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Forestry Professor Mohini Sain (cross-appointed to Chemical Engineering), a recipient of an AUTO21 grant

With the support of new grants, auto research at the University of Toronto is being put in the fast lane. The funds will support a broad range of research, from building cars out of trees and plants to a new training program that will help drivers learn how to limit their gas consumption.

Six projects led or supported by U of T researchers will benefit from more than $3.3 million in funding announced on May 29 by the Honourable Gary Goodyear, the Federal Minister of State, Science and Technology. The research is coordinated by AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence, which aims to develop a stronger automotive sector in Canada through research collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“On behalf of the University of Toronto, thank you to the Government of Canada and AUTO21 for this investment,” said Professor Peter Lewis, U of T’s associate vice president, research. “When you look at the tremendous innovation with each of these projects, it is clear that U of T researchers are making impressive progress in the transition of the automobile into a mode of transportation that can still be a vibrant part of a more environmentally sustainable global society.”

Forestry Professor Mohini Sain, working with Professor Amar Mohanty at the University of Guelph, is developing hybrid biocomposite materials for use in car manufacturing. Biocomposites use natural fibres, like those derived from trees or plants, to reinforce plastic. The result is a material that is less costly to manufacture and has a smaller carbon footprint while still being sufficiently strong.

The other research projects are:

  • Professor Andrew Howard (Surgery/Hospital for Sick Children) who will investigate the cause of child fatalities in car accidents;
  • Professor Andrew Jardine (Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) who will explore new training strategies to help drivers operate vehicles in more fuel-efficient ways;
  • Professor Chul Park (Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) who will use lightweight recyclable plastics to reduce the cost of materials used to manufacture cars;
  • Professor James Wallace (Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) who will investigate the particulate emissions from biofuels such as ethanol; and,
  • Professor Heather MacLean (Civil Engineering) who will conduct life cycle assessments of emerging automotive technologies.

The grants are supported by the Government of Canada through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program and contributions from Canada’s automotive sector, including numerous automakers, parts manufacturers and material suppliers.

“The ideas, products and technologies generated by these AUTO21-funded research projects will create jobs and businesses, help develop highly skilled people, strengthen our economy and improve the long-term competitiveness of our Canadian automotive industry,” said Goodyear.

“With their industry partners, AUTO21 researchers are developing solutions for cleaner, safer vehicles and roads,” said Stephen Beatty, chair of the AUTO21 board of directors and managing director of Toyota Canada Inc. “The projects supported by this investment will provide solutions to the issues most pressing in today’s automotive sector while providing training to hundreds of Canadian graduate students.”

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