Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Smith Electric Vehicles re-launch Zero-emission Commercial Vehicles

Smith Electric Vehicles are a little-known company from the North-East of England that has an extensive history of electric vehicle production. For over 70 years the company has been developing electric milk floats and lighter weight vehicles. In the early 2000's the company made a launch into commercial vehicles (CV's), and may set a new standard for electric CV's - while bolstering a homegrown industry.

Though unfortunately Smith Electric had to pause its operations in 2014 due to low market demand (a consequence of being an early innovator), with market demand for EV's now steadily growing, it is developing a strategy for a strong comeback.

Smith Electric says the fully electric, zero emission CV's are best suited to inner city, localised operations, where emission zone fees are highest, and the journey distances can easily be met by battery range. The company’s two main product lines, the Newton and the Edison, come in a range of sizes, from 7.5 tons to 12 tons.

Their current battery ranges are between 30 and 120 miles, depending on the battery chosen and route requirements. One down side is charge times can be as long as 8 hours for larger batteries.

Smith have been able to optimise battery range by drawing on extensive data it has collected through its many years of operation. With over 13 million miles covered by their trucks, global sales manager David West claims; “Nobody has more expertise, more trucks, or more mileage.” Every component on a Smith vehicle was designed and developed by the company, achieving a highly-integrated design.

Smith offers a prior assessment service with which they record and analyse a customer’s typical duty cycle and conditions, to then match the optimal size and type of battery for their needs. In doing so they ensure no unnecessary weight is added while matching capacity.

The company is preparing an innovative production model with decentralised, local manufacturing hangars in European centres where it intends to do business.

This local assembly model has two key benefits. First, the components for trucks are sent un-assembled from the US greatly reducing their size in shipping. As Freight in the City Magazine reports; ‘The new hangars will enable one container to ship out enough components to build 20 vehicles at a local destination’, achieving financial and carbon savings.

The local hangar approach also means the skills and facilities for repair services become embedded in the local area, which not only improves customer experience and trust, but contributes to regional industrial development. Smith hangars are planned for the North-East, London, Norway (where the EV market is expected to boom thanks to legislation requiring all vehicles to be emission free by 2020), Sweden and Denmark.

Adoption of Smith trucks and other E-CV's is getting a helping hand from the government’s Plug-in Van Grant, that provides a 20% discount on new purchases - bringing Smith’s £96,000 trucks to less than £75,000.

As of February 2017, due to funding issues the company is still waiting to launch its new strategy, but they remain confident that demand is nearly sufficient, with an expected launch sometime during 2017.

A widespread uptake of electric commercial goods vehicles will surely be welcomed by all urban residents, with these large diesel engines being some of the largest contributors to urban air pollution.

This is a summary of an article in Freight in the City, November 2016.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.

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Monday, 10 July 2017

Autonomous Prototypes are Hard at Work

As the push towards cleaner energy vehicles continues across Europe, with low emission zones that ban polluting road vehicles in use across many European cities, and likely to spread to include off highway vehicles as well, the question must be asked; can technology keep up?

Dr. Mark Settler has used data from 1400 vehicles to try and answer this question. Considering mainly the question of combustion engines, Settler argues that while in rural areas, as diesel engines are significantly more efficient, standards can be met. However, there is an additional challenge in urban areas as diesel emissions, while better for the environment, are worse for human health. This challenge must result in a push towards electric and hybrid vehicles in highly populated areas.

Dr Peter Harrop argues that a push towards electric vehicles is best in all areas, with the end goal of totally energy independent vehicles. In China, a technology company has developed four totally solar panelled cars, and contactless charging of electric vehicles may be closer than we think. Many have also had the idea of swarms of smaller vehicles performing tasks that would traditionally be done by one vehicle, an idea that could be made possible by autonomous technology. Harrop doesn’t argue that all these changes will come all at once however, he instead suggests that by gradual developments in sophisticated electrical components.

As governments are starting to increasingly take note of the dangers of diesel engines, it is imperative that companies start to move towards alternative technologies now, as sudden changes in legislation can cripple companies if they are not adequately prepared.

This is reproduced from an article in iVT International magazine. For the full details see THIS link.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Sophie Lane, July 2017.

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UPS begins testing Hydrogen fuel-cell Delivery Truck

The first prototype of a fuel cell delivery truck from UPS is to be deployed in Sacramento this year. The truck contains a hydrogen cell powered power train, with converts compressed hydrogen gas to electricity, powering a 45kWh battery which runs on 10kg of hydrogen fuel.

Some other hydrogen powered vehicles use other energy to power some features, whereas hydrogen totally powers this truck. This move is just the next in a long line of developments that attempt to reduce emissions from delivery vehicles; the only by-product of these vehicles being water.

The vehicle will be deployed alongside additional trucks, in the California area, as this is the only place with enough existing hydrogen infrastructure. The trucks will need to be refuelled roughly every 125 miles.

The project was partially funded with a 2013 grant from the Department of Energy, which focuses on hydrogen fuel-cell technology in commercial delivery vehicles.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Sophie Lane, July 2017, and is a summary of an article from CNET. The full article can be read HERE:

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Focus on Engineering "Habits of Mind" to Produce more Engineers

A recent study from the Royal Society of Engineers with TES has found that a less discipline bound method of teaching could be essential for equipping students with the skills necessary to succeed in engineering. Engineering makes up 20% of the UK’s gross value and is currently facing a massive skill drain, with not enough students going on to study at a higher level.

The study found that rather than the traditional model of focusing on STEM subjects: science, technology, English, and maths, to encourage budding engineers, a different model, STEAM which includes a focus on art and design subjects is needed as well.

It identifies that the way to develop the “habits of mind” which are needed by engineers, and include problem solving, visualising, and adapting, is to move away from strict disciplinary style teaching and instead use exercises involving playful experimenting and engagement with engineers.

This is a summary of an article from tes. The full article can be found HERE:

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Sophie Lane, July 2017.
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Friday, 23 June 2017

Hydrogen Trains on Trial

Alstom has run the first tests of its Coradia iLint passenger train, claimed to be the first in the world to be run on electricity from a hydrogen fuel cell. The test, which took place at the company’s test track in Lower Saxony, Germany, saw the train running at 80km/h.  The test marked the start of 4 weeks of iLint trials, which will check stability of the energy supply system and the interface between the electric and pneumatic brake systems.

Alstom claim the train uses innovative clean energy conversion, flexible battery storage, and smart management of traction power.  While the trial is running on hydrogen produced as a by-product of industrial processes, the long-term plan is to generate hydrogen from wind power.

Further tests in the Czech Republic will see the train running at its full-service speed of 140km/h

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Autonomous Refuse Trucks debut in the UK

Volvo Group has debuted an autonomous Refuse Truck to help speed up delivery and improve safety and environmental concerns.

Developed in collaboration with recycling firm Renova, the truck is driven manually the first time to ‘learn’ the route with the help of sensors and GPS. Thereafter, on entering a mapped area the next time, it knows which route to follow and at which bins it needs to stop.

At the first stop, with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it as normal. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon the driver’s command.
The driver walks the same route as the truck to have a full view of what is happening in the direction of travel. Reversing, rather than driving forwards, enables the driver to remain closer to the compactor during collections.
Volvo said the self-driving truck aims to reduce the risks associated with reversing an HGV in urban areas, even when fitted with cameras. Sensors continuously monitor the vehicle’s vicinity and the truck stops immediately if an obstacle suddenly appears in its path, or if the driver activates the emergency stop function.
This is reproduced from an article in Motor Transport magazine. For the full details see THIS item.

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Solar Power opportunity for UK Rail

A new collaboration between Imperial College London, UK charity 10:10, Turbo Power Systems, Community Energy South, and Energy Futures Lab is becoming the first in the world to investigate the possibility of fixing solar panels directly to train tracks to provide electricity. The project is funded through the Innovate UK Game Changers Programme.

The Renewable Traction Power Project is first going to focus on the possibility of adapting the existing third rail system, which involve a power line close to the ground. This system is currently used on one third of the UK's tracks, and the system should be relatively easy to adapt to using solar panels. With network rail investing billions of pounds into electrifying the UK's train lines, researchers predict a massive cut in the carbon footprint of the rail system by 2050.

This is a summary of an article from Energy Live News, read the full article HERE

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Sophie Lane, March 2017.

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The European Electric Vehicle Market

In Northern European countries policy shifts are looming that will restructure the automobile landscape, making way for electric vehicles (EV’s). In Norway, the four leading political parties have agreed that in order to tackle air pollution all internal-combustion (IC) passenger cars must be banned by 2025. In the Netherlands, a similar proposition is being made to restrict all IC cars from cities by 2025.

Both countries also have a host of incentives stimulating EV up-take. In Norway, EV's are allowed in bus lanes; pay no value-added tax and are given purchase-tax exemption (which accounts for 50% of the price of an IC car); are given free parking; free toll road and tunnel access; and reduced ferry fees. It is no wonder that the country is the largest EV market in Europe, with ownership rising from 18,000 in 2013 to 50,000 in 2015.

But what about the rest of Europe? Can such strong policies be expected in other countries?

Laurie Laybourn-Langton of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) explains how doing so in London and the UK would be much more challenging. Instead of the blanket ban proposed by Norway and the Netherlands, a graduated reduction of ICs is more attractive, through various policy incentives, such as low emission zones and EV sales targets for car manufacturers.
 
This is for two main reasons: firstly, the population is much larger, and second, the UK has already pursued specific policies including tax incentives to move towards diesel. As such, to change course abruptly now would come up against huge resistance.

Public awareness of air pollution has kept transport emissions high on the agenda in major European cities (as seen with Paris’s ban on certain vehicles types on alternating days). Following the Brexit outcome, however, the UK will be free from EU emissions legislation and fines, and could give up the higher standards of EU environmental protections. In concern for climate change and air pollution, the IPPR among many others are urging British ministers to commit to equal protections post-Brexit.

Europe’s first major emission regulations came in following the Kyoto Protocol in 2009. This was the impetus for the UK’s move towards diesel, which has a lower CO2 output than petrol. More recent research (particularly surrounding the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal), however, has revealed air pollution and CO2 emissions from diesel are higher than previously thought. Thus consumers and policy makers are quickly moving away from diesel engines, placing EVs as an even more attractive option.

While many European countries and cities are taking actions to tackle emissions, Hildermeier argues that this patchwork of commitment is not enough, and that to give manufacturers clear market appeal, Europe-wide legislation is needed. The European Commission announced a Union-wide strategy for air quality improvement and low emission targets in 2016, which many have welcomed. However, we have yet to see stronger policy mechanisms such as sales targets and quotas for manufacturers, as seen in California and China, where the shift to electrification is more advanced.

Laybourn-Layton also raises a key issue so far neglected - in many major cities a ban on diesel passenger cars is not the correct target as most inner-city air pollution is caused by buses and taxis. Urban commuter transport is changing rapidly, with private vehicle ownership declining while integration of public transport modes is increasing. Therefore an “approach across a range of transportation methods may well be the solution.”

Consumers stand to benefit from the shift to EVs, because although they cost more than IC vehicles, Julia Hildermeier of Belgium’s Transport and Environment think-tank argues that with lower fuel costs and various government incentives, “the running costs over the equivalent lifetime are considerably cheaper, so there is payback within three to four years.”

Hildermeier reflects on China where rampant air pollution has encouraged a strong push towards full electrification. The country already has a host of native car makers, suppliers and battery manufacturers - ‘it’s all in place and they apply the regulations’. Building Europe’s EV industries is an important objective if we wish to be a leader in this new market, instead of importing Chinese products.

Whatever pathway Europe takes to lowering transport emissions - whether a blanket ban or a graduated shift - it is clear a concerted, integrated approach that speaks both to manufacturers and consumers is necessary.

This is a summary of an article in Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. You can read the full article HERE.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, March 2017.

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Monday, 8 May 2017

Never Turn Right - How UPS Drivers save Fuel and Time

It goes without saying that delivery companies give serious thought to the routes they use. Anyone starting out on the problem of vehicle routing would naturally look for the shortest distances and the fastest roads in order to complete deliveries efficiently.

UPS, however, breaks from common sense with its no-right-turnpolicy (in the UK, that is). Literally, by routing its trucks to take predominantly left-hand turns at junctions, the company is achieving massive efficiencies and savings.

The idea is this: turning right at junctions requires cutting across a lane of on-coming traffic, which subsequently requires longer wait times (thus fuel) and a higher risk of accidents than simply turning left on to the closer lane. Since adopting the policy, around only 10% of UPS truck turnsare to the right.

Despite this approach often resulting in longer distance journeys, the time saving has allowed the company to cut the number of trucks it uses by 1,100, thereby reducing total distance travelled by 28.5m miles. Consequently, this saves 10 million gallons of fuel, emitting 20,000 tonnes less CO2, while delivering 350,000 more packages every year.

This impressive and unconventional strategy comes out of the field of ‘vehicle routing problem(VRP) - which since its inception by George Dantzig in 1959 remains an active area of management science. VRP uses mathematical formulas to calculate the best route between a set of points, and has been applied in diverse settings; from delivery and taxi fleets to catching chickens on a farm.

The results of UPS’s no-right-turn policy raise the question; why don’t all road users apply the rule? The answer is a matter of collective effect versus the results seen by individuals. That is to say, although traffic in total will be more efficient not all routes will be faster, and people are unlikely to comply unless it benefits them directly.

Like with many environmental policies, it only takes a few people opting out to make the whole thing fall apart. As commented in an article by The Conversation, ‘[this] is a good example of the prisoner’s dilemma, the famous game theory problem’ in which individuals break the rules to take advantage of group compliance.

A no-right-turn policy may then have to be enforced by government rather than rely on public volunteerism. This behavioural change would no doubt be unpopular at the outset, but if UPS can save 10 million gallons of fuel in a year and countless hours stuck in traffic, just think what an entire city could save.

This is a summary of an article in The Conversation, January 2017.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.
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The Rise of Autonomous Mining Vehicles

The mining sector is experiencing a revolution thanks to automated vehicles and smart technologies. Massive investment is starting to pour into autonomous 'load haul dump' trucks and trains, with many other mining functions already operating as smart, remotely operated, technology.

The main benefit of adapting these technologies is their significant productivity increases, and the safety they achieve both through being highly accurate, and implicitly reducing the number of humans required in mines. The robotic components of automated mining vehicles can handle all functions of driving, from ignition, acceleration, braking, transmission and accurate navigation.

Autonomous trucks are already being keenly adopted by some of the world’s largest mines, Rio Tinto having hauled a billion tons of high-grade ore from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The 70 autonomous vehicles operating in this region are capable of independently moving 25 million tons per month.

Some of the front runners in these technologies are Komatsu and Caterpillar, who are working with mining giants such as Rio Tinto and Barrick Gold. Komatsu has developed a driverless autonomous haulage system (AHS) for ‘ultra-class dump trucks’ - that is, trucks with a capacity of at 272 tons, which operates through a wireless network system, high-precision GPS controllers and obstacle detectors.

The current generation of autonomous vehicles must still be supervised by humans, albeit tele-operationally by experts many miles away; fully autonomous trucks that don’t require even remote manual supervision is not yet a reality. Though many companies are racing to develop such equipment, with BHP Billiton already completing trials in a Mexican mine, and Volvo testing a fully autonomous truck more than 1km underground in Sweden’s Kristineberg mine.

Globally, mining industries are also recovering from a steep downturn - which mining operators hope they can abate any recurrence through the productivity increases achieved by automated equipment.  Precarious commodity prices, lower-grade ores, increasing operational costs (thanks to ever deeper mines) and a shortage of skilled personnel, all compound to represent a clear need for productivity improvements.

The prospective efficiencies offered by these technologies is well known by the mining industry and are set to become widely adopted, with the smart mining equipment market forecast to grow from $5.8bn in 2014 to $13bn in 2020. Thus, while autonomous vehicles may not appear so quickly on our streets, their place in industry is set to steadily grow.

This is a summary of an article in IndustrialVehicle Technology.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.
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Next Generation Battery Chemistry?

Battery technology remains the make or break for electric vehicles (EV's). Though there has been impressive uptake of electric vehicles (indicated nowhere more strongly than Tesla overtaking Ford’s market value). However, there remains significant barriers to higher uptake related to ‘range anxiety’, battery life cycles, and higher purchase costs.

Nevertheless, battery technology is progressing quickly and becoming more affordable, with lithium-ion batteries potentially costing as little as $100/kWh by the 2020.

George Crabtree, senior scientist at the Joint Centre for Energy Research, however, thinks there is a limit to the gains that can be made with conventional lithium-ion; “They might get 50% better, but we’re not going to see a step change in performance. In 5-10 years’ time, I think we’ll reach the limits of cost too. If we want to get to the next level, we may need a new generation of chemistry.”

Two leading alternatives to conventional lithium-ion are; solid-state lithium-ion, and lithium-sulphur, which are both getting a major research and investment push.

Solid-state lithium-ion (li-ion) replaces the conventional gel electrolyte with a solid electrolyte. Solid-state batteries are less volatile to heat and easier to manage, as well as having potentially higher energy densities and lower costs. Unfortunately, the charge in these batteries moves slower than conventional li-ion, which can limit power density.

German electronics company, Bosch, is confident it can double the energy density and half the cost present day batteries by 2020 with solid-state lithium-ion, and is working to have the batteries ready for market within 5 years. The company’s ambitious development goals plan for 15 minutes’ charge times (to 80%), 300km range, a life cycle of over 1000 charges, and to retain 80% of its original capacity after 12 years (or 300,000km). Getting to this point, says electro-mobility executive Stefan Seiberth, will mainly focus on fine-tuning NCM (nickel, cobalt, manganese) chemistry.

Lithium-sulphur on the other hand, also offers a large energy capacity and considerable safety benefits over lithium-ion due to its less volatile composition, avoid swelling and reactive issues seen in other batteries. The active ingredient in the cathode is sulphur, mixed with carbon to improve conductivity.

One company that is quickly advancing this technology is UK based firm Oxis Energy. They are developing lithium-sulphur pouch cells that could be market ready within 5 years. Mark Crittenden of Oxis claims the theoretical energy density of lithium-sulphur is 2.7kWh/kg - five times higher than conventional lithium-ion. As a “rule of thumb” however, Crittenden says “the practical limit is usually around one third of the theoretical potential”, which is still comparable to competitive with lithium-ion.

Oxis also overcome a historic about lithium-sulphur’s short life cycle, achieving around 1,500 cycles. In considering the potential for lithium-sulphur to become a mainstream technology, Crittenden reflects: “lithium-ion when from zero to $80bn-a-year sector in approximately 30 years, and we can see a similar trajectory for lithium-sulphur.”

An important driver of the EV market to consider in the coming years, remarks Seiberth, is the EU’s requirement for all manufacturers to achieve a “fleet average of 95g/km of CO2 by 2021 - and most of them won’t be able to do that without electrification. By 2025 we think approximately 15% of all cars worldwide will be electrified in some way […] and one-third of all new passenger cars sold in Europe.”

As such, battery technology is clearly set to become a defining battleground for automotive market share within the next decade. Therefore it’s a good time to start getting our heads around it, in education and industry.

This is a summary of an article in Electric and Hybrid VTI, January 2017.

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Hugh Reed, April 2017.
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The Honda Self-Balancing Motorcycle

Honda unveiled (at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January) a new technology which allows a motorcycle to self-balance without using gyroscopes. This is done by raking out the front and back forks, effectively balancing the 'bike by moving the front wheel back and forth, in a technique that is (slightly) similar to what experienced cyclists do at junctions to save putting their feet down. 

The new technology has many applications, Honda showing a video in which a motorbike can follow you without a rider (as have Yamaha, I recall).

This is a summary of an article from Asphalt andRubber. You can read the full article and see the bike in action HERE 

This post was compiled on behalf of Weald Technology by Sophie Lane, March 2017.

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