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From A to B, electrically

U of T engineering students help give a boost to Canadian-made EV

University of Toronto engineering students are charging their way from A to B.

They’re working on an all-Canadian green machine — the A2B — before the eye-catching bright yellow car zips off to Quebec for this fall’s electric-mobility conference and trade show.

Students in the electrical and computer engineering department have been researching the A2B’s power supply since 2010, and developed a system to improve its already-impressive performance.

The one-of-a-kind A2B is the brainchild of Steve Dallas, president of Toronto Electric, a North York-based firm specializing in the hoist, crane and electric motor industry.

Dallas said he wanted to create something that was “uniquely Canadian” when he began to assemble his car as a hobby in 2004. It was completed and roadworthy five years later.

“I did it for me, and without a plan, because, in 2004, nobody cared about electric cars,” says Dallas. “Besides, my wife wouldn’t let me build a helicopter.”

“We did it all from a Canadian standpoint, with the great Montreal designer Paul Deutschman (who came up with the body style), and some really cool guys in Cambridge, at Lowdown Hot Rods, who did the chassis. They make them for 3,000-horsepower dragsters.”

The fiberglass two-seater car is powered by lithium batteries, can reach a speed of 115 km/h and has a range of 200 km when fully charged. Its new scholastic caretakers are planning to increase its performance on many levels.

The distinctive A2B has been a head turner since the day it first hit the street, with people stopping to check it out wherever Dallas drove.

“I’ve had the police pull me over just to have a closer look at it. Someone with the Ministry of Transportation pulled me over once because they couldn’t see a tailpipe. I’ve had all kinds of fun interaction with people asking a lot of questions about it wherever I went.”

U of T professor Olivier Trescases struck a deal to give his engineering students a chance to work on the car before it goes on display at the Electric Canada Mobility show in Gatineau in October.

He has worked with Dallas over the past couple of years, analyzing the A2B’s power consumption and battery performance. He and his student crew have a few technical improvements planned for the car.

Trescases knew the students would be keen participants.

“We’re completing a project we’ve been working on for a couple of years,” he says. “We’re adding ultra capacitors in a new system of energy storage to compliment the existing batteries.”

The idea is similar to the recent advancement of computer hard drives, in which an added solid-state component increases the drive’s speed and capacity.

“With these ultra capacitors, and our own custom power converter, we can intelligently control the power mix in a hybrid energy storage system,” Trescases explains. “The end result is better performance, range extension, better acceleration, especially at low temperatures, and improving the life span of the battery.”

“It’s really exciting, and that’s just one of the things we’re working on. What makes this car so unique is that it was built around the battery rather than taking a stock car and jamming a battery into it.”

Trescases and his students will also be looking at various ways to update the A2B’s hardware and software.

Graduate student Mazhar Moshirvaziri worked with Trescases and Dallas from 2010 to 2012, and wrote his master’s thesis on improving the battery system. Following a year working in the electrical engineering field, he is returning to the university this Septem1ber to work on his PhD.

He said it was thrilling to be able to research, tinker with, and drive the car around the city in power-optimization experiments.

“It’s been a really unique experience working on the A2B with Steve and Olivier,” he says. “If GM or Ford had made it, they wouldn’t have let us touch it. But Steve was really collaborative with us. An opportunity like this doesn’t come by very often.”

Like a proud parent, Dallas is excited that the car he built as a hobby has made it to the halls of academia.

“U of T is a research centre and the little car fits in perfectly with the technology they’re developing,” he says. “They have a lot of new ideas.”

wheels@thestar.ca

  • From A to B, electrically
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