Soaring gas prices and emissions targets are paving the way for electric vehicles to become more mainstream.
But while they may be good for the planet, electric vehicles aren’t without their shortcomings, including being unable to drive long distances without having to stop to recharge.
“Range is one of the biggest problems electric vehicles have,” notes Henry Agorua, co-founder and chief technology officer for RenMobi, a Toronto-based renewable energy and mobility firm. “With range, it’s also one of the most expensive problems electric vehicles have because it means more battery.”
Or does it?
Henry and RenMobi’s MO is to apply renewable energy solutions to everyday problems. That includes expanding the range of electric vehicles, even in cold weather when they experience range reduction between 30 and 40 per cent. This is done by creating a thermal management system that captures and stores thermal energy from external sources to maintain electric vehicle thermal needs without needing larger, costlier batteries.
To put his idea to the test, Henry turned to researchers at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC). Since February, the WAMIC team, led by Amal Driouich, research program manager, has been doing simulations of the RenMobi thermal management system. The goal is to validate a design so the company can advance to building and testing a prototype that electric vehicle manufacturers could one day integrate into their products, or help power a proprietary RenMobi vehicle.
“[The WAMIC team was] able to understand where we’re coming from and where we’re going. Amal is great at understanding and putting together needed resources to deliver on the project.”
– Henry Agorua, RenMobi
There were other post-secondary institutions that could have helped with this research. However, Niagara College was the clear choice, Henry says, because of the WAMIC research team’s skills and knowledge and how well both RenMobi and the researchers gelled.
“They were able to understand where we’re coming from and where we’re going,” he said. “Amal is great at understanding and putting together needed resources to deliver on the project.”
In addition to helping solve the range issue with electric vehicles, the RenMobi thermal management system (RTMS) could have other applications, Henry explains.
With more research, development and innovation, it could be used to reduce the costs of operating gas, electric or oil-powered HVAC systems in multi-tenant residential, commercial and industrial buildings. It would work by storing enough thermal energy during off-peak hours to provide a dependable and efficient solution for peak hours’ energy consumption for days at a time. The benefits are good for both the environment and building owners who could save money on their energy bills. Meanwhile, the grid would be freed up for other essential power needs, he adds.
Additionally, RTMS could be used to optimize electric vehicle charging station functionality, making them more efficient and reducing charge time in cold weather.
But first comes building the RenMobi thermal management systems prototype to improve upon existing technology, and seeing the rest of the project through with Niagara College.
“It’s definitely going to be Niagara College who will take this all the way for the world to see,” Henry says. “The experience has been wonderful and we hope it continues. The credit goes to Amal, No. 1, for understanding what we want to do. Sometimes it’s challenging for entrepreneurs or inventors to express their creative ideas, images or thoughts in their head and get it out there. Amal got it, she put it on paper for everyone to see, read and understand.”