Research network set to electrify UK transport system

The challenges of electrifying the transport network, including its impact on the National Grid, will be tackled as part of a research network being created in the UK.

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The EPSRC-funded network, known as Decarbonising Transport through Electrification (DTE), plans to identify and address some of the challenges holding up the implementation of an integrated, electrified transport system across the automotive, aerospace and rail sectors.

The project, which is being led by Dr Liana Cipcigan, co-director of the Electric Vehicle Centre of Excellence at Cardiff University, will investigate the developments needed to allow integration of the energy network with electric vehicle charging infrastructure, electric and hybrid aircraft, and an electrified rail system.

“We are trying to bring together automotive, aviation and rail, and consider the impact of all of these modes of transport on the power network, with electricity being used as a transport fuel,” said Cipcigan.

The project includes organisations such as Aston Martin, the National Grid, Transport for London, Transport for Wales, ABB, Ricardo, Safran Power and the Welsh government, as well as aerospace researchers from Cranfield and Bristol Universities, and rail specialists from Birmingham and Southampton Universities.

The network will treat low-carbon road, rail and air transportation, alongside the associated electricity infrastructure, as one single, integrated system, Cipcigan said.

“The power network is one unique system, and all of this low-carbon infrastructure will take electricity directly from the Grid,” she said. “So we will be looking at how the Grid will cope with the government’s ambition to decarbonise the transport sector by 2040.”

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(Image: Network rail)

The project will investigate new technologies such as wireless charging systems and hybrid electric aircraft. It will also consider the mobility needs of individuals, as well as the economic, environmental and social demands of a future transport network, and the impact of government policies and regulations designed to reduce emissions.

The network will have three “work streams”, covering vehicular technologies; charging infrastructure; and energy systems.

“We have a particular interest in wireless charging technology, for example, including dynamic wireless on-road charging,” she said. “Fast charging and ultra-fast charging are potentially problematic, because they will create a big spike in demand over a relatively short stretch of time, so that will pose a new set of challenges for the Grid.”

There are also likely to be a diverse range of charging technologies introduced, as one system is unlikely to meet the needs of all users, she said.

“It is also really important to have the roll-out of charging infrastructure, and public acceptance of the technology, keep pace with the development of electric vehicles,” she said.

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Alongside an investigation of these new technologies, the researchers will also carry out large-scale data analysis and human factors studies to support the project.

The network will develop an interdisciplinary team to tackle the challenges of electrifying the transport network, and will seek funding from industry and the public and private sector, with the ultimate aim of becoming self-sustaining as a research centre. The researchers also hope to establish an international conference.

“The project is aiming to build and expand the network, to allow us to bring together academics and other stakeholders to identify these very complex challenges, and then develop smaller projects as part of the three work streams,” Cipcigan said.

“With the money allocated in this project, supported by additional funding, we will issue calls for short-term projects to other participants to join our network, to reach out to those not already part of the consortium to take part in these short-term feasibility studies.”

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