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Source: Ara Institute of Canterbury

A recently-announced MBIE-funded research project led by Dr. Rod Badcock of Victoria University has designated Ara, along with Manukau Institute of Technology, as the lead in ensuring that diploma and technology degree students gain the expertise needed to work with futuristic electric vehicle technologies.
The project, helmed by Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington’s Robinson Research Institute under the Strategic Science Investment Fund – Advanced Energy Technology Platform – is a collaboration between local and international tertiary institutions and industry to develop high-power electric motors for large-scale transport systems including trains and aircraft, and to train those who will develop and maintain these new technologies.
The effort is timely; with New Zealand hosting the UN SDG’s Summit series next year, the country is primed to begin tackling the environmental problems posed by the transportation industry’s overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels – today, 96% of transportation energy still comes from high carbon-emitting fuels. The technical challenge for aviation systems is particularly acute with current battery technology simply not yet able to supply a superior power-to-weight ratio to that of modern jet fuel.
Dr. Badcock points out that New Zealand’s economy is heavily dependent on aviation and – as has been acutely demonstrated by recent events – is highly exposed in the case of limitations being imposed upon international travel.
“Reducing global carbon emissions from heavy freight and passenger transport requires the switch to electric propulsion for rail, shipping and aviation. But these applications require new high-power, lightweight motors which are beyond existing technologies.”
Therefore much work needs to be done before the carbon footprint of the global transportation industry can be diminished – presently it consumes approximately one-third of all energy produced globally.
To tackle this immense challenge, the new programme has four workstreams: superconducting machines, cryogenic systems, power electronics, and training and education. Engineers and scientists at the Robinson Research Institute are continuing their cutting-edge work on high-temperature superconductors and working with aircraft manufacturers on new electric aircraft. Meanwhile, experts at Callaghan Innovation and AUT will be working on cryogenics while teams from the Universities of Auckland and Canterbury develop power electronic systems, and Ara plus Manukau Institute of Technology are undertaking the training portion.
This contains a provision for seven Bachelor of Engineering Technology scholarships at each institution, destined for Māori and Pacific students. The scholarship recipients will also receive a paid summer placement between their second and third year at one of the partner organizations. Additionally, there will be 16 Diploma of Engineering scholarships which are designed to further enhance the participation of Māori and Pacific within New Zealand’s engineering industries.
According to Dr. Badcock “We want to produce industry-ready engineers who are familiar with these new technologies. We are especially interested in attracting young Māori and Pacific students into these new science and technical careers.”
Te Marino Lenihan, Ara’s Kaiārahi Director of Māori Development applauds this initiative and emphasizes the absolute value for New Zealand’s long-term prosperity through facilitating higher participation and success rates of Māori and Pacific peoples within scientific and technical fields. He comments “Ara’s Framework for Māori Achievement, in alignment with Ngai Tahu’s Workforce Development Strategy, aims to get more Māori learners on study and career pathways that give them the skills for sunrise industries and tomorrow’s jobs. Māori and Pacific communities are young and will become a larger and larger component of our nation’s future workforce. We want and need skilled Māori and Pacific individuals and families in higher paid jobs that are resilient to the onset of automation, global pandemics and future financial crises.”
Likewise, Chief economist at Business and Economic Research Limited, Hillmarè Schulze was quoted by Radio New Zealand on August the 24th as saying that Māori needed particular help moving into further education and employment – as long as it was the right kind of education. “When you look at engineering apprenticeships, these have a hugely positive outcome.”
Scholarships for Māori and Pacific students will not only cover the course fees, it will also connect them with summer jobs in local industries during their holiday breaks.
Dr. Michael Edmonds, Head of Engineering & Architectural Studies at Ara says “This is an exciting development as it will not only allow students to study fees-free, it will also provide them with paid work in an industry relevant to their studies. We are lucky to have some world leading industries here in Christchurch, and having our students able to do some work for them is fantastic.”
Alongside the recent move by the government to provide free fees for study of engineering diplomas because of ongoing industry needs, this project demonstrates that even in a recession engineering continues to be a stimulating and in demand career choice.