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How Electric Car Labs Work


University EV Labs
As this speedometer on the Nissan Altima EV makes clear, electric vehicles don't need much gasoline to run effectively.
As this speedometer on the Nissan Altima EV makes clear, electric vehicles don't need much gasoline to run effectively.
Kristen Hall-Geisler

If there's research to be done and breakthroughs to be made, it makes sense that it would happen in a university lab. Several universities have battery and EV laboratories, but we'll take a look at two that exemplify what's being done at schools around the world.

University of Massachusetts at Lowell

University of Massachusetts at Lowell

At the Lowell campus of the University of Massachusetts (UMass), mechanical and electrical engineering professors work with students at the Center for Electric Car and Energy Conversion (EC&EC). There are five labs contained within the center: the Renewable Energy Lab, the Electric Car Lab, the Battery Evaluation Lab, the Power Electronics Lab, and the Advanced Composite Materials and Textile Research Lab.

The EC&EC at UMass-Lowell covers many subjects in these five labs, from the energy used in batteries to the crashworthiness of new car designs, but the center places a special focus on renewable energy. In order for an EV to be a true zero-emissions vehicle, the source of the power that recharges the batteries should be clean as well. This has led the center to design improved photovoltaic cells for solar panels and more efficient ways to convert wind energy to electricity. The results of this work are products that can be used in the clean energy industry and students who have the technical know-how to work and innovate in the EV field once they graduate.

University of California at Davis

University of California at Davis

Engineers at the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Research Center in Davis, California, are working on extended-range EVs. (Remember, most standard EVs only have a range of about 40 miles (64 km) per charge.) The program operates under the University of California at Davis' Institute of Transportation Studies, which focuses its research on the consumer end of PHEVs. These cars are a little different from purely electric vehicles in that they have a small, supplemental gasoline engine, but they can still recharge their batteries with a standard wall outlet.

One of the PHEV Research Center's projects evaluated new instruments inside the car's dashboard that could give drivers real-time information on energy usage, CO2 emissions, and more. The center's engineers also worked to improve charging technologies and evaluate new battery technologies, particularly the latest in lithium-ion cells. They also worked to establish the lifecycle costs of PHEVs, including manufacturing, maintenance, and emissions expenditures.

Read on to find out what auto manufacturers are doing in their labs to bring these EV technologies to the consumer.


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