Unique Johnson Controls labs at UWM speed discovery

When Johnson Controls built two high-tech laboratories to enable groundbreaking discoveries related to energy storage and batteries, company leaders decided to put the facilities where UWM students and faculty could readily contribute – right in the College of Engineering & Applied Science (CEAS).

It gave UWM junior Sam Plevin an opportunity he couldn’t have gotten anywhere else in the country.
“The great thing about this is, it’s at school, but it’s a professional lab, with corporate scientists working on real-world projects,” says Plevin, a mechanical engineering major who has worked in the chemical lab for about a year. “Most students can’t get this kind of experience as undergraduates.”

Plevin works in the Johnson Controls chemical lab, where researchers are testing innovative materials to improve lithium-ion and other kinds of advanced batteries that will power tomorrow’s automobiles. Materials that perform well are scaled up in the Johnson Controls Energy Advancement Center (EAC), a state-of-the-art dry lab that is unique in the United States.

“The dry lab capability located right here on campus is one that really doesn’t exist in university environments,” says CEAS Dean Brett Peters. “Johnson Controls provides a grounding for the applied research that our faculty are doing.”

In addition to the two labs, Johnson Controls supports graduate research programs and an endowed professorship shared with UW-Madison. It’s an unprecedented partnership between the world’s leading automotive battery supplier and the UW System’s two research institutions.

Johnson Controls’ multimillion-dollar investment is intended to position Wisconsin as a global leader in energy storage.

UWM is committed to creating dynamic research relationships with area institutions to accelerate the rate of marketable discoveries. “This partnership is going to transform our campus and transform Milwaukee,” says Chancellor Michael Lovell.

“It is our objective to establish a world-class center of excellence for energy-storage research and development focused on discovery and commercialization of advanced energy-storage solutions,” says Mary Ann Wright, Johnson Controls’ vice president of global technology and innovation. “We expect exciting new projects to develop.”

For Plevin, participating in the labs is particularly relevant because he is interested in research with a green component, such as rechargeable batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.

“When I thought about what kind of research I’d like to do,” he says, “I identified the one area where there will always be a need and the research is always advancing – and that’s energy and energy storage. That kind of job isn’t going away for a while.”

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