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CAR, Industry Partners Roll Forward with Electric Vehicle Research

July 28, 2009

Ohio State's College of Engineering is working with industry partners to accelerate the electric vehicle industry in Ohio. The university’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR) on July 27 secured state approval for the first $500,000 of a $3 million Ohio Third Frontier Grant designed to help develop market-viable commercial electric vehicles, including buses and trucks, that represent a potential growth rate of 17.1 percent annually.

Ohio companies Vanner Inc. and American Electric Power, along with STMicroelectronics of Michigan and Fil-Mor Express of Minnesota, are collaborating with CAR on the initiative, which is projected to create more than 900 new jobs over the next five years.

The grant will fund a new testing facility inside CAR with the goal of speeding up the conversion from gas to electric. The facility will be equipped with a heavy-duty chassis dynamometer (see illustration, above right) to simulate real-world operating conditions including load and wind resistance, a large battery cycler system, an environmental chamber, and high-voltage power measurement technology.

“We will be able to measure everything onboard a hybrid vehicle, including fuel and energy efficiency,” says Giorgio Rizzoni, professor of mechanical engineering and director of CAR. “One particular goal of our research is to move auxiliary power systems in working trucks and buses off the diesel engine and onto rechargeable electric. These systems run air conditioning or external hydraulic parts and using them often results in long-term idling of the engine, which wastes fuel and pollutes the environment.”

Vanner has developed converters that allow a high-voltage battery in a commercial vehicle to power electrical accessories, thus eliminating use of the alternator. The new research will help engineers develop a modular DC-to-AC power converter to further the process, decoupling the air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, fans and water pump from the engine. The technology could be applied to commercial trucks and transit buses, school buses and construction and agriculture vehicles with a significant reduction in emissions and long-term fuel cost savings.

“These converters alone could reduce fuel consumption by as much as a 40 percent. A typical hybrid bus, for example, only provides a 15 percent fuel economy improvement,” Rizzoni says.

“Ohio is already emerging as a major force in innovation in the hybrid electric niche,” said Steve Funk, president of Vanner. “Pew Charitable Trust research ranked Ohio among the top five states with the most jobs in clean energy, environmentally-friendly production, and energy efficiency in 2007. We expect to work closely with suppliers and innovators across the state to further green-car technology and reinforce our state’s reputation as the up-and-coming Silicon Valley of vehicle electrification.”

American Electric Power, STMicroelectronics and Fil-Mor Express also will use the new CAR testing facilities to research, develop and demonstrate new hybrid electric vehicle technologies.

Ohio State dedicates more than 300 researchers to the nation’s quest for environmentally sustainable energy solutions that promote economic growth in Ohio and safeguard our planet. Comprehensive teams from America’s largest university build on extensive agricultural-bioscience expertise to sequester carbon, refine carbon-trading, generate cleaner, less expensive and renewable power and protect natural resources. They track the effect of climate change on water resources from retreating glaciers to rising sea levels and water tables across the globe. And, they partner with advanced materials experts to make solar energy collection even more commercially viable.

CAR is one of the nation’s oldest and most accomplished transportation research centers. The center focuses on discovering sustainable transportation systems and crafting more energy efficient automobiles and power plants.

Media Contact: Amy Murray, Murray-Goedde.1@osu.edu, (614) 292-8385