Mechatronic Systems Engineering

"Green" automobile researchers receive $5 million in funding

August 29, 2011

Simon Fraser University researchers are receiving almost $5 million in funding from the federal government to develop new technology for hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cells.

Two local companies – Ballard Power Systems and Future Vehicle Technologies (FVT) Inc. – are partnering with SFU researchers to further their technology and are contributing financially to the projects.

In support of this industry-university collaboration, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is investing $4.1 million to help SFU and Ballard to create the next generation of heavy-duty (bus) fuel cells with enhanced durability.

Fuel cell-powered buses provide a clean, quiet, low-emission solution for urban transit services. The research program, based at SFU’s Surrey campus, will focus on developing a fuel cell that is cheaper to produce and lasts longer.

Erik Kjeang, an assistant professor with SFU’s Mechatronics Systems Engineering program, says Ballard’s current fuel cell module – the HD6 – is presently used by several transit systems. BC Transit uses 20 of the special buses in its fleet in Whistler. Kjeang’s team is working on the new HD7 fuel cell module.

“It’s important to know this is something that will help the automotive industry in Canada, especially in this case with the transition from the incumbent internal combustion engine to new drivetrain technologies based on cleaner engines, such as fuel cell systems,” says Kjeang. “Our research aims to make fuel cells more competitive on a financial basis.”

There are three SFU Mechatronics and three SFU Chemistry students working on the three-year project right now, but the NSERC funding will allow Kjeang to hire two to three dozen additional researchers. The majority of the hires will be SFU students, with some collaboration from the University of Victoria.

Not only will the SFU team work on new technology, it will also prepare students to become fuel cell technology experts.

“In this project, not only will we be developing the new technology, we’ll be training dozens of people to be future leaders in this field and that’s something the industry is really needing right now,” says Kjeang. “It’s a huge challenge for the automotive industry to move to new clean energy vehicles.”

In a second SFU project with Future Vehicle Technologies, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and NSERC are contributing $798,906 to concentrate on integrated, intelligent energy management systems for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs).

At the moment, HEVs are considered the most viable alternative propulsion system in the automotive industry. The SFU project’s goal is to develop efficient thermal management systems to reduce the cost and weight, and ensure long-term, problem-free operation while also increasing efficiency. This project builds on existing research done between Future Vehicle Technologies and Mechatronics assistant professor Majid Bahrami.

Funding for both projects comes from Automotive Partnership Canada, a five-year, $145-million initiative that supports collaborative research and development in Canada’s automotive industry.


Karen Lee, SFU Faculty of Applied Sciences,, 778.782.8923
Dixon Tam, SFU PAMR,, 778.782.8742

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Story credit/SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations