VW Knoxville Innovation Hub Research Aimed at Simplifying Charging, Increasing Range, and Replacing Plastics

August 10th, 2023 by

VW Works to Innovate Batteries for Electric Vehicles


Those familiar with Volkswagen may be aware of their plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which builds the Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport, and the ID.4. Less known are the research centers Volkswagen has across the country, including a key facility about 100 miles away from Chattanooga in Knoxville, Tennessee. Volkswagen’s Knoxville Innovation Hub works in collaboration with the University of Tennessee (UT) and the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL). There, integrated teams are pushing breakthroughs in automotive lightweight composites, recyclable interior materials, and EV wireless charging.

Located at the University of Tennessee Research Park, which is nicknamed ‘the Materials Valley’ due to the concentration of research facilities, Volkswagen first opened this Innovation Hub in 2020.

“We are accelerating innovation within electric vehicles and contributing to more sustainable transportation in America by focusing our efforts on some of the most transformative automotive research being done in the country,” said Pablo Di Si, President and CEO at Volkswagen Group of America Inc. “Our technology teams in Tennessee are a great example. There, we are tapping American ingenuity fostered by the unique blend of world-class academic research and Volkswagen’s leading industry capabilities.”

Currently, the Innovation Hub is focusing its research on three key areas:

Volkswagen working towards a more sustainable future with EVs

AI-optimized material structures to increase electric vehicle range

The aim of this team is to develop new material structures to reduce vehicle weight, which helps increase electric vehicle (EV) range. The team is currently focusing on the current steel frame that houses the EV battery pack in the vehicle and shields it from physical impact.

By using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to coordinate millions of parameters, the team has developed a modular repeating structure in the shape of tiny pyramids. This structure can be 3D-printed from liquid resins and holds 30,000 times its own 0.15lb. weight. A frame made from this structure would not only be up to 60 percent lighter but exceed a conventional steel frame in energy absorption.

Making innovations with materials for EVs at Volkswagen

New Fiber Composite Materials for Light-Weight Vehicle Components

Results from this research have already reached production in the form of a lighter-weight lift gate for the Atlas. The fiberglass reinforced plastic liftgate is 13 pounds lighter than the conventional metal-based version, a weight-savings of more than 35 percent. Volkswagen divisions Bentley and Lamborghini also use these materials in their respective Continental and Aventador models. Research is ongoing to expand the use of this composite. 

Creating light weight components for EV Batteries at Volkswagen

Recyclable Paper-Based Materials for Vehicle Interior Design

Plastic is difficult to recycle effectively, but paper is not. This is the idea driving the 

hub team at UT’s Center for Renewable Carbon, where they are developing recyclable alternatives to plastic interior parts. The team has patented a method of pre-forming and hot-pressing cellulose fiber reinforced thermoplastics into the durable interior parts normally consisting of plastic.

In addition to being recyclable, these paper-based composites can also be transformed into various interior shapes and sizes, including backlit and ambient light options. The team has also innovated ways to add different textures and colors, so vehicle interior designers enjoy flexibility and creative freedom.

Volkswagen and UT researchers have further refined molding processes and ways to optimize durability, quality, and design options. One specific direction is to optimize the fiber-matrix interface, a process called “sizing” – essentially creating the smoothest, most durable coat for fibers possible for a refined finish.

Looking to the future of EV Batteries with VW

Possible High-Power Wireless EV Charging

Similar in concept to the wireless cellphone charging available on several VW models, a Volkswagen research team has patented a coil and charging pad design with silicon-carbide materials with the goal of making charging an electric vehicle as easy as pulling into your garage. While the process first reached a speed of 6.6 kW, or about the same as many Level 2 chargers, the team has been able to increase the charging power level up to 120 kW with a future goal of 300 kW. That could fully charge most battery-electric vehicles in less than an hour.

To reiterate, this is all going on not in Germany but in Knoxville, TN, which is part of a global Volkswagen network with other hubs in Belmont, CA, Beijing, Singapore, and of course, Volkswagen’s home in Wolfsburg, Germany. Bud Brown Volkswagen has a few innovations of its own such as the Bud Brown Advantage Lifetime Warranty. So come to our store and explore the advanced technology already found in vehicles like the ID.4 and maybe knock your knuckles on the Atlas tailgate.