Ghent researchers optimize electric cars

(04-03-2022) From 2029, all new cars in Belgium must be electrically powered. Ghent researchers are participating in a European project to improve the user convenience of electric cars.

Motor-cut.PNGThe electrification of the vehicle fleet is an important part of the Green Deal. With this program, the European Union aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Today, the transport sector is responsible for 23% of CO2 emissions. ‘To achieve these objectives, we must, among other things, drive more electrically,’ confirms Jeroen De Maeyer, Business Developer Machineries & Factories at the Industrial Research Fund (IOF) at Ghent University. He supervises research groups in internal development strategies and collaborations with companies. ‘With this European project, we want to optimize the performance of electric cars, in particular that of vehicles with integrated motors in the wheels. Such a configuration offers many possibilities to reduce stopping distances, avoid last-minute obstacles more easily, increase the efficiency of the drivetrain, ...’

The better the performance, the higher the acceptance of electric cars

According to Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, a total of 40,851 electric passenger cars were registered on 1 August 2021. On a total fleet of 5,927,912 this amounts to a share of only 0.69%. If you look at the evolution of the electric passenger car fleet in recent years, you see however an exponential growth. But there is clearly still a long way to go before electric cars make up the majority of the total vehicle fleet.

‘Consumers prefer to experience the same ease of use as with a diesel or petrol car. If you refuel your car, you can right away drive 800 to 900 km after only a few minutes. In the case of electric cars it now easily takes half an hour to fully charge your car. With this you cover a distance of about 400 to 500 km. That is more than sufficient for the majority of our trips. But in some cases, that range is a limitation, and as a consumer you want to be sure that you can also cover longer distances with your electric car, such as on holidays,’ says Jeroen De Maeyer.

platform 2.jpgAn important part of the solution lies in power electronics. This subfield of electronics makes it possible to convert electrical energy from one form into another. ‘In electric cars, these power electronics form, amongst others, an interface between the electrical energy of your vehicle’s battery, which works on direct current, and the motor, which requires alternating voltage,’ explains Jeroen De Maeyer. ‘The Ghent research groups, in collaboration with two Belgian industrial partners, Bluways and DRiV-Tenneco, will use these power electronics to improve the behavior of electric cars and thus optimize the range of electric cars. Think, for example, of adjusting the behavior and the associated power consumption of your car at high or low speed.’

Another important element is the weight of your car. The lower the weight, the less your engine will consume. To reduce the weight of electric cars, the Ghent researchers are looking for ways to integrate the power electronics into the engine as closely as possible. A third aspect of the research focuses on cooling of components. ‘Since we will be placing components more densely together, the heat can’t escape that easily. For the engine to function properly, it is therefore very important that the cooling systems function optimally,’ explains Jeroen De Maeyer.

‘With this research, we want to contribute to improving the performance of electric cars, in order to make electric cars also ideal, green travel vehicles for long distances. In this way we also make electric cars more affordable, and therefore more accessible to the general public,’ concludes Jeroen De Maeyer.

Horizon Europe project

This HighScape project was submitted and granted with the support of IOF innovation officer Arne De Keyser and is part of Horizon Europe, the most important EU funding program for research and innovation. It is a collaboration between five large companies (Audi, Fiat Tofas, AVL, and the Belgian Bluways and DRiV-Tenneco), one SME, the Slovenian Elaphe, and various scientific partners: Ghent University, the Technische Universität Ilmenau, the University of Surrey and the Italian Politecnico di Torino.

The other partners focus on other aspects for optimizing electric cars, such as innovation in the charging process, testing the solutions in cars, etc. HighScape will be launched in the spring of 2022; the researchers will receive a total of 5 million euros to achieve their objectives.

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