Skip to main content

Transportation research opportunities to increase at NTRC

Scientists studying vehicle safety, fuel efficiency, traffic management and other transportation issues will now have improved access to state-of-the-art laboratories at the National Transportation Research Center.


The NTRC, located along Hardin Valley Road near Pellissippi Parkway in West Knoxville, has been designated a national user facility by the Department of Energy. This designation enables scientists conducting research and development for the transportation industry and related fields to have special access to the facility.

The center - a joint effort involving the Department of Energy, Development Corporation of Knox County, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee - also provides access to unique R&D facilities not readily available to industry and other organizations.

Transportation research totaling $100 million is already being conducted by ORNL and UT, and approximately one third of that work is performed at the NTRC. Nearly half of the research is funded by DOE's Office of Transportation Technology.

User facilities enable researchers from corporations, universities and other institutions to conduct proprietary and non-proprietary research. They encourage collaborative efforts among ORNL, private industry and other institutions. ORNL's Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development Directorate coordinates these efforts. The NTRC is one of 19 user facilities available to researchers inside and outside ORNL.

Bill Madia, UT-Battelle president and ORNL director, said the ORNL-UT partnership will pave the way for important transportation research.

"It provides a window to transportation-related research performed at both ORNL and UT," Madia said. "Working together with other institutions using the NTRC, we can solve many of the challenges faced by the transportation industry."

Dwayne McCay, UT vice president for research and information technology, said the user facility designation will benefit the university's transportation-related work.

"The designation expands the research value of the NTRC for the university and the scientific community," McCay said.

NTRC User Facility Director Richard Ziegler said the user facility designation would enable the center to add to its existing variety of research programs in the transportation field. "Visitors to the NTRC—including Congressional staffers and other Washington officials—have commented on the wide range of transportation R&D knowledge exhibited by our scientists and engineers," he said. "I believe our facility likely offers the most diverse transportation research expertise in the country."

Ziegler explained that much of the NTRC research is being performed in partnership with U.S. auto companies, major engine manufacturers and more than 100 of their suppliers.

The facility also offers some unique capabilities. "We are working on five different methods for measuring diesel particulate emissions," Ziegler said. "At least two of these don't exist anywhere else."

Researchers in the NTRC Composites Laboratory are awaiting the April arrival of a new test device being constructed especially for them. It will enable them to measure-for the first time-the properties of materials at the equivalent of 2-10 miles per hour.

"This is very significant in vehicle crash test research," Ziegler explained. "In a crash that occurs at a speed of 30 miles per hour, for example, many of the changes to the vehicle materials actually occur at the lower speeds. If we can understand how the materials change, we may be able to take advantage of those changes to help absorb more of the crash energy, thus making vehicles safer."

The NTRC has12 transportation-related laboratories or user centers, including the composites lab. The others are: .


  • Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center for power plant and vehicle performance and emissions reduction research (previously designated a user facility)
  • Commercial Vehicle Operations Laboratory for weigh-in-motion and safety systems, on-board sensor suites, and performance diagnostics for heavy-duty commercial vehicles
  • Photonics and Remote Sensing Laboratory for research on a wide range of applications, focusing primarily on remote sensing and weigh-in-motion, spectroscopy, full-spectrum solar energy, and sensors
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems focusing on congestion reduction and associated fuel consumption reduction, traffic routing/management, real-time emergency responses and travel time data analysis
  • Geographic Information Systems for planning, managing and tracking of traffic by geographically based decision support systems
  • Defense Transportation and Logistics Laboratory, serving as a command post simulator for testing and evaluation of transportation resource utilization and associated decision support tools
  • Packaging Research Laboratory to design, test and evaluate hazardous and high-value shipping containers subjected to shock, vibration and thermal extremes
  • Infrastructure Materials Testing Laboratory for testing and evaluation of asphalt and materials used in bridges and related construction projects
  • Power Electronics and Electric Machinery Research Center, previously a user facility for electronics and electromotive equipment research associated with electric and hybrid/electric vehicles
  • Advanced Supply Chain Management Laboratory, which supports the Department of Defense through R&D to establish systems to move hazardous materials through the DOD supply chain safely and efficiently
  • Transportation Policy Analysis Laboratory to measure fuel use statistics, transportation policy analysis and global change issues analysis

ORNL is a multiprogram facility managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.