Automotive research: advanced powertrains

 In Vehicle Research

After years, nay, decades of conducting research, compiling evidence and lobbying for action, the march toward cleaner, more sustainable transportation has finally begun. Legislative bodies among Global Governments require that manufacturers put into action, plans which have begun reducing harmful emissions from internal combustion engine vehicles. As important to legislating this change is that they are providing research funding and incentive funding to achieve this goal. Where research institutions of the past conducted research in order to convince large automotive companies that change was required, they are now looked to by those same companies to innovate the much-needed change.

Competition among manufacturers to win over consumer demand, and meet sustainability requirements has pushed public and private research institutions to the forefront of technological advancement in automotive powertrains. Research into advanced powertrains has focused on advanced internal combustion engines, renewable biofuels, electrification, hydrogen fuels, and hybridization among others. These categories of advanced powertrains are seen as crucial developments along the technology roadmap of increasingly sustainable vehicles.

Powertrain advancements, thanks to research institutes

It is common among many Universities in North America, and Europe to identify, as a part of their engineering or advanced post-graduate programs, areas of specialization into automotive research. Among these, Cranfield University has formed their Sustainable Technologies and Alternative Fuels Plan which includes the research and development of alternative powertrains as well as fuel options. By identifying and publishing research into the identified areas of specialization, Universities hope to attract future minds, as well as private partnerships where institutional insights may help private businesses and governments enact change which will lead to increased sustainability and reduced emissions.

For example, Cranfield University, Innovate UK, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), for example, have teamed up with businesses such as BMW and Jaguar Land Rover to come up with alternative powertrains for alternative fuels. Nearly every University, as well as auto manufacturers, have similar collaborative research projects underway. This is crucial, as the requirement for all manufacturers to transition off of current drivetrain technology toward more sustainable ones is now a primary concern. Where in the past, a majority of research projects had focused on capturing the harmful emissions of internal combustion engines, current and future projects are focused on creating alternatives to fuel combustion altogether. Entailed in these are deepening areas of specialization which have varying degrees of impact on the overall impact of the advanced drivetrain specialization.

The advanced powertrain roadmap

As an example, the electrification of an automotive drive-train was considered infeasible a decade ago. In comparison to the one-hundred-year head-start of internal combustion engines, it was. However, with the contribution of research projects looking into advancing every part of the electric vehicle drivetrain, we’re on the verge of a massive transition off-of fuel engines.

Auto Powertrain Roadmap

Ford, with two decades of progress in powertrain electrification, has produced a number of commercial vehicle models which mark the progress of electrification. Along the technology roadmap, there have been moderate electrified powertrains, such as electric-assist and idle reduction, to hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and battery electric vehicles. Their strategy focuses on producing affordable electric vehicles that are also more efficient and sustainable. It appears to be working, by the end of 2017, Ford was the top seller of plug-in hybrid vehicles and second largest seller of electric vehicles in the United States. Ford has invested more resources into research as they plan to introduce 13 new electric vehicles, including hybrid versions of the Mustang as well as hybrid police vehicles. Research is currently focused on expanding their battery development in Europe as well as Asia.

Powertrain electrification

Thanks to electrification, we’re getting better, cheaper batteries.

Electric vehicles are not the only advancing powertrain technology, but they are the most popular. As car manufacturers, aided by private and university research institutions strive to fill the demand for electric cars, more battery production facilities are being created around the world.

Among other current and future battery production companies, Panasonic claims to have the largest share of the market. With the goal of developing their new factory into one of the core manufacturers in China. They will also start production of lithium-ion batteries for vehicles in the US and they have already increased the output of factories in Japan. The reduction in battery cost, as well as an increase in energy density, is the result of increased production and advancement in battery technology.

Battery Cost and Energy Density

The EV charging station market will increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 30% between 2017 and 2025. As a result, more manufacturers are investing in this area. This, in turn, has driven more research which bridges the gap between automotive, battery, and electrical distribution specializations.

Automotive research into advanced powertrains

For automotive research institutes, the work has just begun. Worldwide legislation which requires the reduction of harmful emissions from all sources means the auto industry must change. These efforts to create more environmentally sustainable transportation has a direct impact on automotive research institutions. These organizations are tasked with investigating and creating realistic alternatives to the internal combustion engines of most modern vehicles. Creating a number of market-ready alternatives to gasoline and diesel has been the work of innumerable scientists, grad-students, engineers and researchers at public and private institutions.

Fields of automotive research

  • Advanced powertrains
  • Alternative fuels
  • Autonomous driving
  • Battery research
  • Connected vehicles
  • Electrification
  • Lightweighting

The future of the automotive industry looks bright, in AlixPartners’ 2017 Global Automotive Outlook, the global automotive industry is expected to have continued growth to the year 2024. In this time, the industry and its market is expected to be well down the road of sustainable vehicles. A lot could happen in these years as manufacturers compete to win the hearts and minds of consumers. This is why companies continue to invest in automotive research, to ensure that the industry keeps flourishing. As technology becomes more accessible to the public and as consumers become more dependent on it, automotive research will continue to be at the forefront to ensure that transportation and mobility cater to the needs of consumers and society in general.

Automotive Powertrain research institutes:

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