The technical innovations needed to deliver ambitious plans for future low carbon vehicles were revealed today with the launch of the Automotive Technology Roadmap Report. Published by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), on behalf of the Automotive Council, the report draws on the expertise of 139 organisations from vehicle manufacturers and technology suppliers to consultants and academics.
“After decades of evolution, vehicle technology is now at an inflexion point, changing faster than at any time in the last 100 years. That presents a tremendous opportunity for British businesses,” states Advanced Propulsion Centre’s CEO, Ian Constance. “This new analysis will help investors, innovators and government understand which technologies need to be developed as we drive at increasing speed to low carbon transport, helping them make the decisions that will ensure the UK remains a global player in the $1 trillion global market by 2030 for low- and zero tailpipe emissions vehicle technologies.”
Revealing fundamental changes in technologies and regulations
As well as providing insight into the innovations required to deliver a step-change in vehicle emissions, the APC Automotive Technology Roadmap reveals fundamental changes that will have a dramatic impact on the way we plan and evaluate automotive innovation. The most significant of these is the predicted move from vehicle-level regulations to a focus on end-to-end sustainability.
“For example, most future powertrain options require substantial battery capacity, but the environmental impact of these systems cannot be controlled through traditional vehicle-focussed regulation,” explains the APC’s Head of Technology Trends, Dave OudeNijeweme. “This means a different approach to decision making is required, even before we consider trends in the availability of raw materials. The Roadmap is aimed to be of great value to decision makers across many sectors, by providing insights into areas of growing complexity, as well as the impact new business models such as mobility-as-a-service might have on technology”
Reaching forward to 2040, the document takes the reader from today’s technologies, through those needed for next-generation vehicles to those currently in R&D, highlighting the benefits, opportunities and challenges of each one. “We can see a deeply impressive range of innovations coming out of laboratories in the UK, but which ones should be backed and what are the barriers that need to be evaluated and overcome?” asks OudeNijeweme. “Solid state batteries, for example, could help solve the range and weight issues associated with what looks like relatively stable battery technology, but how can their currently high costs be reduced?”
Ian Constance points out that ten percent of UK manufacturing is automotive, so answering these questions and supporting the commercialisation of the resulting high-impact innovations will help British businesses – from technology innovators and suppliers to vehicle manufacturers – grow profitably in a fast-changing global market.
“Through the Advanced Propulsion Centre, we are able to facilitate investment of £1bn of Government and industry money to help British businesses validate and commercialise their innovations. New technologies disappear because the UK lacks the market pull innovators need to bridge this most challenging phase of innovation,” he says. “The APC exists to make sure the best ideas succeed, creating affordable low-emission technologies that deliver jobs and value for Great Britain. The insights provided by our new Automotive Technology Roadmap will help us all ensure we succeed in delivering the required low carbon technologies.”
Electrification of internal combustion powertrains sets the pace
Divided into five sections – electrical energy storage, electrical machines, power electronics, thermal propulsion systems (internal combustion engines), lightweight vehicle and powertrain structures – and covering passenger cars, busses and commercial vehicles, the Roadmap provides a global view of the key technology trajectories in low emission propulsion
As would be expected, the electrification of future powertrains features prominently in the report, but “this should not be confused with a prediction of mass adoption of full EVs,” emphasises OudeNijeweme. “What we see is the rapid introduction of a diverse range of electrification technologies, including mild hybrids, full hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles. Clearly the majority of these still rely on internal combustion engines so continuing advances in that area remain important.”
Growing electrification presents new approaches for internal combustion engine design. While some vehicle manufacturers will achieve ultra-low emissions by developing increasingly sophisticated IC Engines, others may choose to simplify engine design by focussing on optimisation of a narrow operating region. This will enable greater levels of synergy between the ICE and powertrain electrification and permit further optimisation of the engine, such as the use of novel combustion cycles.
Very high levels of integration are also predicted in electric drives, with the e-machine, transmission and power electronics coming together to create a single, light-weight, tightly-packaged and lower cost unit with greatly reduced complexity. “These units operate in an exceptionally demanding environment that is a great example of the critical importance of ‘automotive grade’ to ensure durability,” emphasises OudeNijeweme. “Part of the role of the APC is to help innovators from outside our industry understand these requirements and to set-up programmes and partnerships that lead to the exceptionally robust yet light-weight and affordable technologies our industry excels at.”
Light-weighting requires new design approaches
With increasing vehicle content and safety requirements, weight reduction continues to escalate as a priority for all vehicles regardless of propulsion type. The report identifies design, materials and processes as each having the potential to save vehicle weight through better optimisation and emphasises the need for new approaches to design and analysis that allow full advantage to be taken of developments in materials and joining technologies.
Need for wider collaboration
The new APC Automotive Technology Roadmap concludes with Ian Constance calling for closer collaboration between innovators, government and the transport sectors. “How can the UK’s impressive chemical sector help accelerate automotive battery development? How can our steel industry help progress advanced traction motors? How can the suppliers of mobility-on-demand inform our powertrain decisions? Automotive technology is one of the fastest-moving global innovation sectors. The new report will help those inside and outside to understand the opportunities and the challenges, leading to better decisions, increased efficiency in the innovation process and faster introduction of practical, affordable low emission vehicles.”