WVU EcoCAR Validates Hybrid Thermal Management System

Written by: Ryan J. Alexander

Teams in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) incorporate different design elements into their vehicles to enhance student learning and be competitive against fellow teams. West Virginia University’s (WVU) EcoCAR team is currently in the process of integrating a new design element to its Chevrolet Blazer that will help the team moving forward in Year 4 of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge (EMC).

The WVU EcOCAR team is implementing a thermal monitoring system throughout vital parts of the Blazer for validation of the hybrid cooling system. The cooling system will be a key component for the team since final competition will be held in Yuma, Arizona in May, where functional cooling systems will be vital for success.

Dawson Dunnuck, a WVU Propulsion Controls and Modeling (PCM) Co-Lead, pitched the idea to the rest of the team to tackle this project in Year 4.

“Integrating thermocouples into the Blazer will allow us to monitor different components in our hybrid system within the vehicle through real-time temperature measurements,” said Dunnuck. “Monitoring the temperature will provide the team with a better understanding of how well the cooling systems are performing and the team can make adjustments as needed.”

Most vehicles in the EMC use two different cooling methods for their hybrid systems. WVU EcoCAR is using an air-cooling method for the Energy Storage System (ESS), and they are also using liquid cooling for the electric motor and inverter.

Using two different cooling methods for the same system presents challenges. The General Motors (GM) donated ESS cooling system was designed by GM and modified for the Blazer by the team, and the liquid cooling system supply to the Magna Powertrain donated electric motor and inverter is fully team designed. The thermocouples will facilitate monitoring the cooling flow temperature at the inlet and outlet of different components within the system to ensure they perform within their thermal limits in any driving scenario.

Thermocouple validation is a common practice in the automotive industry. General Motors (GM), a headline sponsor of AVTCs, uses thermocouples to validate its battery cooling systems.

James Keller, WVU Propulsion Systems and Integration (PSI) Lead, is overseeing the integration process of the thermocouples. This past summer, Keller interned with GM in the company’s battery lab where he worked with thermocouples in testing of high-voltage batteries.

“What makes this unique is that we are using a validation process that is used throughout the automotive industry,” said Keller. “That is what makes this really special for our team because we are proving that our system is of a grade that is appropriate of a production ready vehicle.”

Six of the seven thermocouples are currently integrated into the Blazer, along with a data acquisition (DAQ) system, and the monitoring system is partially operational. The team plans to finish the integration process before the end of the fall semester.

The team is hopeful this project will benefit them down the road in future competitions. The students integrating these components are gaining valuable experience and knowledge that will help WVU EcoCAR stand out from other universities in the future.

“If there is a need for thermal management validation in the next competition, our team will already have the knowledge and foundation to create the next system,” said Keller. “The effort that has been put into our current validation methods will put the team in a great position in the next competition for cooling system validation.”

WVU has a frame of mind that is emphasized to students from their first day on campus; Mountaineers Go First. The EcoCAR team at WVU has embodied that phrase and is finding new ways to Go First in AVTCs. The EMC has presented new automotive challenges for universities across North America to solve, and WVU is leading that charge one milestone at a time.