The Future of Electrified Transportation

Recently, the electrical engineering department hosted a workshop on electrified transportation. Organized by Professor Matthias Preindl, the event focused on the potential and challenges of electric vehicles (EVs)specifically, innovations in electrified transportation systems, power conversion, battery energy-storage systems, and future trends.

The first sessions focused on innovations in transportation systems. One example, electric airplanes, requires large electric subsystems that are effectively microgrids, analogous to local power systems within the national grid. All aerospace applications also require redundant safety and resilience precautions.

Fuel-cell vehicles could find broad commercial use. UPS, for example, is working toward replacing its fleet of conventional delivery vehicles with extended-range fuel-cell EVs that have zero tailpipe emissions. The first prototype is scheduled for field testing this year.

Electrified rail systems have a significant potential to “recover and reuse” energy. Especially promising is the recuperation of braking energy in NY subway cars, which is currently dissipated as heat. Engineers are seeking ways, perhaps via batteries placed along the rails, to collect the dissipated energy for reuse. Any adverse impact on the local power system could be mitigated by adding energy storage, either along the tracks or on the cars—the former preferable for the busiest routes.

Participants looked at novel electronic technologies for power conversion. Silicon carbide switches are expected to play an increasing role in electric drivetrains, in light of the falling cost of these devices. Such technologies could support the increased power requirements of higher battery pack and bus voltages. Novel nonlinear and optimal-control techniques could address the efficiency requirements of electrified transportation in highly dynamic conditions.

Advances in lithium-Ion battery energy-storage systems could increase the marketability of battery-fueled EVs. Remaining challenges include the ability to sophisticatedly model a battery’s energy usage, as well as its state of deterioration. For an EV user, a precise indication of remaining battery energy is critical—the decision whether to drive the final 10 miles home might depend on it.

Once a battery has deteriorated to 80 percent capacity, it is no longer useful as the energy source for an EV. One use for such batteries might be to store renewable energy, such as the above-mentioned use of batteries to recover dissipated subway energy for reuse.

Looking ahead, participants discussed ways that EV batteries might interact with the grid, e.g., draw on renewable energy stored on the grid. They also looked at possible new battery chemistries, including lithium-ion batteries and various cathode systems.

Preindl says the basically optimistic consensus of the workshop participants was that the challenges of developing EVs—many of them cost-related—are solvable. EVs have the potential to perform better, require less maintenance, and cost less than petrol-fueled vehicles. They are also better for the environment. EVs produce about 50 percent less CO2 emissions when charged from today’s U.S. energy mix; this could drop to zero when charged by renewable sources.

Workshop participants also highlighted the interdisciplinary effort required to make EVs successful. Only if electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineers work together will EVs become an everyday means of transport.

Invited Speakers:

Professor Babak Nahid-Mobarakeh, Université de Lorraine

Dr. Dazhong Gu, Unique Technical Services

Professor Ahmed Mohamed, City University of New York

Professor Pericle Zanchetta, University of Nottingham

Dr. Matt O’Grady, United Silicon Carbide

Davide Da Rù and Milo De Soricellis, Aalborg University and Robert Bosch GmbH

Dr. Pawel Malysz, FIAT Chrysler Automobile

Dr. Nicolas Clauvelin, Sendyne Corp.

Professor Lucía Gauchía, Michigan Technological University

Andrew Reid, Consolidated Edison

Dr. Martin Payne, Gotion Inc.

To learn more and to watch the presentations, please visit.

-By Ann Rae Jonas

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