
to reduce highway congestion around weigh stations.
congestion causes losses in productivity and profits.
More than 41,000 people die each year on U.S. highways.
NTRC's development of tools to weigh trucks faster and comprehensively
test their brakes and rollover stability could ultimately increase highway
safety if the technology catches on. NTRC is also boosting highway safety
through its evaluations that ensure that hazardous materials are properly
packaged and transported along routes in less populated areas. In this
way, packages are less likely to release their contents in case of an
accident in transit and thus possibly expose a large population.
ORNL researchers are developing
computer tools to help traffic management centers anticipate and avoid
unnecessary congestion, which can lead to traffic accidents and waste
fuel. They are also trying to determine whether car cell phones, PCs
for e-mail and Web surfing, and navigational systems that guide drivers
around heavy traffic and help them avoid accidents cause "information
overload" that might undermine the technologies' contributions to safety.
ORNL researchers are also using supercomputers to simulate collisions
involving vehicles designed to use materials lighter than conventional
steel, such as high-strength steel, aluminum, and carbon-fiber composites.
The purpose is to determine whether new, lighter cars will hold up in
accidents as well as or better than today's heavier steel cars.
Patricia Hu, director
of ORNL's Center for Transportation Analysis (CTA), is studying older
driver safety. In research conducted for General Motors, Hu and her
colleagues at CTA project that highway fatalities of drivers over 65
years old will almost triple by the year 2025, compared with the number
for the same age group in 1995. This increase is due to the expected
increase in the number of older people in the general population and,
subsequently, on the highway, coupled with the increase in traffic.
CTA's research shows that some older women often stop driving prematurely
(for example, after their first stroke) whereas some older men tend
to drive until they have had a second stroke. Older men who have impaired
vision and limited motor skills and use anti-depressants are at a greater
risk of being involved in highway crashes than other older male drivers.
However, Hu says
that the expected increase in highway crashes will be partially offset
by a decrease in the crash risk as a result of currently evolving technologies
(e.g., airbags and intelligent transportation systems). The CTA study
suggests that new technologies could reduce the crash risk even more.
Thanks to new
technology development and policy analysis occurring with support from
NTRC, Inc., ORNL, and UT, beneficial results of the transportation revolution
may be just down the road.
Propulsion Technology Center
Center for Transportation Analysis
Center for Transportation Research
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
for a New Generation of Vehicles
Development Corporation of Knoxville (TDC)
Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee (CROET)