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Tomorrow’s all-electric cars readied in UTC’s LEC Laboratory

The UTC LEC Laboratory (Electromechanical Engineering) focuses its research on one topic: “to design an on-board electric actuator and propulsion system”. Hidden behind this descriptor is the entire vehicle’s electric power system, from battery to wheel drive, which is the object studied. This global vision – rare for an academic laboratory – is a source of innovations.

Tomorrow’s all-electric cars readied in UTC’s LEC Laboratory

As an example: the Stop&Start® concept was developed at the LEC with the industrialist Valeo, a historic partner of the laboratory with its 20 or so staff (10 of whom are full-time). From the main propulsion unit to power electronics, not forgetting the battery, the scope of their research goes beyond electric cars: “As soon as you start to create a movement driven by a battery in an autonomous system – cars, trains, etc., the LEC has the skills wanted,” asserts Guy Friedrich, LEC’s Director. Two main research themes overarch work at the LEC – the “optimal machine design” and on-board power feed systems – with a unique feature, viz., the development of digital models so as to remove obstacles to electric powered mobility.

Virtual prototypes for Renault and Alstom

The first research thrust consists of developing efficient digital models to predict and improve, case by case, energy consumption, range, noise levels, etc. “We are producing virtual prototyping, as close to reality as we can get », summarise Guy Friedrich. Thus LEC built a digital model for Renault’s electric car Zoé, and likewise for tramways and locomotives built by Alstom. What is the interest in making virtual prototypes? “Contrary to real prototypes, ours cost far less and we can run an unlimited number of trials” notes Guy Friedrich. The second research thrust relates to development of digital models to better understand, in real time, the phenomena that interplay in the car’s battery – which is a principle component of any electric propulsion system.

Understanding batteries to increase their life expectancy

Battery behaviour depends on numerous parameters, such as temperature, acceleration, load, etc. We must observe and understand how batteries work and perform if we want to improve safety and range. What are the risks of a battery overheating? How does the battery equipment age? Questions like this require the combined know-how of chemists and electricians and they (the questions) are essential inasmuch as the life expectancy of any of today’s batteries does not exceed that of the vehicles in which they are mounted. We are developing models that predict the age status, or battery behaviour in the case of hard drive conditions. The objective here is to programme the power control electronics so as to increase range and battery life expectancy.” The challenge is of considerable scope given that the price of a battery is one third that of the whole vehicle (all-electric models)! At the LEC Laboratory, two ANR (the government’s R&D vetting and financing agency) projects are worth mentioning, viz., SIMSTOCK (between 2007 and 2010 with a budget of 4.2 Meuros) and SIMCAL (2009-2012, budget 3.6 Meuros), are in this category. Guy Friedrich adds “We shall soon be engaging on a post-Zoé thesis with the automobile company Renault”.
In the framework of the government programme Investments for the Future, UTC’s LEC Laboratory has just commenced two research projects. One, by the name of ESENCIELE carries a budget of 79 Meuros for 3 years with 11 partner companies (Valeo, PSA, et al.) the objective assigned being to design a hybrid electric/petrol engine at an affordable price. “The hybrids we see today on the road are most often up-market products. We want to develop the same but with a small cylinder bore,” says Guy Friedrich. The other project associates two UTC laboratories (LEC and Heudiasyc) with the Carbon-free Communicating Vehicle and Mobility Institute (VeDeCoM), based at Satory, near Versailles, SW of Paris. This project was awarded a government label as Institute for Excellence. “Inasmuch as our special scientific and technological skills in this area are recognised, we have succeeded in setting up a subsidiary antenna of VeDeCoM in Compiegne”, says Guy Friedrich proudly. “The objective in doing this is that we can become a platform of expertise in clean, smart vehicles”. Another ambition is to become a “centre of excellence” in material chemistry, in collaboration with University of Picardie Jules Verne (UPJV) and Professor Jean-Marie Tarascon. “The aim of our collaboration is to design batteries for tomorrow, those that will replace lithium-ion models and which will enable the vehicle’s range to be extended to 400 km for a reasonable price. We are ready to welcome talented persons attracted by these prospective, future themes”.