Low carbon power to the people

Posted on 11 Sep 2009 by The Manufacturer

The Low Carbon Vehicle show, LCV2009, electrifies its audience with new demonstrator models, more exhbitors than 2008, record attendance and a packed seminar programme.

Electric superbikes, plug-in hybrids, solar powered cars, low carbon trucks, scooters and more were on display at LCV2009 at the Millbrook test facility in Bedfordshire last week (September 9-10). The event is designed to showcase British innovation in low carbon vehicle (LCV) technologies and to help place the UK at the forefront internationally of ultra-LCV development, demonstration, manufacture and use.

More than 150 exhibitors and over 30 demonstration vehicles were on show, with visitor attendance breaking the attendance at last year’s event by the afternoon of the first day. Companies with working demo models on show included Lotus Engineering, Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla Motors as well as niche players like Dynasty Electric Vehicles and commercial vehicle makers like Modec, Smith Electric Vehicles and DAF Trucks.

Seminars in the OLEV theatre, named after the Office of Low Carbon Vehicles the Government is putting together, were notable by the seniority of the speakers and the packed attendance. Lord Drayson, minister for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport, gave the opening keynotes and further presentations were given by industry luminaries including Richard Parry-Jones, ex-Ford and chair of the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team, David Shemmans, CEO of engineering company Ricardo, David Smith of Jaguar Land Rover and Rainer Feurer, a senior director at BMW.

All the regional development agencies supported the event, a sign that the RDAs are committed to supporting regional infrastructure investments for low carbon vehicles, including networking charge points for electric vehicles. This ties in to the Joined Cities Plan, published by the Energy Technologies Institute, where nine cities have collaborated with the ETI in their charging infrastructure roll-out, the beginnings of a national network of charge points. More needs to be done to link the work of separate regions to improve consumer confidence in the network. Future Transport Systems is a company tasked with ensuring that the distribution networks involved and the suppliers understand how the loads from electric vehicles impact on the grid. “The J-Cities Map shows the regional mix of the electric charging infrastructure,” says MD Matthew Lumsden. “You’ve got Glasgow, Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesborough then a huge gap through Yorkshire until you hit Coventry. We’ve got to get everyone buying in order to develop a full, working network.”

TSB driving innovation

A dedicated area inside the main arena, the Driving Innovation display, was hosted by the Technology Strategy Board and showcased several eye-catching projects. The TSB, set up by the Government in 2007 to support innovative companies and to make the UK a target destination for investment in high technology business, has set up a series of initiatives under its Innovation Platform Programme. The programme addresses specific societal problems, such as how to move towards lower carbon vehicles for everyday transport. Eleven companies and bodies including Axon Automotive, BMW Mini, Ford Motor Company, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council exhibited their technologies in this area, some were showcasing work made possible by winning one of the TSB’s previous competitions to invent and promote LCVs.

JLR, for example, alongside Caparo, Lotus Engineering and MIRA, were displaying the Limo Green hybrid, an electric Jaguar XJ variant with on-board generator (Lotus) and plug-in capability for a 30 mile range. The car is a concept model developed with TSB funding from its first competition, which JLR is considering rolling out as a production model. If this happens it would take two to three years before seeing the car on the road. “The TSB part-funded this and brought the partners together, without whom it wouldn’t have got off ground – we all knew each other but it was a bit leftfield for Jaguar mainstream so the route to funding through TSB and the match-making service was key,” says Martin Watkinson of MIRA, the engineering firm which co-produced the electric motor. Watkinson estimates that, were a production model built, 80%-90% of the car would be built in the UK.

Last week, the TSB put up £10 million investment to part-fund ten research programmes for electrical systems for LCVs. This is the third competition in the series, and the first run under the Integrated Delivery Programme which is linked between the research councils, the TSB and any other funding bodies that have joined from industry. “From the [second] January competition, which we’re looking at some of the fruits of here, like the Limo Green, came the realisation that electrical systems – be they motors, power control systems, fuel cells, batteries, super capacitors or whatever – were important and we had a fair capacity in the UK to do these,” says TSB’s director of programmes David Bott. “If you have an electric car you will need electric power steering, electric heating and A/C, electric systems, IEC, reconfigurable firmware – so we focused this competition completely on electrical systems within cars.”

Also part of the TSB’s Demonstrator Area, Axon Automotive has approached carbon emissions from the other direction, by reducing weight. Axon’s development two-seater car uses a carbon fibre frame — adapting technology used in Formula One motorsport — for the glider (car body less engine), providing lightness with strength to give very low fuel consumption but still in a safe body structure. It claims the car produced 20% less CO2 on government-approved tests than comparably-sized cars such as the VW Blue Motion Polo. Managing director Dr Steve Cousins is convinced reducing mass is where smaller companies can compete in the automotive market. “We’re able to get into the market for approx 100th of the investment that normal steel cars come to the market for. The economic equation is struck at a very different level; it’s why profitability is achievable from a much lower number of customers.” Axon’s programme with the TSB is to show how carbon fibre structures technology is used for making car bodies and how Axon is “productionising” that with TSB help. The company has two products: the carbon fibre body as a glider for any power train, and a plug-in hybrid version in development. “For me the CO2 problem is driven by the uneconomic steel car manufacturing system,” says Cousins. “That is the problem, not the fuel or the power train.”

Nissan’s LEAF, electrified Range Rover

Nissan hit the low carbon vehicle headlines in July with the announcement of the intention to build a new battery factory in Sunderland. The batteries are destined solely for Nissan’s new LEAF electric car, which will be in production in Japan by late-2010. It is highly likely Nissan will build a production facility for the LEAF in Europe, but if and where has not been decided. While it had no demo vehicle at the event, Nissan’s circular stand on the outside ‘Steering Pad’ was a monument to detailed research into LCVs and consumer’s driving behaviour, which says that 10% of all vehicles on public roads will be electric by 2020. “Our research shows that driving distance is the main trigger for an electric vehicle,” says Redmer van de Meer, European marketing manager, Nissan. “In order not to rely on a supplier that can’t deliver long range batteries, we’ve made this joint venture with NEC Tokin – two companies which have years of experience in battery technology.”

Ninety two per cent of people, according to Nissan’s research, on standard week day trips do not go further than 100 miles, making some electric cars viable for normal usage patterns. But van de Meer stresses that LCV cars cannot compromise the consumer or they will fail. “At the moment they’re comparing this (LEAF) car to any other normal, C segment hedge vehicle that’s in the market. They don’t want to have the steering wheel in the middle and two seats on the left and the right – you can go crazy with new designs, but people need comparable configuration and performance to what they’re used to.”

LCV technology need not be the exclusive preserve of small cars. Liberty Electric Cars converts a limited range of premium brand cars from petrol and diesel engines to high performance zero emission electric engines. Barry Shrier, Liberty’s American CEO, is passionate that a green alternative should be offered to all strata of incomes. “I’ve never in my life met anybody who said “I love my car but I wish it was more polluting”, so we’re responding to international demand. In every different segment in society – low, middle and high income – you have people who want to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s not simply the domain of the middle class. There are people who want large safe comfortable cars, but they also want them to be green.” Liberty’s Newcastle-based plant fits electric power trains to, primarily, Range Rover shells which are ordered straight from JLR dealerships. Shrier’s forecast is that Liberty will create a minimum of 500 jobs in the north-east within the next five years, for the vehicle programme only. “Our ambition is to be a leader in enabling the UK, as a government and a nation, to achieve global leadership in the electric car sector, because this is a race, and we’re racing against the Chinese, and the Germans and the French. The Chinese have allocated nearly $1 trillion to electrifying transport. It’s a big task.”

Commercial vehicles in force

Several LCV companies with strong reputations in the commercial vehicle sector were out in force, as well as others less well-known for their low carbon credentials. DAF Trucks and bus maker Optare plc joined Modec, Smith Electric Vehicles and Geesin Knorba, makers of reduced carbon waste management vehicles, and 30 other companies on the Steering Pad. Like Liberty, Smith Electric Vehicles is a resident of North East England, the location for Britain’s Low Carbon Economic Area dedicated to ultra-LCVs, where the ONE North East, is arguably the front-runner RDA in establishing a charging point infrastructure. Smith’s sales director Kevin Harkin supports the charging system but says it is no consequence to the commercial vehicle market. “Ourselves and the likes of Modec operate on a single charge model. This vehicle [a converted Ford Transit) has a 40KW battery pack, will do up to 100 miles on one charge. If you look at the general urban operating cycle, it’s difficult to travel more than 50 miles in a city in one shift, so there’s more than enough mileage capacity for that vehicle. Our other model will be able to extend that by 25%.” Smith has plans to open a Virginia, US manufacturing facility in 2010.

Coventry-based Modec imports its battery cells from China but manufacturers nearly the entire remainder of the vehicle in the UK. The vehicle is mainly designed for the distribution sector or the “back-to-base” operational vehicle sector for inner city use and can travel up to 100 miles on one charge. Clients include the global courier companies UPS and FedEx, and local authorities. National sales manager Paul O’Dowd is pleased with the vehicles USPs. “Our research shows clients picked out the unique entry system [drivers enter the van behind the cab via a special walk area that accesses the vehicle box], the monocoque-type cab design for good all round visibility and the ability to put different types of proposition on the rear of our chassis, as being attractive features.” Modec vans are accessed through a sliding door into a rear-cab anteroom, which can benefit when working in very narrow streets. The company is developing a new, tipper body rear configuration which, Dowd says, is very suitable for local authorities’ waste disposal services.

Some companies reported sales interest from what is designed to be a demonstrator event. Ian Martin at Geesin Knorba, Swedish-Dutch makers of low carbon waste disposal trucks that use an electrically-powered motor for the crusher to reduce fuel consumption, said regional councils had shown strong interest in the products. The trucks are shipped to the UK in modular form and assembled at a plant in Pontyclun, Wales. Paul James, programme manager at ONE North East, said several companies were doing business at the show they had not expected.

Look out for our lead story on LCV innovations and manufacturing opportunities in the UK in the November issue of TM.