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BorgWarner expects EGR, natural-gas growth for commercial vehicles

BorgWarner presented its new exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) modules, EcoFlash ignition system, and heavy-duty controlled coolant pump for commercial diesel and natural gas engines at the recent IAA Commercial Vehicles in Hanover, Germany. During the event, Prof. Christopher P. Thomas, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at BorgWarner, and a Fellow Grade member of SAE International, spoke with SAE Magazines about these technologies and the trends driving their development.

“Everything BorgWarner does is focused on fuel economy, performance, and emissions,” Thomas began. “That’s the market drivers. That’s what we focus on and that’s been our direction for the last 14 or 15 years.”

Further, Thomas sees Europe adopting similar regulations that the U.S. recently implemented relative to CO2 reduction for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. 

He expanded, “We have CO2 standards in the U.S. now for commercial vehicles. There is a second round of CO2 standards coming in 2020. We are anticipating that CO2 standards are going to happen in Europe. I don’t know exactly when they are going to happen—it’s just a matter of time, but it will happen.”

EGR a growth area

Thomas explained that BorgWarner’s EGR modules integrate an EGR cooler, EGR valve, and bypass valve into one system to optimize exhaust gas recirculation and provide improved reliability, response, and efficiency. The EGR cooler employs corrosion-resistant stainless steel hybrid or corrugated tubes to optimize heat transfer and offer compact packaging. The company believes it is positioned to produce all EGR components, which gives it the ability to also design and develop fully integrated EGR systems.

“EGR coolers are a big business for us,” Thomas shared. “We see EGR as a growth area. Most of the customers I talk to, when we talk about SCR (selective catalytic reduction) and EGR, they recognize that some of their peers and some of their customers are going away from EGR for Euro VI. But I think many recognize that is a short-term trend. It is only for Euro VI and some of the competitors to those companies which are doing that are actually saying they do not want to take EGR off because of packaging on the engine—you lose packaging space. Putting it back on for Euro VII then becomes more problematic.”

Thomas believes there is additional supporting evidence to what he is hearing from customers, especially from the standpoint of eroding or losing specific competencies.

“The competencies in the calibration and software, some companies want to keep refining those things and so they look at it as they are going to need it for Euro VII,” said Thomas. “Going away from technology and then trying to go back, you lose some of that competency. So they are leaving them on. They can still play trade-offs and can probably get a little bit better fuel economy. Can you do that with all SCR? Some are proving it is possible, but it is probably not the best long-term strategy. So we see EGR as a big growth opportunity, and obviously it is growing on gasoline now as well.”

EcoFlash for natural gas

BorgWarner’s EcoFlash high-frequency ignition system generates an extended corona discharge and also reliably ignites diluted fuel blends. According to the company, this system provides precise ignition, significant potential savings in fuel consumption, as well as CO2 and NOx emission reductions.

Thomas offered his perspective on the commercial-vehicle (CV) EcoFlash system that is focused on natural gas. He believes this is a great product that impacts the efficiency of the engine, especially in stationary power generation applications.

“Natural gas is a growing trend on commercial vehicles. Our outlook is that it will probably be about 10% in North America,” Thomas shared. China is another market seeing a lot of growth in natural-gas CVs: “It is not going to be as high a percentage, just because they make so many commercial vehicles there, but there is quite a big volume.”

Thomas explained EcoFlash in more detail: “What we have is a controller with a corona discharge system and what you end up getting is a volume ignition that occurs inside the combustion chamber. Basically it cracks the hydrocarbons around the combustion chamber virtually simultaneously, so you get very fast burn rates. On natural gas, there is much higher durability with this. With natural-gas engines that are running in stationary power plants, you shut that engine down for spark plug changes. This [EcoFlash system] lasts about eight times more than a conventional spark plug, maybe even longer.”

There are further benefits this technology leverages in the CV space, Thomas believes. “There is a natural CO2 benefit, just because of the hydrogen carbon ratio. Our outlook is that the cost of fuel for natural gas in North America is going to be at the $2.00 per diesel gallon equivalent of energy. In the U.S. today, diesel is right around $4.00 a gallon. Long term, my feeling is, talking to some of the oil companies, that there is going to be a pressure for the increase in the price of diesel. I don’t know if it is going to be $5.50 or $6.00 a gallon by 2020 or 2022, but it is heading in that direction. Natural gas is going to stay at $2.00. There’s just too much of it since we started fracking. And there are wells that are capped and not pumping—there is going to be some market pull and our 10% may well be conservative.”

Coolant pump reduces parasitic losses

BorgWarner’s heavy-duty controlled coolant pump (HDCCP) is another technology Thomas believes will have an impact for its CV customers. The HDCCP optimizes engine temperature and reduces parasitic losses, improving fuel economy up to 1.5% compared with a standard coolant pump.

It is an innovation based on the supplier’s expertise in viscous technology. A viscous clutch is located between the pump impeller and engine pulley, which allows precise control of the impeller speed to produce the desired coolant flow rate. Soft-engagement and a fully modulating speed range of the impeller are just two advantages. This technology also enables the option of increasing the pulley ratio and, therefore, the coolant flow at lower engine rpm.

“Basically what this does is it takes our Viscous Fan Drive technology that we’ve had for many years, and we incorporate that onto the water pump drive,” Thomas explained. “Now we have the ability to run the water pump at a slower speed. Just like we can run the fans at any speed, we can run the coolant pump at the slower speed. And that really allows you to do some system optimization. You can change the pulley ratio such that you can run it faster and then use the slipping capability to run it slower, so you can have a greater speed range.

“What this allows you to do is at slow engine speeds, you can run the pump faster—not all the time, just when you want to. Running that pump faster means that you can reject more heat to the radiator and avoid turning the fan on. When a 70-hp fan kicks on, it is going to use a lot more fuel than running a 1.5-hp water pump. So this sort of technology is absolutely focused on CO2 [reduction] and engine efficiency.”

Systems approach to FE gains

Many of the fuel-efficiency gains are incremental based on the technology and application. Individually, they may not seem like much, but collectively, they can add up to a significant difference. This systems approach to achieving greater fuel economy and reducing CO2 is where Thomas sees tremendous opportunity. So much so that he built his team strategy around this concept.

“There are no silver bullets, but there is a lot of silver buckshot,” Thomas said. “The HDCCP pump is an example of that. In my advanced engineering [department], we have a lot of the engine systems and drivetrain systems competency for the corporation. When I came into the CTO role just about two years ago now, one of the things we did is put in place a dedicated team of people working on commercial vehicle systems. It brings you a whole lot more insight into the whole entity rather than just focusing on the fan drive or the water pump, and it brings you a lot more innovation.”

And the innovations are on their way, Thomas promised: “I can’t talk about it today, but you are going to see a lot more innovations coming out from BorgWarner based on some of the organizational things we did two years ago.”

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