Four students at the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus have developed a way to quickly and cheaply convert gasoline-guzzling vehicles into electric-powered ones.

They will soon be showcasing their innovation to the public, planning to park a demo car at the front entrance of the Fredericton Convention Centre on April 5, when the fourth annual UNB Engineering Design Symposium kicks off.

Final-year UNB engineering students showcase their designs and prototypes to the community during the one-day symposium. More than half of the projects are sponsored by external clients, where students are mentored by practising engineers. Hundreds of student projects are presented.

“We want to share the experience of what it’s like to be in an electric vehicle. Most of the people we have talked to have been really excited and get the sense that electric cars are coming in the near future,” says Michael Barnhill, one of students who have developed the conversion technology.

The four final-year engineering students – Mr. Barnhill, Nick Dowling, Isaac Barkhouse and Samuel Poirier – are driving to commercialize their work through their new startup, Potential Motors.

They see great potential and a big market, especially in Europe.

“There are laws coming into play over the next 10 years to ban internal combustion engine vehicles. In Germany, they just passed regulations that allow cities to ban diesel and high-emitting vehicles. That affects 13 million vehicles in Germany right now. We don’t think that it’s environmentally or economically savvy to send these vehicles to the scrapyard,” says Mr. Dowling. “We want to convert them, but we want to start in New Brunswick first.”

The retrofit essentially replaces the fossil fuel-powered engine with three new components made up of modules – a motor, batteries and an electronic control unit. The motor is a universal electric motor system, specifically designed to replace the regular motor.

The system is built in a modular style so at any point components can be added or taken away easily to make the car faster or slower; have more or less range; or be able to charge faster. The company will be offering three trim packages for low-, mid-, and high-range models.

The students, which developed the technology for their senior engineering design class at UNB, say this allows them to convert a vehicle in a fraction of the time and cost of other conversion kits. Even at this early stage, they say they can convert a vehicle in under a day for an affordable price.

They are training their sights on the commercial vehicle market first, and are receiving startup mentoring through UNB’s Technology Management & Entrepreneurship program. The program immerses students in an ecosystem of creating, designing and launching their own business.

“We couldn’t have accomplished this idea without the help of UNB. The people here have been our biggest partner and asset, and have provided us with knowledge and inspiration – not to mention a great group of mentors,” says Mr. Barnhill.

The public is invited to take a peek at the technology, and the hundreds of other student-led innovations, at the design symposium, which will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the convention centre on April 5. It is a free event.

Dr. Michel Couturier, associate dean of engineering and NSERC chair in design engineering at UNB, says that he is continually impressed by the innovative ideas and designs that the students bring to life through their ingenuity and passion.

“Our senior engineering design courses help our students integrate the material learned in their four-year engineering programs, and gives them the chance to work with government and industry partners in finding better technologies and solutions,” says Dr. Couturier. “The real-world experience they gain not only enriches their education but bolsters them in the pursuit of their future careers.”

Media contact: Cody Peters

Photo: Fourth-year engineering students at the University of New Brunswick, founders of Potential Motors, have retrofitted this regular Subaru with an electric motor and the components to run it. From left Michael Barnhill, Nick Dowling, Samuel Poirier and Isaac Barkhouse. They will be showcasing their innovation at the Fredericton Convention Centre on April 5, when the fourth annual UNB Engineering Design Symposium kicks off. Credit: Rob Blanchard / Photo UNB.