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Canada Takes Lead in Turning Waste Heat into Green Air Conditioning for Electric Cars

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What started with “six guys in a garage” in Maple Ridge, British Columbia is about to take the hybrid vehicle market by storm.

Future Vehicle Technologies Inc. (FVT) has already piqued the interest of driving enthusiasts with a high-performance electric sports car that uses just two litres of gas per 100 kilometres.

The six-year-old company is going even greener with a technology that would overcome one of the biggest barriers to hybrid cars—finding a way to efficiently manage and recycle waste heat, and to use that energy for air-conditioning.

A new $1.38 million collaboration with Simon Fraser University (SFU) will move this innovative technology from concept to prototype to market readiness. The system would be embedded in FVT’s three-wheeled eVaro hybrid vehicle (named after Canada’s famed Avro Arrow jet interceptor) when it hits the market in three years. The under-the-hood system could also be licensed to large auto manufacturers globally.

“We’re not trying to compete with GM or Toyota, but those companies could license our technologies to bring innovations to the mass market,” says FVT’s CEO Todd Pratt.

After the electric motor, air conditioning is the largest energy hog in a hybrid vehicle. It reduces a hybrid’s driving range by upwards of 50 percent. The eVaro requires about five kilowatts of energy for highway driving—the equivalent of running five toasters. If the air conditioning is on, Pratt says the energy usage doubles, “meaning it takes as much energy to run the AC as it takes to push the car to 80 kilometres per hour.”

“At the heart of this project is efficiency and how we manage, control and handle heat,” says Pratt. “With a gas motor, all the heat from the engine, radiator, brake pads and other electronics is thrown away. We want to harvest that energy to improve the driving range and fuel economy, and reduce the cost of hybrid electric vehicles.”

Simon Fraser University is one of the first groups to study this challenge at a fundamental, scientific level. Majid Bahrami, an assistant professor in the university’s School of Engineering, will be working with seven graduate students, one lab engineer and postdoctoral fellows, and FVT’s engineering team, to further develop and optimize a prototype system that uses waste heat to keep the car’s cabin cool in the summer, as well as warm in winter. The integrated intelligent energy management system would also control the temperature of other power electronics in the vehicle, including the lithium-ion battery packs and the electric motor.

“Current hybrid vehicles have three or four separate cooling and heating systems and many other electrical and mechanical components which increase their cost, weight and size, and fuel consumption,” says Dr. Bahrami. “Integrating all major on-board thermal subsystems into one optimized system is a significant step towards more efficient and affordable hybrid electric vehicles.”

Automotive Partnership Canada (APC) awarded $799,000 to the project, while FVT is contributing a further $283,000 in cash and in kind.

The project will also rely on a new state-of-the-art testing facility being established at Simon Fraser University, with financial support from the Government of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, as well as APC. Dr. Bahrami says the new lab will strengthen the province's growing reputation as a hotbed for clean, sustainable energy.

Adds Pratt, “We couldn’t bring this technology to market without access to the specialized people and infrastructure at SFU.”