Fueling Cars, Lighting Up Towns – On A Battery

Solar power generation for charging electric vehicles and illuminating remote communities

Timing is everything. In cleantech innovation, it’s the difference between leading and falling behind. For Professor Martin Ordonez’s team at the UBC Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering who work in power electronics and conversion, one of the ways of being ahead is developing clean energy through research in renewable electric vehicles (EV) and power storage.

“We work on power conversion. It’s a timely, much needed area of work. EV is a logical application for renewable storage. We’re part of an ecosystem. Companies who need talent are moving into this field. We want to make sure we can capture that talent,” says Ordonez.

Governments and industry think so too, having committed to over $10 million for this research area. With this project, vehicles and buildings become active participants in city-scale energy transactions.

Professor Ordonez has plenty of talent in his lab. His team works on a wide range of battery research. For Divyank Singh, a senior undergraduate Engineering student from India’s Manipal Institute of Technology visiting Canada this summer as a Mitacs Globalink Research Intern (GRI), the opportunity to work in Ordonez’s lab is a dream come true.

“I reached out to Dr. Ordonez even before I knew about Mitacs’s GRI program. I’m researching front-end EV battery power conversion at the power outlet and charger connection. A major challenge is estimating the right size of battery for parkades,” says Divyank.

He is also supporting other students who work on power conversion with a testing platform he developed using the equipment available in Ordonez’s lab. The automation platform he designed measures raw values. It’s proving invaluable for his project but also for modelling and simulation of much larger batteries.  

“With a major scarcity of fossil fuel, and clear global sustainability goals, we need to develop efficient, non-polluting solutions,” says Divyank.

While his work specifically focusses on the point of charging in a parkade, it will also inform batteries that can be scaled up to deliver renewable energy at a community level. “I’m developing a platform for testing modelling which will aid estimation of size and bring us one step forward to solving that challenge.”


A quest to predict battery behaviour

Professor Ordonez’s team is modelling lithium-ion batteries which are used in electric vehicles because of their high energy capacity. The team is looking for the mathematical equation that predicts voltage as a function of charge and current. And they are studying the behavior of batteries under different conditions. It’s part of a larger goal to develop a microgrid, a small electrical system that can stand alone independently or attach to a grid. The applications will be far reaching because a microgrid can support a small community.


Secret to success: not getting lost in the data

This type of research isn’t unique to UBC, however it is uniquely fast and precise.

“Our statistical approach on using information allows us to get accurate, fast, simple solutions that support a high functioning system,” says German Bogado, Divyank’s fellow researcher.

According to Ordonez, “Sometimes you have models that describe what’s happening but if it’s too complex you have a language problem. We’re trying to find something that has a level of detail and runs fast. You can get lost in the data but if you can use the data as an equation, you have an interpretation that allows you to predict.”

Ordonez likens it to meteorology: “Look at weather forecasting,” he says. “It uses equations in a similar way to make predictions with a high degree of accuracy, simplicity, and speed.”


Efficient EV battery system, efficient grid system

Divyank says, “Once we have the battery model, the converter behaviours will be better designed to charge or discharge batteries more efficiently. It will also support many important applications in predicting mileage and how electric vehicles consume energy.”

Other conditions such as varying speeds and various levels of charge will be studied in the future.

Divyank’s EV research for parkade plugs and his platform for measuring are an important part of the overall battery behavior study. This research informs the large-scale system to supply energy at a community scale.

“Divyank has been amazing in supporting us,” says another researcher, Daniel Hsu. “He built a platform with the equipment we have in the lab to give us automation to measure parameters. It not only supports my project looking for solutions for remote communities, but it can also be used by other researchers in the future too. I will use Divyank’s work as a building block in a larger system. I’ll have simpler programming, modelling, and faster simulation. In this part of the system, I’ll have an accurate prediction of what’s happening.”

Divyank sees an impressive future ahead with a defined area of interest and plans to pursue this research. This work will have real world applications in the future.

“This experience aids that future goal of sustainable, clean energy. It would be wonderful to see the research expanded in the future to bring in more students. I’m grateful to the organization,” says Divyank.


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo; China Scholarship Council; Campus France; German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Government of the State of Guanajuato, EDUCAFIN, and Tecnológico de Monterrey; Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche scientifique, des Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication de la Tunisie and Mission universitaire de Tunisie en Amérique du Nord; and Ukrainian-Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko.

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