Partnership aims to improve cooling systems for electric motors

Improving the efficiency and power density of electric vehicle powertrain systems is the focus of a partnership between UWindsor researchers and a leading global automotive supplier.

Dr. Ram Balachandar will conduct a $326k project — in collaboration with mobility technology company Magna International, the largest automotive supplier in North America — that aims to improve cooling systems for electric motors and power electronics while reducing costs.

As temperatures rise inside the power electronic converters and electric motors, their peak power rating, operational efficiency and power density are diminished. 

“This necessitates the need for improved thermal management and packaging design of the inverters and motors keeping stringent automotive cost targets,” Balachandar says.

The first phase of the project included the development of an innovative, cost-effective liquid cooling solution for power electronics, which is being optimized for manufacturing and commercialization within Magna. UWindsor and Magna have already co-filed patent applications for similar products through previous research projects and have established a strong partnership in the collaborative development of new technologies.

The second phase of the project will focus on developing novel turbulence enhancing stator, rotor and power electronics cooling systems that include multiple liquids and unconventional designs with simple flow paths and mixers.

Researchers will use thermal analysis software to design, model and optimize the cooling systems against data obtained from simulations and field tests conducted at Magna. The developed cooling systems will then be tested at UWindsor using real-vehicle conditions data provided by Magna.

“This thermal management system will increase the overall efficiency and reliability of the electric motor and associated electronics by ensuring operation at optimal temperatures during the various stages of the drive cycle,” Balachandar says. “This will eventually lead to increased driving range and safer operational life for electric vehicles.”

The project is funded by Magna and the Ontario Centres of Excellence Voucher for Innovation and Productivity (VIP) program, which supports partnerships between Ontario companies and post-secondary institutions to develop, implement and commercialize technical innovations. Smart Computing for Innovation (SOCCIP) is providing approximately $26k in computation resources.

Balachandar points to market research that predicts the global electric vehicle motor market will grow steadily and post a compound annual growth rate of almost 23 per cent by 2021.

“This project will create significant knowledge that can be incorporated in Magna’s range of motors and power electronic systems as well as commercialization opportunities through the development of new-generation e-drive systems,” says Balachandar. 

“Furthermore, employing technical and manufacturing expertise from the University of Windsor and Magna is expected to enable significant breakthroughs by bridging the gap between academia and industrial based research in the area of thermal management and packaging of e-drives.”