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Author: University of Alberta

U of A EcoCar Team brings home efficiency and innovation wins

When last we saw them, the University of Alberta’s EcoCar team was preparing to leave for the Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Sonoma, California from April 3-6, 2019. Now they have returned – victorious. The team took first place on the track in the prototype-hydrogen category, achieving the energy equivalence of 1895 MPG (US) to earn the competition’s efficiency award. They also won the Fuel Cell Vehicle Innovation Prize.

The team had an auspicious start to the competition.

“We swept through the initial technical inspection,” says Carter Trautman, the EcoCar Team’s project manager. “And because we passed that we had time for a few test runs before the competition.”

 The test runs helped the team identify issues with the car, the biggest one being that it was too slow.

“We were 13 seconds slow on each lap, so that’s a lot of time,” says Trautmann.

The team set to work to address the issue with minor modifications, like inflating the tires to be ready for the first day of competition.

With these minor modifications they took their first run on Friday and they were still slow. The team’s efforts were frustrated further when their second run was rained out. The team’s last runs of the day were still slow and marred by steering trouble, so they spent that night conditioning the fuel cell and making minor modifications to the engine.

“The whole team was amazing,” says Trautmann. “We had so many technical issues and people were consistently excited to get in there and see what they could do. It was amazing to see.”

The night’s work proved worthwhile and the team’s driver, Erin Whitby, who will be the team’s fuel cell lead next year, skimmed 15-20 seconds off their lap times.

“We were just so happy to be finishing the course,” says Trautmann.

“But then on the last run of the day, we found out we were the most efficient,” adds Elizabeth Gierl, the team’s fuel cell co-lead. “Which was the icing on the cake.”

U of A EcoCar Team with their prize

The team was also awarded the Marathon’s award for most innovative hydrogen fuel cell vehicle team with new members.

The team celebrated their successes with a quiet dinner at a Mexican restaurant that night.

“We were all so drained from the ups and downs of the competition,” says Gierl. “And we all had to fly home the next morning, so it was a quiet, early night.”

Returning to Edmonton, team members had to immediately focus on wrapping up course work and preparing for final exams.

“I slept for 13 hours my first night back,” says Trautmann. “But I’ve been really busy since then.”

The car will return to Edmonton on April 15 but the team will set it aside and begin to develop a new car to enter in the Marathon’s “urban concept” category, rather than the prototype category they entered this year. The team is also looking forward to finally using a fuel cell they have had in development for over two years.

“We’ve been developing this fuel cell with Dr. Secanell-Gallart’s lab and it is nearly ready to go,” says Gierl.

The team relies on its faculty supervisors, Dr. Marc Secanell-Gallart and Dr. Pierre Mertiny for advice and technical support in all their work.

“Professor Mertiny is always there for us,” says Trautmann. “If we need him, any time, we can email and ask.”

The team is always open to new members and will hold their annual recruitment drive in September.

“Our purpose is not even to win the Marathon,” says Gierl. “It’s really about learning and teaching and providing students the opportunity to apply their education.”

“We have an amazing team,” adds Trautmann. “The people on the team are the reason for our success.”

Originally posted on University of Alberta’s blog – Folio

Using bacteria to devour greenhouse gas—and produce bio fuels

(Edmonton) Researchers across the province were awarded $20.5 million in funding today to support clean energy technology development.

A total of 29 projects in post-secondary and industry received the funding through Alberta Innovates, as part of its Climate Change Innovation Technology Framework. Of the 29, 15 University of Alberta applicants for funding were successful. Of those, 11 grants were awarded to Faculty of Engineering researchers.

One project, led by chemical engineering professor Dominic Sauvageau, is using bacteria to eat methane—a potent greenhouse gas—and convert it into cleaner sources of biofuel.

Sauvageau says a group of bacteria called methanotrophs use methane and methanol as food, converting them into compounds that can be used in the production of biofuels and fuel additives.

One part of the challenge is breeding populations of these bacteria large enough to produce these compounds at a commercial scale.

“These bacteria are found in environment as low-density populations,” says Sauvageau. “They grow slowly and they produce some compounds naturally, but of course they haven’t evolved to be used commercially. We have to help them on that side.”

Sauvageau, in partnership with Faculty of Science professor Lisa Stein and chemical engineering professor William McCaffrey, is approaching the problem from two directions.

“We need to be able to make a lot of these bacteria, and they need to make a lot of the product at a rate that is fast enough that we have a process that is economically viable,” he said.

“We’re looking for ways to make conditions more amenable for these cells to be more productive and on the other side, we’re working on the genetics so we can have them produce a wider array of valuable compounds.”

The impact of this research could be significant. Sauvageau imagines having bioreactors on site at wastewater treatment plants, pulp and paper mills, landfills, and other facilities that emit methane and methanol.

If successful, a common waste byproduct—methane—could be turned into a profitable product. The outcome would be reduced greenhouse gas emissions and production of compounds for use as fuel additives, in the production of advanced biofuels, and in bio jet fuels.

Another engineering project, run by mechanical engineering professor Sonoj Abraham, is leading the way to develop nano-particle coatings to improve energy efficiency of windows. Abraham’s team is developing coatings that will improve the performance of windows without costly retrofitting.

“The impact of this funding is that it helps us demonstrate this technology,” he said, adding that his team is in talks with the university to apply the coating to windows in two U of A buildings.

Alberta Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous said the fund helps advance Alberta as a centre for energy technology.

“When people think of energy, we want them to think of Alberta,” he said. “We want them to hire our talented, brilliant engineers and scientists.”

Originally posted on University of Alberta’s blog – Folio

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