Where are they now? - Jim Castelaz
Former DHS Fellow is dedicated to improving fleet carbon emissions by eliminating transportation exhaust
Road transportation is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and heavier vehicles relying on diesel fuels pose a substantial threat to the environment. Jim Castelaz, a former electrical engineering student and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scholar, has dedicated his professional career to making electric versions of such vehicles commercially available.
“I started Motiv Power Systems in 2009 and have led it as CEO since then,” Castelaz said. “My career has shifted from being an engineer, to an engineering team leader, to a distracted engineer who did a lot of operational business work, to a manager, to a manager of managers, to a company leader doing high-level strategy, sales and business development.”
During his collegiate studies, Castelaz participated in the DHS Scholarship Program as an undergraduate and the DHS Fellowship Program as a graduate student. Both programs are administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy. His projects involved research at the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.
While at RSL, Castelaz contributed to radiation mapping and directional sensing technologies to provide background data and improved sensing capabilities for emergency response to radiological events. During this project, he gained a better understanding of interaction between the federal government and the scientific community.
At LLNL, he researched characterizing Europium-doped Gallium Nitride as a scintillator to determine its lifetime performance in various radiation-sensing and energy-generating applications. Scintillators allow scientists to detect particles and other forms of radiation through transparent materials. He remembers the model the team built to characterize the degradation of the Europium-doped Gallium Nitride: “It was clearly so much more predictive than the state of the art. That was the first and possibly the only time I felt that I had really contributed to the development of truly novel science.”
After completing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at Stanford University, Castelaz founded Motiv Power Systems. The manufacturer is the industry leader in electric truck powertrains in the United States, and it has received significant funds in competitive grants and private investment. As the company expands, Motiv Power Systems works with a half-dozen vocational truck and bus builders (delivery trucks, flatbed, school buses, shuttle buses and garbage trucks) who offer Motiv-powered, all-electric versions of their vehicles commercially.
“I started my own technology company, which it turns out involves a lot more business than science, especially as we grow,” Castelaz said. “With that caveat, I recall RSL introducing me to a new appreciation for the ‘customer’ of the research. We were doing field science, and we were very close to the customer and the needs of the customer the whole time we researched.”
As a successful scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Castelaz recognizes the significance of his participation in two DHS programs: “The DHS programs shifted my career into pursuit of energy solutions,” Castelaz explained. “I don’t know where I would have landed without this direction.”