Professor of Engineering at the University of Houston n
The most coveted prize in international energy – the Global Energy Prize awarded by the Global Energy Association – has been awarded to University of Houston Professor Emeritus of Engineering Kaushik Rajashekara. The price does occupy a rarefied air, indeed. Only three people worldwide have been selected for the honor this year out of 119 nominations from 43 countries.
Think of the Nobel Prize for science or the Oscar for cinema. This is the level of reward that Rajashekara, who humbly likes to be called “Raja”, has won at home.
As the former chief engineer of General Motors’ IMPACT electric vehicle propulsion system, Raja is perhaps best known as the man who helped advance the technologies that led to the first commercially produced electric vehicle, the GM EV1 in 1995.
He calls himself a “futurist” because he always works on futuristic projects. After ushering in the era of electric and hybrid cars from 1989 to 2006 by advancing technologies including the EV1, he left his job at GM/Delphi for his next game-changing project. At Rolls Royce he worked on advanced architectures for more electric and hybrid aircraft bringing to life his notions of converting ancillary equipment used on aircraft (such as air conditioning and cooking appliances) to electricity, leading to aircraft generation beyond the 787 Dreamliner types. .
With these futuristic projects in the past, he says the next big thing will be flying cars – and he totally agrees. If his track record is any proof, it might be time to look skyward for a parking spot.
“Professor Rajashekara sees no limits, only possibilities. Electric vehicles are changing the way the world moves, and he has played a vital role in exploring and improving this innovation,” said Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston. “I congratulate him on this well-deserved global accolade and for his role in positioning the University of Houston as the ‘University of Energy’.”
Rajashekara is the winner in the New Energy Applications category for his outstanding contributions to transport electrification and energy efficiency technologies while reducing emissions from power generation. It is engaged in power plants for electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles; electric and hybrid electric aircraft systems; hybrid flying vehicles and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. He owns 36 US patents and 15 foreign patents.
The prize recognizes “outstanding scientific research and scientific and technical developments in the field of energy that promote greater efficiency and greater environmental safety of energy sources on Earth for the benefit of all humanity” .
He is joined as the 2022 laureate by Viktor Orlov, chief specialist of the Center for Innovative Technologies (Rosatom in Russia) and a pioneer in thermonuclear physics; and Mercouri Kanatzidis, professor of chemistry and materials science at Northwestern University and principal investigator at Argonne National Laboratory. He is one of the most cited chemists with over 1,450 published scientific papers.
The winners were selected by the international committee of scientists from 11 countries: United States, Italy, China, Hungary, India, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Korea. The award ceremony will take place during Russian Energy Week in Moscow, October 12-14.
“I have been working on transport electrification for a long time, first on rail transport at ABB, then on electric and hybrid vehicles at General Motors and Delphi, then on aircraft electrification at Rolls-Royce. At the University of Houston, I was able to continue working in this area and advancing emission reduction technologies,” Rajashekara said.
Still with that pedigree, Raja was shocked when news of the award came.
“When I received the email about my selection, I couldn’t believe it for a moment. This award clearly shows the importance of improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions, by particularly in the field of transport, which is responsible for a significant share of global emissions,” said Raja.
His rewards are many. He has published over 250 articles in international journals and conference proceedings, co-authored a book with IEEE Press, and authored six monographs and individual chapters for eight books. He was elected a Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering in 2012, Indian National Academy of Engineering in 2013, and China National Academy of Engineering in 2021 for his contributions to the development of power conversion systems in transportation. He is the recipient of the IEEE Medal for Environmental and Safety Technologies (2021), the Richard Kaufman Prize (2013) and several other prestigious awards.
“The World Energy Prize is reserved for the best of the best in energy, and Professor Rajashekara certainly is,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, UH’s director of energy. “Since joining the University of Houston in 2016, Raja’s vast knowledge and incredible research output has been instrumental in strengthening UH’s intellectual base and our strategic partnerships with the University. energy industry.”
Even more impressive than his countless accolades is Rajashekara’s story of becoming a giant in his field. As a small boy growing up in a village in India with his parents and two brothers, he lived in a lean-to room that he says was smaller than the office he now occupies at UH. He read by the light of a kerosene lamp and although neither of his parents were educated, his mother was determined that her children would do better and be the best in whatever they pursued.
Secondary school arrived in his village in time for him to attend. He tinkered with scraps of paper, glued them together to do his homework.
His biggest challenge was money. In today’s dollars, the salary his father earned per month would equal about $1.75. But his situation held neither him nor his siblings. One, like him, is an engineer and the other is a doctor. An innate and relentless will to succeed was born in the Rajashekara family.
Coming from such humble beginnings, Rajashekara says he is proud of the role he played in convincing a skeptical society that electric cars could become a reality.
But he says he is most proud of his ability to help students, colleagues and friends succeed. “Helping them succeed in their lives and in their professions is what I want to see,” he said.
That, and them flying to work in their cars on an expanded UH power program.