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Internal-combustion propulsion systems remain very much in the power-source picture for vehicles of the future, according to APC's recent overview. (APC)

U.K.’s Advanced Propulsion Center lays out roadmap for high-tech, low-carbon transportation

A major new report on a technology roadmap for “beyond the horizon” low-carbon vehicle propulsion technology concludes that there is unlikely to be a single clear winner in the race for power-source propulsion efficiency. Pure battery, hybridization, alternative fuels and thermal propulsion systems (ICEs) are all likely to power vehicles to 2040, concludes the report released by the Advanced Propulsion Center (APC) and produced on behalf of the United Kingdom’s government-backed Automotive Council.

Electrification will be the overarching technology that links them all, however.

Major OEMs and suppliers including Aston Martin, Williams Engineering, Prodrive and GKN are among 139 companies, consultancies and academic institutions now working with the APC towards delivering the technical innovations needed to achieve targets for future low-carbon vehicles.

There still is the need for wider collaboration on government energy policy, public transport and innovation in the UK, the report said, while in frontline propulsion technology the buzzword for success continues to be “integration.”

For electric vehicles (EVs), motors, transmissions and associated controls all will need to be a truly tria juncto in uno to achieve truly miniaturized, efficient packaging to reduce costs and enhance through-life efficiency and maintainability.

“After decades of evolution, vehicle technology is now at an inflexion point, changing faster than at any time in the last 100 years,” said APC’s CEO Ian Constance, formerly a senior executive with Ford in Europe, Asia and the U.S. He added that by 2030, a $1trillion global market for low- and zero-tailpipe emissions technologies will exist (see

Focus: start-to-finish sustainability
The Roadmap predicts fundamental changes that will have a “dramatic impact” on the planning and evaluation of automotive innovation—the most significant aspect being the shift from vehicle-level regulations to focus on end-to-end sustainability.

Dave OudeNijeweme, APC’s Head of Technology Trends, said: “Most future powertrain options require substantial battery capacity, but the environmental impact of these systems cannot be controlled through traditional vehicle-focused regulation. A different approach to decision making is required even before we consider the trends in the availability of raw materials.”

Although electrification of future powertrains is a dominant feature in the report, OudeNijeweme cautions that this should not be confused with a prediction of mass adoption of EVs—a distinction that has caused confusion among a large part of the general public, as “electrification” often is understood mean purely battery-driven, with little or no appreciation of the potential degrees of electrification that can enhance ICE powertrains.

It’s a hybrid future
OudeNijeweme said the APC foresees is the rapid introduction of a diverse range of electrification technologies, including mild hybrids, full hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell electric vehicles and battery-electric vehicles.

But he stresses: “Clearly the majority of these still rely on internal-combustion engines, so continuing advances in that area remain important.”

The APC sees increasing electrification delivering new approaches for ICE designs, some highly sophisticated, others simpler thanks to narrow operating regimes. Either would fit with the systems-integration philosophy regarded as vital for the future.

All this and more will enhance the importance of innovators, not only inside but increasingly outside the auto industry.

Some aspects of the roadmap underline the obvious: better optimization of design, materials and processes via “new approaches” to design and analysis—with the auto industry having the ability to innovate in the future very much as the mobile-phone industry does today. Continue reading »