- Canada has a great advantage in terms of having access to key minerals and materials needed for the manufacturing of EV batteries.
- A local supply chain for EV components is needed in order for Canada to become a major producer of EVs.
- More research on improving the state of EVs is needed in order to increase their popularity among consumers.
Unlike traditional vehicle manufacturing, EVs should be assembled in the same place their components are manufactured. This necessitates the development of a strong local supply chain. Canada is well-positioned to build its own supply chain but stakeholders must act fast.
Tell us about yourself and the Centre for Hybrid Automotive Research and Green Energy (CHARGE).
My name is Narayan Kar and I am a professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Windsor. I do research in electrified vehicles (EVs). I founded CHARGE and I am the director of this facility.
At CHARGE Lab, we have a large research program in electric drive systems where we conduct collaborative research and development (R&D) with industry and academic partners. Specifically, we work on materials, structural optimization, thermal management, prototyping and testing. Those are the primary areas of our capabilities.
How well-positioned is Canada in terms of access to materials, research, and design capabilities for EVs?
Canada has a good reserve of critical minerals like cobalt, lithium and other key metals to build EV components. These can be found in various parts of the country, for example in the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec. Although the number of materials may not be very significant, we do have the critical minerals and metals to build different electric drive parts and batteries.
We are well-positioned materials-wise, although we need more material processing facilities and be able to use these materials to build components.
In terms of research, our automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) do significant R&D in Canada. There are a couple of examples in Windsor. We have Ford Motor Company’s Powertrain Engineering Research and Development Centre and Stellantis’ Automotive Research and Development Centre (ARDC).
In Canada, we have government labs like the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) surface transportation division as well as Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan’s) CanmetMATERIALS that does a lot of good research on materials. Many Ontario and Quebec universities are doing significant research in various areas of electric vehicles. They also collaborate with these automotive OEMs as well as Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers and government labs.
Canada has significant EV research infrastructure and capabilities, as well as the ability to work with industry.
Canada has significant EV research infrastructure and capabilities, as well as the ability to work with industry. This is why we are well-positioned research and development-wise and we also produce highly qualified experts and scientists. We are known throughout for producing research that creates knowledge and expertise.
Although we have access to materials and significant R&D capabilities, Canada does not produce enough EV parts. We should use our minerals, R&D capabilities and mineral material processing facilities to build components and convert existing vehicle manufacturing facilities into electric vehicle manufacturing facilities. We have not done that much yet so that is a bit of a weakness for us right now. Once we focus our attention on that, we can position ourselves in this space strongly.
Is there a need for a local and reliable EV supply chain in North America? What does this mean for Canada?
In the course of the production of gasoline vehicles, the car parts travel throughout North America over and over before they are put together and built into a car. Sometimes, parts are brought in from Europe and Asia. For EVs, it is extremely important that we have local and reliable manufacturing facilities for different components. We do not want the battery pack to be travelled throughout North America multiple times. If we do not produce electric drive components or battery packs locally, we may not be able to manufacture our own electric vehicles. That is why it is important that we create a supply chain locally that produces good quality products that are reliable. We should also convert our traditional vehicle manufacturing facilities into electric vehicle manufacturing facilities and begin producing electric vehicles locally. It is extremely important to have a local and reliable supply chain here for us to produce electric vehicles locally.
In order not to lose our existing automotive manufacturing market, we will need to build our own supply chains quickly.
Automotive manufacturing has been one of our biggest strengths in the country. It is one of the largest gross domestic product (GDP) producing sectors of the country. In order not to lose our existing automotive manufacturing market, we will need to build our own supply chains quickly. If we can do that, it will present significant opportunities for us because currently, there is no clear winner when it comes to electric vehicles and the opportunity to win is still there. Canada can be a good leader in this area and advance electric vehicle technology here.
What scientific challenges still exist in terms of producing better electric vehicles in Canada?
There is significant room for improvement. There is a reason why not everyone is buying electric cars. For example, we need to make them more affordable, reliable and go further than they can go today. Electric vehicles need to have better recharging time and that and charging infrastructure is all around us.
We need to look at materials that are lighter and better performing. We need to look at structural optimization so that we can make smaller components that can fit in electric vehicles while leaving enough space for the passengers and goods we put in the car. We also need to look at the thermal aspect of it. If we can better manage temperatures, we can bring electric drive components out of the batteries and help them live longer. People are also worried about batteries catching fire and so temperature management will help.
We can overcome common challenges in EVs by conducting research on materials, system-level optimization, and temperature management.
In addition to making all the components lighter, less costly, better-performing and more manageable temperature-wise, we also need to do system-wide optimization to make the vehicle more reliable and affordable. Another important area that we need to look at is extreme weather performance because if it is too cold, vehicle range could be significantly affected. The battery pack could be brand new but the driving range could decrease if someone is driving in the winter.
We can overcome common challenges in EVs by conducting research on materials, system-level optimization, and temperature management. Those are significant areas that we need to work on.
What and who would you pitch to make Canada a leader in EV supply chains?
I will pitch our government and automotive industry. Canada has some reserves of critical minerals, rare metals and other materials needed to build different vehicle components. Electric vehicle manufacturing will not be the same as gasoline vehicle manufacturing. Electric vehicles will be assembled where their components are built, especially the battery pack, electric motors and other electronics. If we want to build electric vehicles locally, we need to have a supply chain that is local. I expect our government and industry to take the initiative to look into this seriously and accelerate the timeline towards building electric vehicle technology here in Canada.