Aug 042013


Across the European Union transport accounts for more than 70 % of total oil consumption

Electric vehicles (e-vehicles, or EVs) are set to play a key role in the future of urban mobility, reducing pollution, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels and saving drivers money. Although e-vehicles make up only a tiny fraction of the European car fleet at present, sales are expected to grow exponentially over the coming years, thanks, in no small measure, to advances in e-vehicle technology being made by EU-funded researchers. Fully electric vehicle technologies that optimise safety, energy consumption and kinetic energy recovery are also major contributors to on-going improvements in the performance of hybrid vehicles.

Across the European Union transport accounts for more than 70 % of total oil consumption, the vast majority of which is imported from abroad. With more than one million additional cars going onto Europe’s roads every 50 days, fuel consumption, congestion and pollution will only continue to increase if the internal combustion engine remains the main source of automotive power. Hence, the EU, national governments and private companies are spending billions on supporting the development of e-vehicles.

‘Rather than offering forms of mobility based on ever-increasing energy prices, the industry is now faced with satisfying a rational demand for mobility: clean, safe and low-energy-consumption vehicles, requiring less energy to be produced, and using recyclable and eventually self-disposable materials,’ says Dr Pietro Perlo, the CEO of Interactive Fully Electrical Vehicles (IFEVS), an Italian SME dedicated to e-vehicle development.

Dr Perlo helped oversee the development of ground-breaking e-vehicle technology in the ‘Integrated enabling technologies for efficient electrical personal mobility’ (P-MOB) project, supported by almost EUR 2.8 million in funding from the European Commission. Involving researchers from six companies (Siemens from Germany; Mazel from Spain; IFEVS, Polimodel and Fiat from Italy; and Magnomatics from the United Kingdom), as well as the University of Sheffield in the UK, the project resulted in the development of a novel prototype electric car with a range of up to 20 kilometres (km) powered by solar power alone.

Coordinated by Centro Ricerche Fiat in Turin, Italy, the team behind P-MOB sought to break the link between increasing transport capacity and rising road deaths, congestion and pollution by developing an e-vehicle prototype that is not only clean, but extremely safe and compact. To do so, the researchers took a novel approach to advanced systems integration focusing, among other things, on solar cells, e-motor and magnetic torque control, power-energy management, distributed accumulators and technologies to enable e-vehicles to put power back into the grid when not in use.

‘The design has met the highest safety ranking, a low footprint and extremely low energy consumption, making the vehicle ideal for most people’s needs in cities as well as suburban roads,’ Dr Perlo notes.

The prototype is a small compact vehicle – weighting less than 600 kilogrammes (kg) before the installation of the battery pack, and with a top speed of over 100 km/h – which meets new regulations on ‘micro’ electric vehicles. It is also able to meet the classical regulations for vehicle categories such as M1 (a car with eight passenger seats or fewer).

Aerodynamic, safe and solar-powered

A parallel project called ‘Building blocks concepts for efficient and safe multiuse urban electrical vehicles’ (WIDE-MOB), also involving the P-MOB partners, helped address the design and development of the basic building blocks of electric vehicles. The WIDE-MOB team worked on optimised aerodynamics to radically reduce the drag at any speed and lightweight and low-cost bodies designed for high safety in the event of a frontal or lateral crash, as well as a variety of technologies for distributed propulsion.

‘Our vehicle is the first with a two-motor powertrain with one motor per axle. We have two doors on one side only ensuring a high degree of safety, better ergonomics and reduced complexity with extremely low aerodynamic drag: around 30 % lower than other vehicles of the same dimensions,’ Dr Perlo explains. ‘All the technologies were developed during the course of the project by the partners. Only the battery cells were produced outside Europe, though the design came from within the project.’

The project’s integrated ICT-based control systems allow for the operation of two motors and two differentials – so the vehicle’s front and rear axles are independent, providing effective four-wheel drive – as well as variation of the torque ratio, depending on driving conditions, which provides a variety of important benefits. It increases vehicle control on small radius curves, improves adherence on wet and icy roads, provides the impression of faster acceleration without drawing more power and allows for fail-safe operation: if one motor fails the other will always allow you to return home. Most significantly, this in turn ensures that a single motor failure will not cause loss of control of the vehicle, particularly at high speeds.

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