Electrifying transport vectors

For a quarter of a century now, the UTC-LEC Lab (Electromechanical engineering, Compiegne) has been engaged in research that contributes to all-electric transport systems progress. A special conference was organised Nov.7, 2017 to mark the 25th anniversary. LEC Director, Prof. Guy Friedrich sums up the work carried out over these academic years rich in innovative projects and outlines the prospects for the coming years.

Electrifying transport vectors

Does the UTC LEC unit occupy a special position in academic research?

“Our small (20 persons) research and teaching team brings together three skills that are normally separate in other similarly sized laboratories: energy conversion technologies, design and modelling of electric machinery. Multiphysical modelling (electric, thermic, acoustic) of the propulsion chain is one of our lab specialties. Ten years after LEC was created in 1973, we rapidly became interested in electric powered transportation systems. Privately owned cars also rapidly took front stage of our investigations and today too is our prime area for applications.”

 How and to what extent has the context of all-electric vehicles evolved since 1992?

 “25 years ago, there were no mass-produced electric vehicles, only prototypes. Technical progress in this field has been quite striking even if we cannot, as such, pinpoint any technological breakthroughs. These technologies are now mature. For equivalent performance levels, the cost of an electric motor is now lower than that of an internal combustion engine. With batteries of equivalent weight, these electric vehicles can now cover ten times the range previously attained. However, several problems still remain if we want to see the number of potential customers increase. For example, the time to recharge the batteries is still too long for certain trips. Batteries represent one third the price of the electric car while offering a life expectancy less than the vehicle itself (15 years approx.). UTC-LEC is currently working on all these points and issues.”


What are the main areas where UTC-LEC contributed to progress in this field?

  “UTC-LEC is active in 4 research areas: motor improvements (noise, space needed, performance levels), battery monitoring and management (costs, performance, operational time, safety), power electronics and control systems. Thanks to our partnerships with the main automobile manufacturers, our scientific achievements have applications in concrete industrial uses. No less than 7 these have been devoted to the starter-alternator unit. This research contributed to Valeo launching its Stop & Start® system. Our work on acoustic noise levels generated by electric propulsion motors also served in the design phase of the all-electric car Zoe by Renault. On average, ten years separate the moment a laboratory publishes its results and their integration in a commercial product.”

 

What are your forthcoming projects?

 We have a partnership agreement currently underway with VALEO and PSA to develop a low-cost hybrid vehicle for the European markets. Designing very cheap electric vehicles for developing countries will probably require new innovations. Moreover, we are closely studying the acoustics for Renault’s new engines. Diversification of applications is definitely the ‘name of the game’. Our innovations in electric motor propulsion units can be adapted to a variety of transport modes, viz., boats, planes, trains, urban trams … Aeronautics offers us a new area for experimentation with specific demands in terms of performance, light structures and increased safety factors. In this sector, electric motor actuators have gradually replaced hydraulic flight surface controls. The next stage will be electricity-powered small aircraft (10-20 crew and passengers). LEC is collaborating with Zodiac Aerospace in regard to batteries installed in airliners as an emergency backup should the main hydraulic circuits fail. We have a PhD thesis under way to assemble and certify a diagnosis system that verifies the continuous availability of this emergency backup power supply.”