Embracing Sustainable Transportation Methods

Jerry Hudgins, Ph.D.

Department:
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Area of Interest:
Power Electronics
Current Sustainability Efforts:
Driving an electric car

Jerry is from the western part of Texas and graduated from Texas Tech University. He was a member of the faculty at the University of South Carolina for 18 years before coming to UNL. For the last 12 years he has served as the chair for UNL’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. His technical background is in power electronics and their applications in that relate to advanced transportation and renewable energy.

How is your work (research and academics) related to sustainability?

Power electronics are used in applications like electric cars and wind turbines. More specifically it modifies the electrical currents and voltages from sources (generators) such as wind turbines into energy that is compatible for uses in electrical systems. Solar power works in a similar fashion; it converts the dc current into usable energy. The same technology is in advanced transportation, such as in the drive-train units and batteries charging sub-systems.

What motivated you to be a professional in this field?

Even though engineering is technical, the fundamentals and engineering science provides a framework that also allows you to be creative. If you can think it up in your mind, the technical framework helps you make it real and helpful to people. Electrical engineering is all about high-tech and advancing technology. Modern life is touched by electrical engineering on a daily basis, everything from entertainment, transportation, clothing, food production, to economics and government policy. I was attracted to renewable energy and power electronics because of the changing landscapes in society and the associated businesses.

What is one memory in your field/areas of interest that you would want others to know?

I’ve seen a lot of technology changes over the last 30 years. My work here at UNL with the growth of the energy industry and interactions with members of the bio fuels industry has been very exciting. I’ve also been privileged to be a part of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research (NCESR) since its creation.

How are you preparing students to be a professional in your field?

I encourage my students to get experience in the industry through internships and co-ops and assist them in the process. In my courses, through the projects I assign, I try to involve all aspects of reality. This includes budgetary constraints, time, environmental issues and permitting, technical constraints, and the reality of the industry.

How does your research/teaching solve some of our contemporary environmental problems?

My energy education and research has a strong tie to long-term sustainability for electric power production and associated transportation electrification. A future goal is to replace petroleum as a fuel source and use other liquid fuels but also make headway toward renewable sources.

What does sustainability mean to you?

It’s not necessarily free, but it is something that you can do over the millennia and continue the process or way of life for a long period of time. It includes being able to retain aspects of the non-human environment and sustain human populations.

Why should UNL care about sustainability?

As an institution that educates Nebraska citizens and other students, it’s incumbent on us to have sustainable education programs. The graduates of UNL should be thinking about how they can contribute to making the world a better place. This starts by educating every student about sustainability so they have an understanding of the impact their lives and decisions have on the world.

How do you practice sustainability?

I’m committed to be an early adapter of the future. I incorporate a lot of the cool technology I’m involved in everyday during my commute in my electric car. I am a believer in using natural products over petroleum products when given the option. I try to reuse things as well.

What is your suggestion to the campus community on how to be sustainable?

On an operations level, there are two things UNL could do. The first suggestion is to install charging stations for electric cars and plug-in hybrids. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation now between the installation of charging stations and the purchases of electric cars. A charging station will help encourage hybrid and electric cars on campus. The second suggestion is to begin conversations about operating the campuses completely from renewable electrical energy sources. Not only is it great PR, it’s sustainable.