BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
The largest deal with an industry partner in Purdue University history is bringing $75 million to West Lafayette over the next 10 years.
That the agreement is with Rolls-Royce makes it a natural fit for Purdue, which has had a more than 70-year relationship with the global corporation that has customers in more than 150 countries.
“We have collaborated on many aerospace research projects, worked with numerous Purdue experts and have established a pipeline of talent from the university to our company,” says Warren White, Director of Assembly & Test-U.S., Rolls-Royce Defense. “In fact, over 700 Purdue grads work for Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.
“With the aerospace expertise on campus, the strong support from Lafayette and West Lafayette officials, and the comfort level between the university and the company, it made perfect sense to invest there.”
The agreement funds testing and research in the areas of gas turbine technology and electrical and digital technology. Purdue’s Zucrow Laboratories, the largest academic propulsion laboratory in the world, will be the primary site for research in sustainable power systems through advanced technology in electrification, turbines, compressors and combustion with sustainable fuels.
Just weeks before unveiling the Rolls-Royce deal, Purdue announced it would construct a $73 million high-speed propulsion laboratory for hypersonic technologies in the Discovery Park District. The laboratory will span 55,000 square feet.
At the time the agreement was announced in May 2022, then-Purdue President Mitch Daniels said, “Purdue’s research partnership with Rolls-Royce will address some of the greatest technology challenges facing the U.S. Our faculty and students will work on advanced technology capabilities to ensure long-term national security. This will enhance the university’s role as a world leader in engineering research.”
White says, “Indiana is very lucky to have an educational institution like Purdue University as a pillar of research and a true leader in the world of aerospace. Not just the astronauts – although that history is fantastic – but there are so many other areas where Purdue has been in the forefront of technology advancement.
“At Rolls-Royce, we are very proud to be partnering with Purdue and continuing that great history of cutting-edge aerospace development.”
White says Rolls-Royce has a number of projects
underway in various stages at West Lafayette, including some of the hybrid-electrical testing work. New facility construction also is taking place, but he says it probably will be a couple of years before Rolls-Royce begins operation of test facilities in other areas.
Purdue President Mung Chiang, who began his tenure on Jan. 1, 2023, says, “Purdue has become the epicenter of hypersonic research and testing in the U.S. We are excited across three tracks: first, our own investment for federal and industry projects, such as the wind tunnel and manufacturing facility announced in 2021, and the high-speed propulsion facility in 2022 that Rolls-Royce will be able to use; second, private sector’s investment to grow their presence in the Discovery Park District at Purdue; and third, a nonprofit consortium of industry members for ground testing hosted at Purdue.”
One of those projects is aimed toward the company’s goal to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions in its operations by 2030.
“Our hybrid-electrical testing will help move aviation to a more sustainable future by reducing reliance on fossil fuels,” White says.
“High-altitude testing capability will enable us to make our engines more efficient in challenging operating environments. Hypersonic testing will help develop engines to help aircraft reach extremely high speeds. All of these are important aerospace ‘giant leaps’ and we are proud to be working with Purdue to advance these efforts.”
White says research and development projects are the primary focus for Rolls-Royce in West Lafayette. Side benefits to these projects are modest job growth in Greater Lafayette as well as enhancing the learning potential of Purdue students and faculty.
The roots of Purdue’s relationship with Rolls-Royce date back to a partnership with a company owned by one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
James A. Allison founded the Allison Engine Company more than a century ago, and Purdue’s close proximity to Indianapolis led to Allison Engine hiring many Purdue engineering graduates. Rolls-Royce purchased Allison Engine Company in 1996.
“Since that time, hundreds of Purdue engineers have worked for Rolls-Royce, collectively making a major impact on our company’s products and designs,” White says. “The relationship is as strong as ever. We continue to perform research on and off campus and continue to hire Purdue grads every year.”
White, who earned his bachelor’s degree in aero/astro engineering and a master’s degree in industrial administration from Purdue, credits his time in West Lafayette for creating a solid foundation for his professional career.
“We have more Purdue engineers working at Rolls-Royce than from any other university,” White says. “My personal background at Purdue didn’t play a role in the company’s decision to invest in West Lafayette, though. All the business factors involved made it the right decision. I’m happy it turned out that way, and I enjoy making trips to campus.”
White has noticed the many changes in Greater Lafayette since his undergraduate and post-graduate days. He praised the unique partnership between Purdue and the cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette.
“We have been happy to witness the economic redevelopment taking place in West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County as a whole,” White says. “The credit goes certainly to mayors, city council members, community leaders and the redevelopment commission — their vision and commitment to the current and future residents of Greater Lafayette.
“This vision along with the investments and growth spurred by the success of Purdue during the Mitch Daniels era and now with President Mung Chiang have been very impressive. Rolls-Royce is proud to be part of the community. It’s a great place to live and work.” ★