A University of Waterloo student  team has been selected as one of 16 in North America  to take part in the  ‘EcoCAR3’ Advanced Vehicle Technologies Competition (AVTC) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors (GM).

Waterloo’s EcoCar3 team will spend the next four years converting a donated GM car into a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) that can deliver optimal performance to Canadian drivers in cold weather. New research in battery thermal modeling will be incorporated in the vehicle design.

Waterloo Engineering students Ben Gaffney and Patrick Ellsworth are two of the project team leads and members of the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT). “It’s a very elite opportunity,” said Gaffney. “The top researchers and engineers are recruited almost exclusively from this competition.”

Team members will use skills in future careers

Roydon Fraser, a Waterloo engineering professor who has been awarded an Applied Automotive Engineering Fellowship by the U.S. Department of Energy, says: “The EcoCAR3 vehicle is a natural extension of our past vehicle builds. Waterloo students will receive unparalleled exposure to cutting edge, hybrid electric vehicle technologies; learning and using the same tools that they will utilize in their future careers in industry.”

UWAFT’s EcoCAR3 vehicle will be reengineered to implement a next-generation PHEV design with a consumer oriented implementation with funding support of over $1 million from GM Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Canadian driving habits and weather a factor in design

The project will study the impact of Canadian driving habits and weather on powertrain design and fuel consumption using data supplied by Waterloo based CrossChasm Technologies. Significant additional sponsorship funding will be raised by the students.

Vehicle electrification is widely considered to be the future for road transportation. By electrifying vehicles, car manufacturers can meet aggressive emission standards, significantly improve fuel efficiency, expand the utilization of renewable energy sources, and decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

Today, the movement to electrification can be seen on the road in the form of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), extended range electric vehicles (ER-EV), and pure electric vehicles (BEVs). Despite this, hybrids present unique challenges for fuel consumption certification. 

Waterloo’s lithium ion battery research

Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries are recognized as the leading contender for use in HEVs, PHEVs, ER-EVs, and BEVs. Temperature is one of the most significant factors affecting the state of charge and state of health of a battery. 

This is where the research expertise of University of Waterloo professors Royden Fraser and Michael Fowler comes into play. EcoCAR3 represents the practical, in-situ, missing link to Fraser and Fowler’s lithium-ion battery research.

Fraser and Fowler have supervised over 300 graduate and undergraduate students who have successfully designed, built, and tested award winning alternative fuel vehicles, yielding three first place finishes in previous vehicle competitions.

Waterloo’s Student Design Centre

“It is an important piece of technology transfer,” agrees Pearl Sullivan, Dean of Engineering. “The EcoCAR3 project will advantage over $60 million in accumulated automotive research infrastructure in Waterloo. The age of the hybrid vehicle is here.”

The EcoCAR3 vehicle will be designed and built in the 20,000 square foot Sedra Student Design Centre (SDC) with access to over 125 University of Waterloo professors actively involved in automotive research through Waterloo’s Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR), the largest hub for university-based automotive research and development in Canada.