Alum fuels EV tech by advancing student talent

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Canada’s push toward vehicle electrification is intensifying. Come 2035, 100 per cent of new vehicles sold must be electric. This is fuelling demand for people trained to develop next-generation EV batteries.

Waterloo Engineering alum Dr. Mohammad Farkhondeh (PhD ‘16, chemical engineering) is a Modelling Group Leader and co-op employer committed to talent development. In this Q&A, Farkhondeh and his recent co-op hire, third-year chemical engineering student Brendan Ng, expand on the value of continuous learning — at university and in the workplace.

Dr. Farkhondeh, what drew you to pursue your PhD at Waterloo?

Complete coincidence. I did my undergraduate project on fuel cells under the supervision of Dr. Abbas Ali Khodadadi, a professor at the University of Tehran who also happens to be a Waterloo graduate.

My experience with Dr. Khodadadi sparked my interest in furthering my studies at Waterloo. I joined the University’s chemical engineering department where I completed my PhD on electrochemical engineering and transport phenomena in porous media. Simply put, that’s the process behind making batteries.

How did your Waterloo experience impact your career?

I had great support from my advisors — my supervising professors Dr. Michael Fowler and Dr. Mark Pritzker gave me the opportunity and freedom to develop my research independently. I learned how to create and frame ideas, own them and commit to them — regardless of the outcome. This constitutes the backbone of any good doctoral research. I also benefitted from collaborations with my fellow researchers which broadened my research and supported its success.

I also had the opportunity to teach undergraduate students as a teaching assistant and sessional lecturer. This helped me learn how to communicate sometimes difficult concepts in ways that are easy to grasp — a skill that I use daily at work.

Why did you hire a Waterloo co-op student to support your work?

I work for Verkor, a lithium-ion battery production startup in France. The company is young, ambitious and growing quickly with over 500 employees since its inception in 2020. It’s an exciting place to work and a great place to learn.

I'm proud of my research and studies at Waterloo and appreciate the opportunities its afforded me. I want to pay it forward and, given the high calibre of Waterloo Engineering students, providing co-op employment is a win for Verkor as much as it is for the student.

Mr. Ng, what was it like to work with Dr. Farkhondeh?

It was a tremendously impactful experience, both personally and professionally.

Dr. Farkhondeh’s extensive career and experience demonstrate the value of his work and its impact on the industry. He generously shared his deep knowledge of the electrochemistry behind lithium-ion batteries and brought the theory to life for me.

Gaining workplace experience as a student is invaluable. It allowed me to put my Waterloo Engineering knowledge and skills into action, applying them in different scenarios and learning from those interactions. I’ve also seen first-hand the opportunities that come from furthering one’s education and specializing in a graduate degree program.

 What was it like working for a battery company in Europe?

Verkor’s work culture is innovative and driven, everyone strives to develop meaningful solutions and be at the forefront of new technology — it was a busy and exciting place to work.

I worked as a characterization intern with the modeling team and was responsible for developing new methods to assess and better understand the properties of electrode material which is what batteries are made of. We then created models to simulate battery performance so that we could identify ways to improve efficiencies.

Working and living abroad is an incredible experience and I highly recommend it! I was exposed to diverse cultures, my eyes opened to new ways of doing things and I gained a wider perspective of the world.

Go to Waterloo launches new centre for electric vehicle battery research to read about the University’s new Ontario Battery and Electrochemistry Research Centre which will play a critical role in developing batteries for electric vehicles.

Waterloo Engineering alum and co-op student

Waterloo Engineering alum Dr. Mohammad Farkhondeh and his recent co-op hire, third-year chemical engineering student Brendan Ng.