Youngstown State University and a South Korea-based technology company signed an early agreement Friday to develop new advances for electric vehicles.
It’s another bid to attract foreign investment to both the Mahoning Valley and the so-called TechBelt region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Power Plaza Co. of Seoul, South Korea, signed the memorandum with YSU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics during a ceremony at the university’s Kilcawley Center.
The understanding lays the groundwork for collaborative research-and-development efforts, an open exchange of ideas and a partnership that will bring a Power Plaza engineer to work at STEM’s laboratory and send the college’s students overseas to work in internships for the Korean company.
Power Plaza designs and manufactures components in the power- conversion and power-supply business. Its core product lines are used in many industrial applications, from utilities and telecommunications to the automotive sector.
But the company is making efforts to be a supply-chain leader in advanced electric-vehicle technologies, including tentative plans to launch its own electric-vehicle line, starting in the Asian market within the next 24 months.
Those efforts bode well for Ohio, home to around 2,100 companies specializing in the manufacture of renewable-energy components, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
“The electric-vehicle technology and the electric-vehicle supply chain is right here in the Midwest — not in California or on the East Coast, but here,” said Eric Planey, vice president for international business attraction at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which worked closely with both parties to bring the deal to fruition.
“We need to be on the cutting edge of this technology; we need more research on this vehicle because they are too expensive,” Planey added.
Despite a wide array of struggles for the electric-car industry, including higher retail prices, declining sales and inefficiencies with battery management systems and drivetrain technology, Power Plaza recognizes the possibility for growing demand in the coming decades. Fossil fuels are expected to face higher consumption for power needs, which could drive up costs and leave consumers searching for better options.
Martin Abraham, dean of the STEM College, said YSU’s primary role would be in working to make battery-management systems more efficient in preserving voltage and allowing the vehicles to travel greater distances.
The partnership has been coalescing slowly since February, after officials with Power Plaza came to YSU for its sustainable- energy forum and were interested in what STEM and the region had to offer.
Key Hwang, president of global operations at Power Plaza, said with some of the region’s recent announcements and with its diverse manufacturing base, the company thought it important to “sign on with the TechBelt.”
He said he hopes to “change minds on the research and development” of electric vehicles and along with “YSU, work to commercialize” any gains the partners make.
“There’s no commitment for the money exchange at this point,” Abraham said. He added that those funds could come from a combination of YSU, Power Plaza and even the state’s Third Frontier program, which supports technology-based efforts that help to make Ohio more globally competitive.
Other universities and companies are expected to join the partnership, and collaborative efforts tentatively are expected to begin in January, as the finer details of the initiative are expected to be worked out in the coming months.