The rush into new fuels has intensified research into new ways to transmit energy, with the possibility of brand-new powertrains and engines very much on the table.
As part of the R&D race to develop technologies of the future, the Centre for Advanced Low Carbon Propulsion Systems (C-ALPS) opened earlier this year in Coventry to research new ways to decarbonise transport.
C-ALPS is a £50m, 40,000 sqft facility collaborative venture between Coventry University and the German FEV engineering and technology company, designed to be the most advanced test facility of its kind in the UK.
It works across automotive, aerospace, marine and rail industries, helping them to create cleaner mobility, and to build supply chain capacity for the development of electric, hybrid and combustion engine technologies.
The Centre’s array of high-tech testing facilities will be offered to OEMs, Tier 1s and SMEs looking for R&D support using FEV’s test benches that can simulate all the conditions with which current and future engines are likely to be confronted, with capacity for working with turbochargers, catalytic converters, battery systems and electric machines.
Three world-class professors have also been recruited to lead the research team and they bring with them significant experience and knowledge in battery storage, power electronics and electric machines.
This article first appeared in the October issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe
The business/academia link is one that FEV has developed over the years with the university in its home town of Aachen, Germany, and this was used as the model for C-ALPS, as FEV’s UK managing director Joern Behrenroth told me.
“It’s funding PhDs, working with researchers as they are coming out of their academic career, and if they want to join industry, then they are the future managers for FEV,” Joern said.
“So, if you go to FEV Aachen, a lot of the department leaders are all ex-PhDs from Aachen University. It has proved quite successful in Germany and it is definitely an opportunity for both partners in Coventry.
“The university becomes attractive because the PhDs are funded by an industry partner, offering a career path that’s not academic.”
Covering bets on the future
Inevitably, as the future of automotive technology unfolds, quite where the smart money should go is still anyone’s guess.
China may be sinking huge sums into developing BEVs, but by the time BEVs are capable of the range owners want, maybe fuel cells will have become the power source of choice for long distance travel.
And of course, the whole concept of car ownership may very well be standing on its head by then, particularly as autonomous vehicles begin to further undermine traditional car ownership in cities.
This means covering research across the entire spectrum of possibilities, from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE), to BEVs, and H2 (Hydrogen) Fuel Cells.
“Even in 2035, we still see a relative high content of combustion-type power trains, albeit highly electrified, with electric vehicles the largest market component,” Behrenroth said.
“But we don’t believe electric vehicles will be the answer to everything. And that’s why, if you look at the variety of cars that are going to be available, it’s going to be probably a far bigger spectrum.
“Some of them will be short-range electric, some of them will be long-range electric. For somebody who commutes a long distance, a plug-in might be the right answer, because when they get to the inner city, they drive electric.
“When they get out, they drive with a combustion engine as well. One of the technologies we’re also looking at is e-fuels.”
E-fuels power ICEs via a mixture of H2 (produced via renewables-powered electrolysis) and carbon extracted from the atmosphere or vegetable matter, producing what FEV calls “virtually carbon-free” power.
Behrenroth says alternatives to all-electric vehicles, including ICEs using e-fuels, will be necessary because the grid won’t be able going to cope with fluctuating, often unpredictable demand.
The company is also involved in new car ownership models with its SVEN project (Smart Vehicle Electric Native) which is essentially a fleet of electric smart cars which users rent on a pick-up-drop off basis.
The establishment of the new centre burnishes Coventry’s role as a player in the future of the automotive sector, not simply a reminder of its glorious past. C-ALPS is located in the Coventry Technical Park and will operate within Coventry University’s Future Transport & Cities Research Institute.
“This collaboration is very encouraging news and a welcome boost for the UK automotive industry,” explained Professor Richard Dashwood, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Coventry University.
“We have a real opportunity for the country to lead the rest of the world when it comes to developing low carbon propulsion systems and C-ALPS has a major role to play in making this happen.
“It’s all about bringing the best of both worlds together, using the expertise and track record of FEV Group in engineering consultancy and combining it with the academic knowledge of our professors to create a real centre of excellence.
“Automotive is naturally the first target, but the technology will also be available to support the evolution of other sectors.”