Spotlight on Ali Emadi

A green technology program that’s second to none

Ali Emadi has set up a platform that is preparing the next paradigm shift in electrical power

“If Alexander Graham Bell came back and looked at today’s information technology, he wouldn’t understand a thing because there have been so many paradigm shifts since his time,” says Ali Emadi, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Hybrid Powertrain. “But,” he adds, “Henry Ford and Thomas Edison? They’d recognize today’s internal combustion engines and electric power industry, and that’s not how it should be. We need to bring about a comparable paradigm shift in these areas, and that’s the focus–the goal–of our CERC program at McMaster.”

To say Emadi is passionate about his work and the program’s goal would be a serious understatement. He’s convinced McMaster is the place to help make this shift happen, and his industry partners and students–both current and former–couldn’t agree more.

Since coming to McMaster in 2011, Emadi has engineered a dynamic and robust university program that’s second to none in the country and the world. Based out of the McMaster Automotive Resource Centre (MARC), it is one of the world’s leading academic research programs in electric transportation. Its focus is on pioneering sustainable energy-efficient solutions—from advanced power electronic converters and electric motor drives, to electric, hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

MARC, a state-of-the-art centrepiece at the McMaster Innovation Park, is an 80,000 square foot facility, housing industry-scale labs and advanced equipment. Here, Emadi has built a team that is the envy of many, making it the go-to place for the automotive industry.

There are no silos in the program. Software developers, mechanical engineers and materials experts all work together alongside leading automotive industry partners who are eager to develop ideas and technologies. They’re also anxious to attract Emadi’s students to their companies. 

Take the Leadership in Automotive Powertrain (LEAP) project, for example, sponsored by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Automotive Partnership Canada, an initiative of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Led by Emadi, it boasts more than 100 researchers working closely with engineers and managers at FCA to build the next generation of more affordable and environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles.

Joe Tolkacz, FCA’s senior manager, Hybrid Controls and Calibration, says that plug-ins and hybrids are “game-changers,” as we look at ways to move away from a fossil fuel economy. He also says that their partnership with McMaster is helping to build these vehicles and change the future. And while they talked about “five years out and next generation,” FCA is already seeing benefits from LEAP that are in production today.

Cody Rhebergen, Emadi’s former student and now an FCA hybrid vehicle simulation engineer, says the collaboration was a great way to get a foot in the door.

“Working with Dr. Emadi, I got really into hybrid vehicles and it really sparked my interest in the automotive industry.” Now, he says, “I go to work every day to the job I love: simulating and designing, and being a pioneer in vehicle design for FCA and the future.”

 If Alexander Graham Bell came back and looked at today’s information technology, he wouldn’t understand a thing because there have been so many paradigm shifts since his time. 

Emadi is also the driver behind McMaster’s EcoCAR 3 team–one of only two Canadian teams to participate in North America’s premier collegiate-level engineering competition. Run by the United States’ Department of Energy, EcoCAR 3 challenges North American universities to re-engineer a Chevrolet Camaro into an electric vehicle while maintaining its iconic muscle and performance. According to Emadi, “the EcoCAR 3 students are so incredibly talented, they get multiple job offers months before they graduate.”

Emadi is the founder of several spin-off companies, including Enedym, which aims to make electric cars more efficient and affordable.  Specifically, it aims to make more effective powertrains, electric motors and other components for electric and hybrid vehicles. It will also look at improving a range of other machines, from vacuum cleaners to smart appliances, most of which currently lose a significant portion of their energy. Enedym has some 20-plus patents, patents pending and related inventions dealing with transportation and energy systems.

And in December 2016, Emadi was named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. This professional distinction is awarded to academic inventors who have created or enabled outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact of quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.