RAEng to fund research into electric vehicles for India

Loughborough University among institutions hoping to find batteries that can cope with South Asian heat to improve air quality in congested cities

India
Indian cities have serious air pollution issues from traffic, which more electric vehicles could alleviate. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

As part of a project with two private universities in India, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) and PSG College of Technology, both located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, engineers from Loughborough have been funded to take part in the project to develop electric vehicle technology suitable for hot climates. The project will see Prof Rui Chen, Prof Jin Xuan and Ashley Fly of the University’s School of aeronautical, automotive, chemical and materials engineering work on the design and development of a four-wheeled electric vehicle for research, teaching and outreach in India.

Emissions from vehicles cause problems for the global climate and local pollution, the latter of which is a serious risk to health in the fast-growing and traffic-choked cities of India. Air pollution is most effectively tackled by electric vehicles, which produce zero emissions in use, but they have difficulty operating in South Asia because lithium-ion batteries perform best at 25°C ambient temperature and degrade very rapidly when it is hotter. In India, where temperatures can exceed 45°C, they tend to last as little as two to three years. This also damages the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, although the potential of electric vehicles to contribute to reductions could only be realised if the energy to charge the batteries were sourced from low-carbon generation.

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The Tamil Nadu institutions, with the VIT in the lead, are focusing on developing battery propulsion systems that can cope with the climate, and are aiming to convert a conventional Indian four-wheeled vehicle to this novel drivetrain in order to act as a research testbed and teaching tool to better understand the needs of electric vehicles to operate in India. The Loughborough researchers will provide expertise in the operation and management of lithium-ion batteries, environmental test facilities for battery modules and advanced battery analysis techniques.

Ashley Fly said: “Developing electric vehicles for the Indian climate is particularly challenging as the ambient temperature is often already above the ideal operating temperature of the battery, which can significantly reduce the battery’s lifetime. When our smartphones get too hot from being left in the sun, they notify us to move them into the shade. This is often not an option with a whole vehicle, so instead, we need to engineer intelligent solutions to manage the temperature.”

Among the approaches the team intends to test are the use of phase change materials which absorb heat as they melt or vaporise, cooling systems based on refrigeration and temperature resistant battery chemistry.

They will use an environmental chamber to replicate the ambient conditions of Indian cities for characterisation and testing of their batteries. Working with their Indian colleagues, they also intend to develop an industry-oriented teaching curriculum to increase the employability of engineering graduates in India and help local industries improve the skills of their workforce.

“Through a series of exchange visits, teaching workshops and knowledge exchange we aim to develop the electric vehicle programme at VIT and enable them to train the next generation of engineers in India. In turn, this international collaboration will improve the global outlook of our own teaching, benefiting students in the UK.”