$4.9 Million for Greener, Lighter Cars

By Jenny Hall

A University of Toronto research team has won $2,513,500 from Automotive Partnership Canada (APC) to work with Ford Motor Company to develop a novel new material for car parts using renewable resources extracted from wood pulp. Together with financial and in-kind contributions from Ford and U of T, the project’s total value is $4,981,500.

The team, led by Professor Mohini Sain, who is cross-appointed to our Department, is using two key ingredients from wood pulp: micro-cellulose fibre and lignin carbon fibre. These two fibres are combined to create a high-strength composite that will be used to manufacture automotive components. The manufacturing process will be greener and the components lighter, leading to reduced vehicle emissions. 

“We are very fortunate to have three leading public-private partners helping us to address a key research issue to design and manufacture automobiles for better living,” said Sain, who is dean of the Faculty of Forestry and cross-appointed to chemical engineering and applied chemistry. “We are a committed multidisciplinary team with relevant expertise poised to bring transformative changes in lightweight materials innovation and positively contribute to global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sain is joined by U of T ChemE Professor Ramin Farnood, MSE ProfessorChandra Veer Singh and Professor Ning Yan of Forestry, who is also cross-appointed to our Department. Roman Maev of the University of Windsor rounds out the team. To develop the unique design tools and processing technologies needed to produce their new composite material, researchers are working closely with industry partner Ford Motor Company.

“Congratulations to all the researchers,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research and innovation). “Collaborative research like this, in which academia and industry join forces, allows us to apply our combined strengths to solving real-world problems.”

The project builds on Sain’s success innovating the use of natural materials in place of plastic in manufactured goods. An active entrepreneur, Sain’s technology formed the basis for the spinoff company Greencore Composites, and he holds several patents.  
Announced in April 2009, Automotive Partnership Canada is a five-year, $145-million initiative that supports collaborative research and development and pushes the Canadian automotive industry to greater levels of innovation. Automotive companies play a key role in this industry-driven initiative, by providing both financial support and essential in-kind contributions to the collaborative research projects.

“The automotive industry has told us how important R&D partnerships are to innovation in this sector,” said Janet Walden, Chief Operating Officer of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which is the lead agency within Automotive Partnership Canada. “Across Canada, Automotive Partnership Canada is supporting industry-university research partnerships that are translating our strong discovery research into new knowledge and technologies that companies tell us help to improve their products, processes and technologies.”