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Research Partnerships & Innovation

A Q+A with Dr. Robert Parsons for the Vehicle Technology International Conference

September 9, 2019

From September 30 to October 2, Red River College is hosting the inaugural Vehicle Technology International Conference at the Victoria Inn Hotel & Convention Centre in Winnipeg, MB. In anticipation of the conference, we’re highlighting some of our guest speakers. For a full list of speakers from the conference, and to register, please click here.

Below is a Q+A with Dr. Robert Parsons, who teaches Sustainability Economics for the MBA program in the I.H. Asper School of Business.

About me, and what sparked my interest in this vehicle technology:

I have an eclectic background, both in terms of education and experience. I have four university degrees from three different institutions, with the most important ones being a PhD in engineering from the University of Manitoba, and a MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

I have worked in many diverse areas, including with a municipal level government, an international technology company, a consulting engineering firm, utility, and as officer and director of a non-profit. Most importantly, I acted as a specialized energy consultant for the Government of Manitoba over a number of years, through which I began working on advanced and alternative vehicle technologies, including fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. Because of this, I have also had long associations with Red River College that now stretches back roughly 15 years.

I hold the distinction of being the person in Manitoba who has driven the most different models of electric cars, currently around 10. I also have been involved with both hydrogen and battery-electric buses, and have been able to watch as such technologies moved from being quirks on drawing-boards to functional commercial units.

Since 2015, I have been teaching Sustainability Economics as a sessional instructor for the MBA program in the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. Teaching is both rewarding and stimulating, and I have focussed on trying to provide participants with opportunities for real world applications. This helps to move away from being dryly academic to highly relevant.

Also, since 2017 I have provided some specialized assistance directly to Red River College’s Research Partnerships & Innovation group to support the Vehicle Technology and Energy Centre (VTEC) initiative, which the College is conducting in conjunction with Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). This has primarily involved helping to develop and find funding for some new projects in this area.

What I will talk about as part of the conference:

I will be acting as the chair for one session of talks in the conference dealing with sustainability, and will also be presenting as part of that session myself. This session overall includes a number of informative talks covering diverse aspects of sustainability from different angles.

My presentation discusses a variety of insights for improving transportation that have come from sustainability economics, primarily from work done by students in my classes. These relate to electric buses, electric cars, as well as increased renewable content levels in fuels, both gasoline and diesel. As an interesting example, diesel has been well known as the second most common fossil fuel used in vehicles, after gasoline. Most with involvement in vehicle technology also know that diesel dominates for heavy duty and specialized applications, including buses, freight transport and agricultural equipment, which are all key areas for the conference. What is less known is that over the past twenty years, diesel has been progressively changing from having predictable low-costs, to becoming more expensive most of the time, compared to gasoline. Indeed diesel has been transitioning to become the “premium” and most important fossil fuel in the world. This significant change in relative pricing is an important new motivation to improve efficiency and to look for alternative motive technologies in both heavy duty and specialized areas.

Some additional material being presented and additional thoughts:

There is also a poster presentation being presented by myself and students from one of my classes. This group undertook an exhaustive cost-benefit analysis examining “externalities” associated with changing from conventional diesel transit buses to more-advanced battery electric buses.  The results involve primarily benefits, but not entirely. There are still some cautions we all need to be aware. Importantly, this more-fundamental work, which was undertaken through advanced university studies in business, was made possible given the more practically-oriented results of applied research by Red River College documenting the history and performance of the prototype electric transit bus, with which the College was an important consortium partner. This serves to highlight collaboration, and important synergies that can result.

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Visit rrc.ca/vtec2019 to register for VTIC 2019 today!