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Alabama Robotics Park to Focus on Electric Vehicles

A technical team of experts is being formed to create a $30 million center at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park that is expected to put north Alabama on the cutting edge of electric vehicle technology.

(TNS) — A technical team of experts is being formed to create a $30 million center at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park that is expected to put north Alabama on the cutting edge of electric vehicle technology.

Ed Castile, director of Alabama Industrial Development and Technology (AIDT), said Wednesday that he plans to have a team that features representatives of the state's automotive makers — Mazda-Toyota, Mercedes and Hyundai — and state colleges and universities leading the creation of the new EV center.

The EV center will be built on the south end of the park between Phase 1, the Robotics Maintenance Training Center, and Calhoun's utilities training facility.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored the bill that included the $30 million supplemental funding in the state Legislature's fiscal 2024 budget. He said he expects the EV center will have the same impact as the rest of the robotics park.

"I think it will attract industrial prospects just like the robotics center has," Orr said. "These prospects will be those who deal with large battery power. That's the first thing that comes to mind is the automobile industry."

Castile said the facility's main focus will be on the auto plants that are already involved in EV.

"Most of them are already involved in hybrids," Castile said. "Mazda-Toyota, Mercedes and Hyundai recently announced plans for an EV vehicle."

He pointed out that all of these companies are familiar with the Robotics Technology Park in Decatur-annexed Limestone County because they already send employees to the park for robotics training.

Castile said the new center also will likely attract some automotive suppliers.

Orr said the goal is for it to attract new industry and support industries that may be converting to EVs in the coming years, "such as what we may see at the Mazda-Toyota plant."

"Electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent, and AIDT and Ed Castile have a vision of what is going to be needed. They're already popping up, and they're going to be more and more numerous," Orr continued.

Castile said they are working with an architect on a rendering of the planned center, which will be the fourth phase of the Robotics Technology Park, so they're not sure how big it will be or what it will look like, especially with the current cost of construction.

"The EV center won't be as large as phase 1," Castile said. "It will probably be about the size of phase 2 on the north end of the property."

He said he expects the fourth phase will be similar to phase 2, the Advanced Research and Development Center, which features four large, open bays.

Castile said the EV center "will have mostly open space so we can be flexible and move stuff in and out, if necessary. It will have the typical labs and classrooms."

Castile said the new center will also have charging stations for customers.

A scope-of-work summary submitted by AIDT in support of Orr's bill says the EV center will work with vendor partners to provide new technology training in EV, hydrogen fuel cells, safety and more.

The training will be "for hourly workers, engineering, industrial maintenance techs and the new wave of higher-skilled workers required in these developing technologies for our automotive and related manufacturing companies."

Like the rest of the robotics park, training at the EV center will be at no cost for in-state companies, the supporting paper said.

Orr said one of the areas he expects the new center will support is batteries that are required for EVs.

"How do you dispose of them, repair them and test them?" Orr said. "It' such an emerging technology there's not enough people out there to repair them. Plus, there may be other uses than the automobile."

Orr said there's not a research and development portion planned for the new EV center, but he sees this as a possibility for the future.

"I haven't seen the layout of the latest building, but if we need property for another R&D building, we can find it," Orr said.

Castile said new center "won't just be about EV." He said partner companies "asked us to look beyond EV as they learn about what they're going to do with the new technology."

"I don't think they know what that means specifically," Castile said. "They just know it's moving fast. It won't ever totally leave EV, but there have been discussions of hydrogen cells, (artificial intelligence) and other technologies that will be found in a car."

Castile said the key "is to be flexible. Our goal is so we can move and shift to meet the needs. It will really be up to the customer on how and what we're going to do."

AIDT is also working with Calhoun Community College President Jimmy Hodges and Alabama and Auburn universities in planning the EV center, he said.

Castile said Calhoun, located on the other side of U.S. 31 from the Robotics Technology Park, will send students over to learn in the EV center "as long as we have room on the schedule. This will give those students across the street a chance for some hands-on work. This keeps the college from having to (have a duplicate of) this building on campus," Castile said.

AIDT is already involved in the Alabama Mobility and Power Center with the University of Alabama, Mercedes and Alabama Power, Castile said.

"We're going to ask Auburn to supply someone for our team, too," Castile said. "That way if some of their engineering students want to go the center, we can help them with that, too. We're just trying to think through all of the angles."

Orr said he included in the bill that's supplying the $30 million for the new EV center a requirement replacing the gas tax revenue that he expects will be lost with the increase in electric vehicles.

Orr said drivers will pay an additional fee that's the equivalent of what they would have paid in the average gas tax when they buy their car tags for their non-gasoline vehicles.

Castile estimated it will probably be 18 months before the new EV center opens.

© 2023 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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