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SAE Journal Editors Discuss New Research and the Future of Mobility

Posted: February 9, 2024

Nothing’s impossible for long.

Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Electrified Vehicles Dr. Hua “Kevin” Bai and Editor-in-Chief of the SAE International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, Energy, Environment, & Policy Dr. Srikanth Pilla know this better than anyone.

Both recently made Stanford University’s Top 2% Scientists list, another accomplishment added to their decade-spanning career achievements and accolades. This index highlights the most influential researchers based off citation metrics and is updated yearly.

Kevin is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee and specializes in power electronics, focusing heavily on electric vehicles. 

His most recent research culminated in a patent in partnership with Volkswagen that released on January 18. For Kevin, this collaborative project symbolizes the shift that has been taking place within his research—specifically regarding low-level integration testing.

“Normally, I would purchase semiconductors from vendors that build printed circuit boards, craft a prototype, then showcase the control advantages. Conductors have advanced in recent years, so this method is not enough anymore. Now, we acquire test devices from semiconductor companies—instead of commercialized devices—and integrate all components to guarantee concise operation,” Kevin said.

As Director for the Center for Composite Materials at the University of Delaware, Srikanth has experienced a similar development path. His most recent publication also is a patent that catalogues his work with postdoc fellows at Clemson University.

He described the insights they found as an “accidental discovery” resulting from experiments on cellulosic nanomaterial.

“We used cellulose to make silica, then reduced it to create silicon. Cellulose is one of the most abundant materials in the world and has some very unique features. It's hydrophilic and at the same time, it agglomerates,” Srikanth said.

Srikanth emphasized the impact that this production method could have on sustainable energy solutions.

“The automotive industry is currently relying heavily on carbon-based anodes, but silicon has almost 10 times more energy density. Our innovation is focusing on creating this high energy density material from a renewable precursor such as nanocellulose. In the future, we expect that silicon will be crucial in the next wave of battery evolution,” Srikanth said.

"In our work, nanocellulose is used as a sacrificial template to create high porous and hollow silicon material that we call as silicon nanoquills owing to their unique morphology mimicking quills,” Srikanth said.

He and his team looked for similar research on creating porous silicon from other sacrificial templates, but found their research was pioneering this manufacturing technique. Seeing the uniqueness of their discovery, the team quickly patented their work.

It’s a strategy Kevin can vouch for.

“When we form a new and feasible idea—whether it be with students or industry partners—the first thing we do is patent it instead of publishing it. This opens the door wide open for further collaborations with various industry partners,” Kevin said.

Publishing a patent is not without its quirks, though. Like pursuing any other new venturing, the process involved a learning curve for the researchers.

“In the past, I mostly focused on publishing on high-impact-factor journals. With [the] majority of our sponsors being industry partners, we’ve seen a high demand for patents in recent years. Working on OEMs and their suppliers gives me the opportunity to learn how to publish both a technical paper and a patent within an industry setting,” Kevin said.

As technology continues to develop and industry trends toward sustainable solutions, researchers like Kevin and Srikanth are a vital part of mobility’s future growth—a key ingredient in the success of SAE publications.

Get access to these and other journals through your SAE Mobilus subscription.