Electrification of commercial vehicles would be a huge step

Posted by Christian Pfäffli on

The electrification of the passenger car sector is progressing step by step. However, currently slowed down by the omnipresent situation, one can still notice that something is moving. Still too slow for some, but at least the direction is right. In the commercial vehicle sector - vans and trucks - the outlook is not quite so rosy, however. Researchers from McGill's Faculty of Engineering are helping to find ways to overcome this challenge and pave the way to a greener future for the Canadian transport sector.

Boulet's McGill Intelligent Automation Lab has been working with industry partners on electric powertrains for the past ten years and is looking to play its part in electrifying this important transportation sector in the future. Benoit Boulet, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Dean of Research and Innovation at the faculty says the goal was and is "to explore the possibilities for the electrification of vans.

Commercial vehicle electrification a must for climate change
"We were of the opinion that courier trucks are very well suited for electrification. Their short distances, with many stop-and-go drop-offs and pick-up operations, favour battery operation: every time a truck brakes, the electric motor can feed energy back into the battery, thus improving the vehicle's range. Companies that operate fleets also want to save costs, because fuel costs are extremely high," Boulet notes.

"The electrification of motor vehicles would be a huge step. If all vehicles were electrified, we would reduce total CO2 emissions by 27 per cent in Canada and about 43 per cent in Quebec. - Benoit Boulet, Professor of Electrical Engineering from McGill's Faculty of Engineering

Over the past ten years, the research group has sought a wide range of partners to integrate the electric drive train into commercial vehicles. To this end, it has teamed up with Cummins Inc., a leading manufacturer of diesel engines - but also one that is looking to the future of electric drive technologies. A key contribution from the McGill laboratory was to provide a digital touch screen display that allows the driver to monitor information about the vehicle, such as the battery charge level.

Field tests best show potential
From experience gained in corresponding field tests, the research group of McGill's Faculty of Engineering was able to report that drivers and customers alike greatly appreciate the quiet, emission-free operation of electrified commercial vehicles. However, attention has also been drawn to challenges in everyday life. This is because, unlike conventional cars, most electrically powered passenger cars operate with a single-speed transmission. For large trucks and buses, it is very difficult with single-speed transmissions to achieve both sufficient accelerations from a standstill and the top speeds required for highway travel explains Boulet. "That's why companies have to oversize the engine, power electronics and battery to meet both specifications," he continues.

To solve this problem, Boulet's research group has developed a patented high-efficiency electric two-speed transmission - one that requires no clutch and shifts smoothly from first to second gear. By eliminating the need to oversize other components, this approach also promises to help significantly reduce vehicle manufacturing costs. The company is currently working with a major automotive supplier to develop more advanced multi-speed transmissions for potential use in the largest vehicles on the road.

When asked how quickly truck manufacturers could begin to incorporate this multi-speed transmission technology into their new models, Boulet answers as follows: "The technology works, it's been proven to work. But the decision to install it in a truck - or in a bus - is something that has more to do with the business environment and the application in the market. We're actively working with a company right now, and there are companies that we're negotiating with and considering projects with."

Source: McGILL Reporter - Electrifying truck fleets to cut Canada's carbon emissions


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