With electrification gaining ever larger market share there should be greater focus on delivering solutions that are clean and efficient throughout their lifecycle, write Julian Dunn, Head of Energy Storage Products, Ricardo and Gary King, Head of Power Electronics, Machines and Drives, Ricardo
The electrification of mobility is key to meeting the challenges of climate change and air quality. Each mobility sector faces its own unique challenges which require different technical solutions to deliver the desired attributes. One thing in common is the need for this to be clean and efficient for a truly sustainable future.
Electrification entered the mobility market predominantly in the light duty sector, from mild hybrid technology offering a lower benefit across a large pool of vehicles to full battery electric vehicle (BEV) offering a significant in-use benefit albeit across a currently relatively small pool of vehicles. There are many projections for the rate at which the market share of BEV vehicles will grow but undeniably they will be mainstream by the end of the decade.
To support this transition the technology needs to be not only clean in use but also in its manufacture and recycling/disposal phase. Understanding the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of technology and material selection is fundamental to engineering propulsion systems fit for the future. A small selection of OEMs within the BEV sector now actively publishes this information to help demonstrate these efficiencies through the full life cycle of the product.
Throughout the electrified propulsion system Ricardo is working on lowering the LCA impact of the technology through material selection to improvements in system efficiency and packaging. For example, Ricardo’s work in reducing copper and permanent magnets from the electrical machines not only improves the LCA but also removes the cost volatility of the raw materials. Other challenges faced could be with the drive for a highly integrated and power dense system, adding to the complexity of recycling and reusability: areas that need to be addressed and overcome during the R&D phase.
Efficiency improvements will allow vehicles to travel further, have smaller batteries and lower the overall energy demand on the grid. Ricardo sees significant opportunities in technologies such as Wide Band Gap devices including GaN and SiC power electronics and is working with customers to bring these solutions to the market.
Many OEMs are looking at moving the system voltage from 400V of today to 800V and higher, to support faster battery charging and to take advantage of the efficiency improvement SiC and GaN offer. Even at 800V fast charging has many challenges for the battery system around cell life and safety. To optimise a propulsion system for efficiency and battery pack life Ricardo has developed a multi-domain tool chain rapidly to understand the sensitivity of multiple architectures against individual OEM and fleet duty cycles and usage.
Defining the optimised vehicle architecture is obviously important but equally so is bringing the product to market quickly without comprising quality and safety. OEMs’ expectations and the feature set of vehicles evolve quickly for the emerging technology and long product development cycles risk bringing products to market which are uncompetitive, for example in relation to vehicle range and charging speed.
One of the key enablers for rapid product development is digitalisation or virtual product development. In the battery domain reducing the time between the design and validation loop can bring big advantages. Ricardo has developed virtual tools around the complex, expensive and time-consuming physical validation activities for example in battery pack development, thermal runaway, venting and fire propagation.
Electrification of some sectors places high demands on the system. Electric vertical take off and landing (eVTOL), for example, has higher specific power and mass targets than most other sectors in safety critical environment. The battery systems required to meet these demands must challenge convention to enable the market to mature. Ricardo has been developing thermal solutions for these high-power applications and our work on the iCoBatt program around low-cost, lightweight immersion cooling technology is showing great promise for these applications.
The off-highway sector has very different challenges around total cost of ownership, requiring a proven solution that not only works in niches application but is suitable for a wide variety of applications. Ricardo believes modularity is key: common building blocks for the system such as a battery module and battery management system, BMS, and scalable emachine which can be scaled for multiple pack sizes.
As electrification gains ever larger market share there will and should be an even greater focus to deliver solutions that are clean and efficient not only during the in-use phase but also for manufacture and disposal.