Indian American Prof Kaushik Rajashekara wins Global Energy Prize


A distinguished Professor of Engineering at the University of Houston, Kaushik Rajashekara, has been conferred the prestigious Global Energy Prize for outstanding contributions to transportation electrification and energy efficiency technologies while reducing power generation emissions.

The Indian American was among three persons selected by the Global Energy Association for the honor from a record 119 nominations from across 43 countries. The laureates were selected by an international committee of scientists from 11 countries: China, Hungary, India, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and South Korea.

The choice to be made by the international committee was not easy as the number of applicants and participating countries was a record high this year, i.e. 119 applications and 43 countries (against 36 in 2021 and 20 in 2020). Fifteen applications with the highest average score (five in each category) entered the shortlist, on the basis of which the International Committee made their decision.

The awarding ceremony will be held during the Russian Energy Week to take place in Moscow on 12-14 October 2022.

Rajashekara made a significant contribution to transport electrification, especially the road and air transport. He is engaged in power plants for electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles; electric and hybrid electric aircraft systems; hybrid flying vehicles and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles. He is the owner of 36 US patents and 15 foreign patents and the author of 10 defensive publications and a significant number of unpublished works related to proprietary information.

He has also published more than 250 articles in international journals and conference proceedings, co-authored one book with IEEE Press, and has written six monographs and individual chapters for eight books. He was elected a member of the US National Academy of Engineering in 2012, the Indian National Academy of Engineering in 2013 and the China National Academy of Engineering in 2021 for his contribution to the development of the power conversion systems in transportation. He is a laureate of the IEEE Medal for Environmental and Safety Technologies (2021), the Richard Kaufman Award (2013) and several other prestigious awards.

The Global Energy Association announced the 2022 Prize laureates in Khanty-Mansiysk on 12 July. The winners are Viktor Orlov from Russia and two scientists from the USA – Mercouri Kanatzidis and Kaushik Rajashekara. The ceremony was attended by Natalia Komarova, Governor of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug-Yugra; Rae Kwon Chung, Chairman of the Global Energy Prize International Award Committee, members of the Committee William Byun and Dmitri Bessarsbov and Sergey Brilev, President of the Global Energy Association.

Rajashekara is the winner in the New Ways of Energy Applications category. “The Global Energy Prize is pleased to announce three laureates for their outstanding scientific achievements in the field of fast nuclear reactors (a laureate from Russia), innovations in transportation electrification, and a breakthrough in solar energy conversion (the laureates from the USA) I am convinced that their scientific discoveries will accelerate the transition to carbon neutrality”, said Rae Kwon Chung, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the International Committee Chairman.

Sergey Brilev, the president of the Global Energy Association, said: “All recent events prove that hydrocarbons have a great future. At the same time, an important trend is accelerating growth in demand for electricity, which generates an investment boom in the industries where the Prize laureates specialize. This includes nuclear power, without which it is impossible to reduce emissions, as well as electric vehicles, which are fundamentally changing road transportation, and, finally, solar energy, which is the leader among renewables in terms of off-grid generators commissioning. This once again emphasizes the close relationship between both science and a practical sector in the power industry.”

In a news report on the website of the University of Houston the president of the university, Renu Khator has lauded Rajashekara, who is fondly referred to as “Raja” by his friends: “Professor Rajashekara does not see limits, only possibilities. Electric vehicles are changing the way the world moves, and he has played a vital role in the exploration and improvement of this innovation. I congratulate him for this well-earned global distinction and for his role in positioning the University of Houston as the ‘Energy University’.”

Rajashekara has said: “When I received the e-mail about my selection, I could not believe it for a moment. This award definitely shows the importance of energy efficiency improvement and reducing emissions.”

The report on the UH website states that as the former lead propulsion system engineer for General Motors’ IMPACT electric vehicle, Rajashekara may be better 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 is always working on futuristic projects. After ushering in the era of electric and hybrid cars from 1989-2006 by advancing the technologies including the EV1, he left his position at GM/Delphi for his next revolutionary project. At Rolls Royce, he worked on advanced architectures for more electric and hybrid electric aircrafts bringing to life his notions of converting ancillary equipment used on aircrafts (like air conditioning and cooking devices) to electricity, leading to next-generation aircrafts beyond the 787 Dreamliner-types,” the report states.

With those futuristic projects in the past, he says the next big thing will be flying cars – and he’s all in. If his track record is proof, it may be time to look skyward for a parking spot.

The report traces his journey: “As a little boy growing up in a village in India with his parents and two brothers, he lived in a one-room lean-to that he said was smaller than the office he now occupies at UH. He read by kerosene lamplight and though neither of his parents were educated, his mother was determined that her children would do better and be the best at whatever they pursued.”

“High school came to his village in time for him to attend. He cobbled together scraps of paper, gluing them to do his homework. His biggest challenge was money. In today’s dollars, the salary his father made per month would equal about $1.75. But his circumstance held neither he nor his siblings back. One, like him, is an engineer and the other is a doctor. An innate and unrelenting will to achieve was borne in the Rajashekara family.”

“Coming from such humble beginnings, Rajashekara says he is proud of his role in convincing a skeptical society that electric cars could become reality. But he says he’s proudest of his ability to help students, colleagues and friends succeed. “To help them succeed in their lives and professions is what I want to see,” he said. That, and them flying to work in their cars over an expanded UH Energy program.”