Electric vehicle focus at UW


The electric car of the future is closer to becoming a reality at the University of Waterloo (UW) as government and private sector funds are contributing to continued research and development at the university’s Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR).

Announced on Oct. 15 was $3.5 million in funding from the federal government, part of a $10 million research project in electric cars underway at the university which will continue for the next five years. The remaining funds come from a provincial grant and private firms General Motors (GM) Canada and Maplesoft, a local software company.

“The funding of the government is absolutely crucial here,” said executive director Amir Khajepour, a mechanical engineering professor who leads the team of researchers and students at WatCAR. Khajepour explained that the funds will contribute to electric vehicle research including the recent developments and focus on the use of lithium-ion batteries. “The focus will be on modeling the controls, battery management and monitoring of batteries,” he said, noting that vehicle safety and stability dynamics are also being examined.

“I think we are just at the start of many years of development,” he added. “There is still a huge amount of work to be done in order to make the [electric car’s] reliability high enough, make the system as cost-effective as possible and make it at least comparable to conventional cars.” According to Khajepour, eight to ten researchers and 30 or 40 students will contribute to this work.

Peter Braid, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kitchener-Waterloo, pointed to the university’s program as being at the forefront of research and development in electric cars in Canada. “It’s the largest automotive research centre in the country and there’s significant expertise there,” he said. “Why it’s so important to support those activities is because it leads directly to the creation and commercialization of new technology which allows our auto industry to continue to be innovative and position it for the future.”

GM corporate communications manager Jason Easton spoke about the increasing auto industry focus on electric cars. “This presents a good opportunity to perform some of that type of necessary research right here in Canada,” he said. Technologies developed at WatCAR will include collaboration with GM including further testing at GM facilities using the company’s resources. “We are enabling the students and staff working on these projects to be right there involved in the vehicle development process so that if some of these technologies they’re developing become commercially viable they can be brought to market easier and quicker,” Easton said.

The federal government has contributed $145 million towards new automotive technology over the next five years, including the funds announced Friday. Braid emphasized the role electric cars stand to hold, especially as production models including GM’s Chevrolet Volt (an electric car with a gasoline engine that operates when the battery is depleted) in the next few years. “Canadians are telling us that this is technology they want to see further developed in the auto sector.”

Braid added, “As we deal with this issue of climate change and want to find and support ways to dramatically decrease greenhouse emissions, this is an extremely important project.”

Khajepour said research at UW is gradual but has already made major steps forward. “It’s not something at the end of four years we’ll have everything ready,” he said. “It’s a work in progress so as things get mature and completed at the school GM will take it and move on to the next stage.”

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