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£8m project aims to make the UK an EV powertrain leader
Published:  26 June, 2019

A group of UK organisations, led by GKN Automotive, are collaborating on an £8m project to design and develop a “world-leading” electric vehicle powertrain for the global market. The ACeDrive (Advanced Cooling and Control of High Speed e-Drive) project aims to deliver the world’s lightest and most efficient electric vehicle powertrain for volume markets. To achieve this, the group is developing “ground-breaking” concepts in cooling and system integration, leading to significant reductions in the number and size of components needed. Key targets for the project include a 25% reduction in packaging size and cost, a 20% reduction in weight, and a 10% increase in efficiency, compared to current equivalents.

The project is being backed by match-funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) – the joint venture between the UK government and the automotive industry, set up in 2013 to make the UK a centre of excellence for the research, development and production of low-carbon propulsion technologies.

The project will deliver a complete system that combines a relatively small electric motor, optimised transmission and a high-frequency inverter in a single package, allowing cooling to be shared and the housing to be “remarkably compact”. Not only will this reduce size and cost, but it will have fewer interfaces, reducing internal friction, optimising transmission alignment, and improving efficiency and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) management.

The project is based at the GKN Automotive Innovation Centre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, and will be supported by Drive System Design (DSD), based in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and the University of Nottingham. DSD is an automotive engineering consultancy with an expertise in electric drive efficiency. Its simulation-led approach will help to optimise the ACeDrive, helping to identify key trade-offs earlier in the design process than is usually possible. DSD also has the capability to perform motor testing at speeds of up to 20,000rpm and beyond, and at voltages higher than 800V.

The University of Nottingham will apply its expertise in high-speed motors, semiconductor technologies and thermal management, to lead the development of the motor, the power electronics modules, and the integrated cooling system. Central to the ACeDrive concept will be the use of advanced SiC (silicon carbide) semiconductors, enabling higher frequency operation and higher efficiencies, leading to a next-generation, high-speed design that will be smaller than existing motors of a similar power rating, as well as being affordable for OEMs. The university is the APC hub for power electronic development in the UK and conducts research in this area, as well as developing electric motor technologies for industrial, aerospace and automotive applications.

GKN Automotive, which already supplies electric vehicle drivelines, will be responsible for the overall design of the ACeDrive system, including its packaging, as well as helping to develop the motor, inverter and transmission. Following detailed simulation and analyses, the final design is due to commence in the third quarter of this year, with prototyping, rig and vehicle testing following in 2020, before a vehicle equipped with a prototype drive system will be demonstrated publicly at the start of 2021. The aim is for the technology to be production-ready by 2023.

The ACeDrive project is aiming to develop a compact, low-cost electric vehicle drivetrain with a high efficiency

“In partnership with Drive System Design and the University of Nottingham, we are developing a truly advanced eDrive system – more compact and cost-effective than other technologies on the horizon,” says Gordon Day, general manager of GKN’s Automotive Innovation Centre. “Our ambition is to help the UK take the lead in electric powertrain design and manufacturing capability.”

“Our whole system approach to engineering will help to combine next-generation electronic components, ground-breaking integration and a high-speed motor, to deliver significantly greater power density and efficiency with a lower cost to OEMs,” adds Simon Shepherd, head of electrified powertrains at Drive System Design.

In 2018, the APC published a roadmap report, called Towards 2040: A Guide to Automotive Propulsion Technologies, highlighting the key growth opportunities for the UK supply chain in low-carbon propulsion systems. The ACeDrive project will examine this chain and its capability to support large-scale manufacture of power electronics, machines and drives. With the support of the APC supply chain team, new contacts and business relationships are being developed that will explore and demonstrate this potential.