A group of specialist engineering technology companies has won funding support for new research to be undertaken into the development of the next generation of electric drivetrain systems that that will significantly reduce future dependency on rare earth metals.
Gateshead-based Sevcon Ltd is leading a collaborative project that includes Cummins Generator Technologies of Stamford, Lincolnshire and Newcastle University's Power Electronics and Drives Research Group to develop a new type of electric traction drive for use in hybrid and pure electric vehicles. The group has secured over £500,000 in matched funding from the from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) in the latest round of national support for work on new low carbon vehicle technologies. The team will work on the development of a highly innovative 'no rare earth metals' electric drive system for EVs using advanced high torque density switched reluctance motor technology. While the demand for hybrid electric vehicles is set to increase globally over the next 10 years, the ability to meet this demand is being challenged by the supply and availability of the rare earth magnets used in the motors that drive them.
The project being undertaken by the Sevcon-led group will look to overcome this situation by developing new low carbon vehicle drivetrain technology that will use steel to replace the rare earth magnets used in motors. It is anticipated that the project should be ready for volume production within four years. Sevcon is already a leading supplier of motor control technology to the international EV market. Dr. Peter Barrass, Vice President of Engineering, said: "This is an exciting, cutting edge project in a market sector that has great potential. "We are already very active in the low carbon vehicle sector and the performance capabilities of our advance technology motor controllers are ideal for this sort of application. We are delighted to be bringing our automotive drivetrain engineering expertise to this project."
The advanced design being developed by the team will also replace traditional electronic control systems with new technology based on cutting edge power electronics. Professor Barrie Mecrow, head of the Power Electronics, Drives Research group at Newcastle University, said: "We are delighted to have the opportunity to apply our research concepts in the electric vehicles sector. "There is a tremendous opportunity for this consortium to make a real impact on the electric vehicles of the future, combining low cost with highly efficient solutions. The consortium provides the ideal mix of leading motor and drive manufacturing experience with state of the art research capability."
As well as providing sufficent power, the new generation system will also be designed to be both cost competitive and suitable for high volume manufacture.
Sitaram Ganeshan, Cummins Generator Technologies' General Manager for Emerging Business, said: "As a business, CGT is committed to developing innovative products for our customers. This award provides an excellent platform to develop a new generation of electric motors to meet the needs of vehicle manufacturers challenged by the rising cost of rare earth magnets. "It further reinforces our position as a technology leader in electric motors and automotive components"
Nationally, the Technology Strategy Board and BIS have jointly agreed to invest £10 million in grants to sixteen collaborative research and development projects that focus on achieving significant cuts in CO2 emissions for vehicle-centric technologies in low carbon vehicles.