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New Lab At Missouri S&T Looks To Meet High Voltage Demand

Advancements at Missouri S&T could make charging electric cars, like this Tesla at a charging station in Rolla, cheaper, faster and safer.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Advancements at Missouri S&T could make charging electric cars, like this Tesla at a charging station in Rolla, cheaper, faster and safer.

ROLLA — As more industries, including transportation, are looking to electricity to deliver more power, Missouri University of Science and Technology wants to help meet that demand.

The school is leading a research effort to develop the equipment needed to deliver voltages that are up to 100 times what are found in the average household outlet.

“The goal is to figure out how to deliver high voltage cheaply and safely,” said Mehdi Ferdowsi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T.

The high voltage research is part of a multi-campus research initiative of the University of Missouri System. S&T will lead this particular effort, with help from the campuses in St. Louis and Columbia.

The new lab will be only the sixth of its kind in the U.S. and the farthest west. That will give the university new opportunities to run experiments for other schools and the private sector.

“Companies will look at us and see we have been successfully able to demonstrate a 2,000-volt battery system, or something similar that could be used in an electric vehicle,” Ferdowsi said. “So it actually puts us in a different level that where we have the equipment, we have the power, we are more eligible, for instance, if there is a funding opportunity out there for electric buses and things like that.”

In addition to buses, the technology will help power light rail systems and make electric cars charge faster.

The university has the funding to build and equip the lab, although where it will be on campus is yet to be determined. It may be built in an existing building, or could be the first building in a technology development park on the southwest corner of campus that was the now-shuttered university golf course.

Missouri S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani proposed the park in his State of the University address in November.

Ferdowsi said that while the immediate need for high voltage electrical equipment is in transportation, there will be other applications. As more homeowners look at alternate ways of powering their homes, he said, they will also likely need more voltage.

That brings even more concerns with safety.

“Homes have 110-volt service, sometimes 220. But if you want to replace it with 1,000 volts, then everybody gets freaked out,” Ferdowsi said. “So that’s actually what the research is about: going after higher power applications, therefore, that necessitates going after higher voltages.”

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Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. His duties also include covering central and southern Missouri for Harvest Public Media. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.