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McGill researchers to help make electric cars cheaper

Close to $5 million from NSERC to improve Canadian competitiveness in electric vehicle market
Published: 27 Feb 2013

McGill University researchers are developing low-cost and high-performance electric engines for the next generation of electric vehicles, in collaboration with industrial partners Linamar, TM4, and Infolytica. They will be able to take advantage of the recent development of batteries with high energy densities to create optimal electric drivetrains for on-road electric cars. The drivetrain is the group of components in a motor vehicle that uses the energy stored in the battery to generate mechanical power and deliver it to the road surface.

The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, announced at an event held on February 22 that McGill University researchers would receive $4,719,246 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)’s Automotive Partnership Canada Initiative. The industrial partners involved in the project will provide close an additional $5 million to move the research and development of these new systems forward.

The integrated systems that the McGill researchers and their partners are developing for the electric vehicle market will consist of an electric motor coupled to a controlled multi-speed-ratio gearbox. “What’s really new about what we’re working on here is the optimization of the drivetrain as a fully integrated mechatronic system (this means that the mechanical design, the electronic design and the control system design are all integrated in a single unit). This will maximize its efficiency while reducing its cost, weight and volume,” says Prof. Benoit Boulet of McGill’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Centre for Intelligent Machines.

McGill researchers and their industrial partners will help reduce the costs of the engines of electric vehicles by developing multi-speed drivetrains that will be both smaller and lighter than the single-speed-ratio drivetrains that are currently in use. Multi-speed transmissions are commonly used in conventional combustion engine vehicles, but they have not yet been used in electric cars.

Though smaller in size, the new multi-speed drivetrains under development will nevertheless provide adequate low-speed torque (for accelerating from standstill) and maximum vehicle speed that are comparable to current single-speed-ratio electric vehicles. A first step in the process of developing the multi-speed drivetrains will be to develop two-speed-ratio drivetrains for small electric vehicles such as the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, or Ford Fiesta. From the lessons learned with the two-speed ratio design, more advanced electric drivetrains will be developed to address a wider segment of the electric vehicle market. The researchers will also develop new software to help design such drivetrains.

“As electrical vehicles become more attractive to the typical car buyer, global investments in the electric vehicle technologies are on the rise and are currently somewhere in the billions of dollars,” says Claude Dumas, President of TM4. “The R&D work being carried out in the technology of electrical vehicle powertrains at McGill University will enhance Canadian competitiveness by providing new advanced products to respond to future market needs.”

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