Watching a video about Chattanooga this spring in Germany, Volkswagen board members focused on a computer-simulated scene measuring the wind drag of a U.S. Xpress Enterprises truck.
Officials with the major truck producer in Europe said they wanted to know more about the computational engineering that produced the simulation. Volkswagen directors were especially interested in claims that U.S. Xpress may use the technology to help cut its $57 million-a-month fuel bill by up to 10 percent.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga conducted the computer modeling at its SimCenter, which UTC bills as the National Center for Computational Engineering. UTC Chancellor Roger Brown said he is eager to share the center’s research with VW and other businesses.
“We are moving quickly to build a real vibrant partnership between the university and Volkswagen of America,” Dr. Brown told the Brainerd Kiwanis Club last week.
The UTC chancellor is emphasizing partnerships with businesses as part of what he calls “an engaged university.” The SimCenter, he said, could aid a variety of companies in Chattanooga.
SIMCENTER AT A GLANCE
Location: 701 E. Martin Luther King Blvd.
Staff: 20 faculty members
Distinction: National Center for Computational Engineering
Education: Doctoral program at UT-Chattanooga
Budget: $5.5 million a year, including $4.5 million from resea
Backed by nearly $20 million from local foundations and individual donors, the SimCenter also may help build a computational engineering industry in Chattanooga, Dr. Brown said. Within the downtown center, 20 UTC research faculty members now use a bank of high-speed computers to teach students how to develop and test models in different simulated conditions. Such work is helping solve real-world engineering problems in fields ranging from aerodynamics to rocket propulsion.
To help grow even more business opportunities, UTC and its supporters recently hired a consultant to help plan and create a private venture to market the SImCenter’s research and its Ph.D. graduates.
Bill Burton, a former manager for Westinghouse and several automotive suppliers, will help guide the expansion of the SimCenter and launch the business venture to capitalize on the UTC facility. Although the concept is still taking shape, officials said it could resemble the way the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, through its commercial arm, Genera Energy, has joined with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol to build a pilot scale biorefinery and R&D facility to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass in Vonore, Tenn.
“Chattanooga has a real gold mine at the SimCenter,” said Mr. Burton, the principal of W.R. Burton & Associates in Asheville, N.C. “Using its strengths, I think we can launch an economic development company that meets the goals of an academic research and training center and helps bring and build more knowledge-based companies in Chattanooga.”
Three of Chattanooga’s largest foundations — Lyndhurst, Benwood and the UC Foundation — each pledged $5 million last year toward expanding the SimCenter and finding ways to capitalize on its economic potential. Dr. Brown said over the next three to five years, UTC is looking at relocating the center into a larger complex that could anchor a research park in Chattanooga.
David Unruh, director of special projects for the RiverCity Co., which is coordinating private fundraising for the SimCenter, said Mr. Burton will develop a business plan for the center over the next six months.
During that period, UTC also will look for a new business manager for the National Center for Computational Engineering to help its current leaders, Dr. David L. Whitfield and Dr. Harry McDonald, focus on research and education.