Making electrification a reality for the automotive industry

Posted on 9 Jul 2019 by Maddy White

The electrification of the car industry is happening, but for deeply-rooted supply chains that task is proving tricky. We spoke to the Advanced Propulsion Centre, an institute that is helping to drive an electric future forward for automotive manufacturers.

Last month, the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), a joint venture between the UK government and the automotive industry, awarded £33m to propel the UK’s low carbon car industry in its twelfth round of funding.

Pressure is mounting on car makers to be more environmentally friendly – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The funding is designated for innovative electric automotive projects, ranging from the development of high-performance battery packs and electrified construction equipment, to hydrogen-powered engines, as well as helping to support the establishment of future supply chains.  

The CCC’s net zero emissions target by 2050 means the development of low carbon vehicle technology is a crucial part of the future success of the UK automotive industry. “Whilst this deadline might sound like a long way off, most passenger vehicles have a ten-year lifecycle, meaning we only have two or three cycles remaining before we must have a commercially sustainable solution to power these vehicles,” Gareth Deakin, senior project delivery lead at the APC, tells me.

Electric power accelerates

“The UK builds about 2.7 million engines annually and each year the demand is shifting further away from conventional powertrains toward electrified and hybridised ones. This is why we must ensure the UK has the capability to supply these needs as the demand for combustion engines decline.”

Battery powered electric vehicles in Britain are on the up, but plug-in hybrids are falling, leading to a decline in sales of electrified vehicles. Overall, sales of new cars in Britain declined for the fourth consecutive month, down -4.9% in June, as alternatively-fuelled vehicle demand fell for first time in 26 months, according to the SMMT.

One of the projects match-funded by the APC is the ACeDrive (Advanced Cooling and Control of High Speed e-Drive), which aims to deliver the world’s lightest and most efficient electric vehicle powertrain for volume markets. The £8m project is based at the GKN Automotive Innovation Centre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, and will be supported by Drive System Design (DSD) and the University of Nottingham.

GKN, a global tier one automotive company, is developing future eDrive system platforms by utilising advanced high-speed power electronics and eMachines. GKN will supply this technology to its OEM customers, enabling the journey towards electrification through the supply chain.

“The project consortium combines GKN’s knowledge and experience in power electronic and motor design with the advanced simulation techniques of DSD and the University of Nottingham. This ensures the system requirements and technical solution is optimised prior to beginning the detailed design phase,” Deakin adds.

Partner to progress

He says one of the biggest challenges to overcome is that there’s no ‘one size fits all solution’ for electrification. “Pure electrification and fuel cells are only part of the story. It depends on the vehicle size and use case as to what powertrain is most suitable – for this reason we must continue to innovate and must do so collaboratively,” Deakin says.

JLR electrification - image JLR
JLR has invested in electrification – image courtesy of JLR.

Most recently, JLR revealed plans to join forces with BMW group to collaborate and develop electrification technology, as well as investing almost £1bn to produce a new range of electric cars at its Castle Bromwich plant.

“Legislation is driving the industry towards very challenging emissions targets. Therefore, it is vital that we develop the capability in the UK to produce innovative technology to deliver advanced solutions if we are to keep the British automotive industry at the cutting edge of the technology worldwide,” says Deakin.

The Advanced Propulsion Centre brings together innovative teams and organisations to enable UK research to become commercial products.

“We are, and we must continue to, support projects that will not only produce commercially viable products but will also build and develop the manufacturing processes and the supply chains to support them,” Deakin adds. “Ultimately, this is the APC’s goal; to bring innovators together to produce a variety of commercially viable solutions,” he concludes.