Matthew Sponiar and the EcoCar team

For Matthew Sponiar, founder and project manager of the University of Alberta’s EcoCar team, speed is not always the goal.  

With a mission to promote environmental responsibility and sustainability, Sponiar — an engineering student— along with a team of interdisciplinary students set out to push the limits of alternative energy technology  by designing and building a zero emission, eco-friendly electric car.

The EcoCar is not powered by gas but alternatively is an electric hybrid which uses hydrogen fuel cells. Instead of combusting gasoline, which is less efficient, the vehicle produces a chemical reaction that sends electricity to the motors which are integrated into both rear wheels. 

Ultimately, it is the growing demand for sustainability which drives Sponiar’s desire to further develop the EcoCar project. Once thought of as a thing of the future, Sponiar insists that sustainable changes in the world can be made now and with the U of A’s EcoCar, the student group has the opportunity to create awareness about the future possibilities of alternative energy. 

”As a student, you have a lot of flexibility to start a focused project and put some ideas together about what we would like the future of transportation to be. There is no better time to experiment with these things,” said Sponiar. 

With a distinct focus on sustainable innovation and collaboration, the EcoCar team has also combined elements of the faculty of science, business and arts into their project. Together, Sponiar and the team have built the EcoCar project from the ground up with an eclectic mix of students who help with everything from building and promoting the vehicle to crucial elements like obtaining funding. The cross-faculty integration and interdisciplinary focus of the EcoCar has always been an important aspect of the project for Sponiar, who sees it as excellent preparation for future endeavors. 

“Working in a collaborative environment is representative of what we will experience when we graduate,” said Sponiar. “So it is really nice to get that exposure while in university.”

And due to the team’s hard work, the drive to alternative energy seems to be gaining traction. A recent trip to the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas in Houston Texas netted the team second place in the urban concept category, a classification for more conventional looking cars with attributes similar to vehicles on the road today. 

Before he graduates and passes the torch to the next EcoCar project manager, Sponiar hopes to send the team and the car on its biggest challenge yet, a cross-continental drive across Australia. Known as the Global Green Challenge, the bi-annual race, aimed at promoting alternative vehicles and environmental sustainability, is a grueling 3000km test and exactly what Sponiar sees as the EcoCar’s purpose — pushing the limits of technology while showcasing new and exciting possibilities for future transportation.

”If can we make it across Australia and not release any emissions, how far can we take this thing?” questioned Sponiar.

Learn more about the U of A’s EcoCar at their webpage and blog.

Did you know?

The university has a comprehensive Energy Management Program that ensures that minimal energy is expended in day-to-day operations.

Thanks to the proceeds generated from the savings created through this program, sustainability-related projects, such as the EcoCar project, have received funding through the Office of Sustainability’s Sustainability Enhancement Fund. Grants range from $2,000 to $50,000. Deadline for applications is January 14, 2013.

Learn more about the Office of Sustainability’s funding programs.