Cool Companies: Alberta's Clean Technologies 2011

BioEnergy

Excerpt from Cool Companies www.coolcompanies.ca By Claudia Sammer. Introduction contributor Rupinder Baweja

THE TECHNOLOGY EXPLAINED

In Canada, cars, trucks, buses and boats produced 22% of Canada’s CO2 emissions in 2008 (Pembina, Environment Canada). The Canadian government is implementing measures to help Canadians reduce their carbon footprint and now requires that 5% of gasoline and 2% of diesel have biofuel content. Alberta-based JK Trucking (pp.16, 35) has been running its fleet of 96 trucks on a biodiesel blend of 10% biodiesel since 2008; in addition to CO2 emission reductions, the company has found that biofuel improves mileage and reduces truck maintenance.

In recent years, all levels of Canadian government have made significant investments in public transit. According to Statistics Canada, two thirds (68%) of Canadian households lived within 5 minutes of public transit, and four out of every 10 of those households used it regularly in 2007. According to the Canadian Urban Transit Association, public transit reduces annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tonnes in Canada, and ridership continues to increase.

With no emissions, electric vehicles are an interesting transportation alternative. With today’s low electricity prices, they cost only a few dollars to recharge and do not require oil changes or regular maintenance. While expensive battery technology and low oil prices have limited the market penetration of electric vehicles so far, this is changing quickly with rapid developments in energy storage technology. Recent material advances have also contributed to reducing vehicle weight, improving safety, extending battery life and advancing charging technologies.

Electric Mobility Canada predicts that, “by 2018, there will be at least 500,000 highway-capable plug-in electric-drive vehicles on Canadian roads, as well as what may be a larger number of hybrid electric vehicles.”

One Canadian company pioneering the development of electric vehicles is Motive Industries (profiled p.27). The Calgary-based company has designed the Kestrel (pictured above), which will be Canada’s first biocomposite electric-based car. Over the next few years, the Kestrel will be prototyped and tested to produce a vehicle ready for fleet and public sale. Plans to manufacture some vehicles in Alberta are also in development. The success of the Kestrel and subsequent programs will make Alberta a leader in advanced vehicle design and development.

The Kestrel began its life as Motive Industries’ design submission for the international Automotive X-Prize contest. Along with a contribution from NRC-IRAP (p.23), the vehicle design was called the Switch (pictured below in Motive’s profile) and Popular Mechanics predicted it would place 7th (Motive also had three other vehicles it helped design in the X-Prize). After changes to the sponsorship regulations of the X-Prize, the Switch was unable to continue to participate in the race.

With the agreement of NRC-IRAP, Motive decided to put the contribution towards a more commercially-viable vehicle, hence the birth of the Kestrel. Motive Industries also co-founded Project EVE (p.34). Paul Burgener of NRC-IRAP who has been involved since the beginning explains, “Project EVE provides a collaborative approach for several companies that are currently engaged in Canada’s electric vehicle development. This cooperation demonstrates the best of Canadian entrepreneurship. Small and medium size companies develop new technologies quickly and innovatively and the consortium approach provides large organization capabilities to market and deliver large contracts. As a direct result of Project EVE, there are over one hundred people working collaboratively to provide Canadian manufactured electric vehicles, instead of only 11 independent companies.”

The Kestrel only weighs 850 kg, compared to 1200 kg for a regular car today. This low weight is achieved by making the body monocoque from advanced biocomposite material, which is a blend of plant fibre (such as flax or hemp) and glass fibers strengthened with an environmentally-friendly resin. Compared to fibreglass, biocomposites are 10% lighter and 20% less expensive; plus they show similar and—in some cases—improved performance characteristics, especially in terms of stiffness and thermal and acoustics resonances. While they are weight-for-weight tougher than steel, biocomposite material cannot replace the use of stronger fibres or steel in areas where increased strength is needed (such as the vehicles frame). However, biocomposite parts can replace these materials in non- and semi-structural areas of the vehicle, such as body panels, granting many inherent benefits.



In addition to weight reduction and comparable strength, biocomposite materials are made with renewable, waste stream fibres. These fibres produce a lower environmental impact, a smaller carbon footprint and are safe to work with, unlike synthetic fibres. The biocomposite parts can also be recycled when the car has reached the end of its lifecycle.

Alberta is a prime supplier of tough, fibrous crops including flax, hemp and triticale. The waste of these products make ideal fibre components for biocomposite materials.

All over the world, the biocomposite industry is only in its infancy. Working in partnership with John Wolodko (p.18) and Trevor Kloeck (p.18) of the biomaterials group at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (p.23), Motive Industries has spent two years applying and advancing hemp-based material for automotive applications not just for the Kestrel, but also on the request of its clients designing other cars. This is part of a $25 million R&D investment from federal and provincial governments that includes looking at the complete business case around agriculture-based engineered materials from the field to end user. Production capabilities have been installed and this industry is set for a sharp growth curve. Advancements made in this technology will not only have a beneficial impact on automotive design, but natural fibres have enormous potential in supplementing or replacing traditional materials in a wide range of industries. The annual growth of biomaterials is predicted to be 12% for the next 20 years.

While big car companies invest $1.2 billion or more for a mass-produced road vehicle, Motive Industries has developed an iterative manufacturing process that significantly reduces costs and creates prototypes ready for the road in a short amount of time. The development of the first Kestrel prototype cars involves many partners providing their expertise. But when the car is in production at a factory, the process will be simple and streamlined.

Following the Journey of Making the First Prototype Kestrel Cars


The raw hemp or flax material for the Kestrel is grown locally in Western Canada. This requires very little energy to process into a mat form and this will be done at the newly opened fibre processing facility in Vegreville. The recently launched Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre (p.19) is working to ensure sufficient volumes of the right fibre material will be available to support later production of the vehicle in the factory.

The next step in manufacturing the prototype of Kestrel vehicles in 2011 is to turn the fibre mats into biocomposite mats. This will be done by TTS/The BioComposite Group (profile p.51, p.19) in Drayton Valley, who is currently piloting other biocomposites parts for auto companies in Detroit.

Fiber-Werx (profile p.28) of Sylvan Lake, Alberta, will then mold the biocomposite mats into hard body and interior panels for the prototype Kestrel cars. Red Deer College will bond the panels into monocoque structures and conduct material testing to further develop the material. 3M will supply the production level paint-film coating, eliminating the need to paint the panels. SAIT Polytechnic will finish off the job and attach the biocomposite parts to the vehicle platform. Motive Industries and other private firms in Calgary will work to finish the vehicles along with SAIT Polytechnic.



Motive Industries plans to work with the newly established Hanna Test Center outside of Calgary to conduct road testing for physical certification. They will also work with Collision Analysis of Calgary for certified virtual testing. With the addition of Calgary-based National Technical Services, Motive has everything it needs in Alberta to precertify a road vehicle. Motive has also had several negotiations with CSA and Transport Canada, who have approved continuation of the project.

Since releasing the Kestrel design and platform configuration in mid September 2010, the vehicle has received tremendous media attention, including design accolades and many expressions of interest. In addition to a waiting list of people from the general public, there has also been interest from community development groups such as the Wind Walk Sustainable Community Development in Okotoks, Alberta, initiated by TV host Mike Holmes of The Holmes Group. They have indicated a desire to have a Kestrel vehicle be an option with every home purchase; the community will have approximately 300 homes which will interact with the community’s smart grid. Another sustainable community development, Open Gate near Chestermere, Alberta, is interested in the Kestrel as the vehicle for its car sharing program.

The Kestrel and another Project EVE electric car, the A2B from Toronto Electric, are currently both offered to ENMAX employees in Alberta (profiled p.31, p.11) as part of its Drive Into the Future program. ENMAX is investigating a number of issues related to using electric cars, including how the electric cars withstand Canadian winter conditions. Motive is also in negotiations with Encana to develop natural gas energy systems and move to a super capacitor-based hybrid system refueled only with condensed natural gas.

In an electric car configuration, the Kestrel will run on battery power. One of the greatest concerns when exploring electric car ownership is travelling too far and running out of electricity. The Kestrel is designed to travel 160 km before being recharged. According to Electric Mobility Canada, more than 80% of people live within 10 km of their workplace in smaller urban areas, compared
to 50% for large urban areas like Toronto.

Motive Industries is collaborating with another Alberta-based company, Revolute Power (profiled p.31), to develop an innovative new solution that will allow the Kestrel to make longer trips before recharging. Revolute has a lightweight, low cost and high efficiency onboard electric generator that runs on a small amount of natural gas. This generator will charge the batteries of the electric vehicle, improving its ability to drive longer distances.

Many other Canadian companies are developing innovative ways to increase transportation energy efficiencies and reduce CO2 emissions. The rest of this chapter highlights a collection of such innovative Alberta-based companies.

COMPANY PROFILES

(Details not included here)

  • Motive Industries
  • Fiber-Werx
  • ENMAX Smart Grids
  • Revolute Power
  • Alternative Fuel Systems
  • Road Badger
  • One Eye Industries
  • Standens
  • PowerDisk
  • TTS/The BioComposite Group (pp. 19, 51)
    Working with auto companies in Detroit, TTS is trialing light-weight, natural fibre biocomposites for auto interior trim and load floor, which would have very high renewable content and reduce the weight by up to 40% compared to current parts. Contact: www.ttsfpl.com, Tam Tekle, President, 780.465.1532
  • Innovator Technologies
    The world’s lightest one-man helicopter is made in Alberta (pictured below). Used mostly for recreation, there is interest in converting it into an unmanned vehicle for surveillance and other applications. Contact: www.innovatortech.ca, John Uptigrove, President, 403.669.3101
  • JK Trucking
    Since 2008,  JK Trucking has used more than 5 million litres of Kyoto Fuels (p.16) biodiesel blend (10% biodiesel and 90% petroleum diesel) to fuel its trucks resulting in reduced GHG emissions, improved mileage and reduced truck maintenance. Contact: www.jktrucking.ca, John Koliaska, President, 403.320.7057
  • Helium-assisted Heavy Lift Cargo Airships
    Interest in creating a transportation business using huge Zeppelin-like airships is growing in Alberta. Using a combination of buoyant helium and aerodynamic lift, these airships would use very little fuel and therefore create minimal GHG emissions as they carry heavy cargo to Canada’s remote northern communities. Contact: Jim Thompson, 780.875.4441
  • Sturgeon Longboards
    A longboard is a larger version of a skateboard. It gives a smoother ride and is much easier to ride on sidewalks. Working with Dr. John Wolodko of Alberta Innovates Technology (p.18) and Fiber-Werx (profiled p.28), Sturgeon Longboards will be one of Canada’s first to make a longboard using hemp. Hemp is expected to make the longboard several times stronger than regular boards made of wood. Contact: www.sturgeonlongboards.com, Simeon Perrault and Ian Wallace, Co-Owners, 403.760.9556
  • Versa Power Systems (p.38)
    Versa is making a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system that will be combined with solar power to produce continuous electricity on Boeing’s new unmanned aircraft. The new aircraft will remain in flight at 60,000 to 90,000 feet for at least five years. Contact: www.versa-power.com, 403.204.6100
  • Checkel Engineering
    Dr. Checkel invented and is commercializing a new technology that allows city transportation planners to quantify the GHG emissions of traffic control decisions such as changing the timing of a traffic light or building an overpass. Contact: (no website yet), Dr. David Checkel (also p.45), Mechanical Engineering, University of Alberta, Dave.Checkel@ualberta.ca, 780.492.2340
  • Dynetek Industries
    Dynetek is a world leader in lightweight storage cylinders that hold compressed gases used in alternative energy powered vehicles. Contact: www.dynetek.com, 403.720.0262

RESEARCH IN ALBERTA

INDUSTRY SUPPORT

Project EVE brings together Canadian skills and technology for the purpose of producing key Canadian content for advanced electric-based vehicles (EV). As a working group of SME’s, research facilities, schools and universities operating as a virtual OEM, the members of Project EVE intend to advance electric-based vehicle technologies and manufacture, test, support and improve EVs and their components for the Canadian fleet and export environment. Project EVE is co-founded by Steve Dallas, CEO of Toronto Electric working on the A2B electric car, and Nathan Armstrong, President of Motive Industries (profiled p.27) making the Kestrel.Contact: www.projecteve.ca, Nathan Armstrong

University of Alberta Eco-Car
Engineering students are building the University of Alberta Eco-Car (pictured, right) which is a zero emission electric car powered by a fuel cell. It will compete in the international Shell Eco-Marathon in 2012 and at the World Eco Challenge in Australia in 2013. The team is currently looking for industry partners for financial support. Contact: www.ualberta-ecocar.ca, Matthew Sponiar and Arthur Zielinski, ecocar@ualberta.ca • Dr. Marc Secanell Gallart, Mechanical Engineering, University of Alberta, Hydrogen fuel cell expertise, marc.secanell@ualberta.ca, 780.492.6961

AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence
AUTO21 is Canada’s automotive research program, partnering automotive sector companies with 200 to 300 academic researchers nation-wide. Projects related to clean technology include electric and hybrid vehicles, clean diesel, and green materials including biofibres composites.
Contact: www.auto21.ca, 519.253.3000 x4130

Canadian Centre For Unmanned Vehicle Systems (CCUVS)
Robotic unmanned vehicles (for air, ground and underwater environments) are designed to do dull, dirty and dangerous work. For example, electric-powered unmanned vehicles can do climate monitoring and inspect structures like pipelines and airport runways. Since they are lightweight, they also use little fuel compared to manned vehicles. With a strong research program and 50% of Canadian unmanned vehicle systems companies, Alberta is a Canadian leader in unmanned vehicle systems and CCUVS is helping to grow the industry in Canada.
Contact: www.ccuvs.com, Fady Khaled, CTO, 403.488.7208