The U of A’s recently unveiled eco-car may not be a Ferrari, but what it lacks in horsepower it makes up for in innovation.
Project manager Matthew Sponiar teamed up with fellow students Peter Kos, Sahil Shah and Anuraag Gupta to reveal their second-generation eco-car for public scrutiny last Thursday and Friday in ETLC.
The car itself is a zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell engine featuring a sustainable mechanical design to exemplify the importance of sustainability in vehicle use and production. Most of the materials used are locally obtained in order to showcase Alberta’s industrial potential to manufacture an economic, environmentally-friendly vehicle.
Despite being grounded in Engineering, the project welcomed participants from multiple faculties.
“Our goal right from the start was to keep it very interdisciplinary,” Sponiar said.
“We’ve been trying to get involved in local events and conferences and bring the vehicle as a showcase.”
Since the original 2010 prototype vehicle, the eco-car has undergone a number of major facelifts.
“On the previous generation, it was very much if something goes wrong the car would safely shut down, but the driver (was) not really aware of what the problem was,” Sponiar explained.
“Now, we have a much more integrated sensor system on the vehicle, so you’ll ... be able to monitor the data while the driver is driving.”
Electrical engineering lead Peter Kos condoned the benefits of this kind of system, as well as the appeal of using hydrogen fuel over gasoline or diesel.
“This way, we can analyze the data in real time and make sure the car is running as efficiently as possible,” he said.
“Our main pride (in using hydrogen) over gasoline is that it has zero emissions. All that comes out of the tailpipe is water — you don’t get any of the fossil fuels.”
The project began Sept. 2010, when the four group founders couldn’t find a project based on both sustainability and technological innovations.
Funding has been provided through partnerships with the U of A, the Office of Sustainability and the Engineering Faculty. Corporate partnerships with Shell, Alberta Council of Technologies and Rohit Communities has also aided this year’s expense, which business lead Anuraag Gupta said fell around the $50,000 mark.
Shell holds an annual eco-marathon in Houston, Texas, happening this year from April 4 to 7. The eco-car team is hoping to top last year’s second-place finish in the category of Best Overall Urban Concept Design, and have set their sights on the top prize in the hydrogen category.
“We’re constantly learning more about the hydrogen fuel cell, because it is a new technology,” Gupta said.
“There’s a lot of tweaks that our electrical group has been working on, and optimizing some of the control systems that go along with it.”
Because of last year’s success, the eco-car team has increased their ambitions in regards to sponsors and innovations as well.
“Every year, we are looking for ways to improve. Having our first competition car, having this car we have right now, where it’s gotten to be more efficient, lighter and more powerful ... if we continue to improve (it), someday it will be a highway vehicle,” Gupta said.
But despite the eco-car’s success, the team still faces a series of challenges — the most difficult of which, in Gupta’s eyes, is the issue of legitimacy.
“One of our biggest obstacles is proving that we are a legitimate contender, a legitimate project and a legitimate group,” he explained. Recently, the eco-car got passed over for the Cross-Canada Tour, which would have taken it down highways and into cities.
“Part of the reason why the Cross-Canada Tour got passed was because we weren’t getting the support that we needed. There were some issues with liability, some issues with whether it’s going to get done, issues with the faculty that it would be done safely,” Gupta said.
For mechanical engineering lead Sahil Shah, this has been more than a side project, and has helped Shah discover what he wants to do as a career.
“Working through this, I found that I really enjoyed design work. But coming out of Engineering at the U of A ... I felt like I would have to go to grad school to have access to jobs like that,” he said.
“To do something (like this) that’s very similar to where I want to end up is remarkable.”