TNO research on powertrains

Future powertrain requirements ask for enormous commitment. To meet these requirements related to pollutants and CO2 emissions, exploiting the synergy between engine, drivetrain and after-treatment subsystems has become increasingly important.

TNO’s Powertrains Research Group’s main goal is to focus on automotive powertrain control systems that optimize overall system performance. How do we optimize this performance? By using (virtual) sensors and model predictive control strategies based on combined emission and energy management concepts. High complexity systems can be dealt with in an intuitive way by following a physics-based modelling approach. Our customer’s acceptance will improve and technology will be pushed by enabling adaptive control systems.

Our technical developments concentrate on truck and bus applications for city distribution as well as long haul transportation. Our research areas are: real-world performance, flex fuel control and predictive powertrain control.


TNO holds an international position in the field of Real-World Performance by providing technological solutions on:

  • Control-oriented modelling of real-world emission conversion,
  • Model-based after-treatment control and diagnostics,
  • Methodology for efficient after-treatment calibration and validation.

Our aim is to provide robust next generation solutions for clean and efficient powertrains, engine and after-treatment for Heavy Duty applications with our Real World Performance sub technology. We know how to maximize overall powertrain energy efficiency while meeting emission limits under real-world operating conditions.

Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) control
TNO realized the world’s first model-based SCR controller in production based on ammonia storage state estimation! Crucial in these developments is the availability of TNO’s after-treatment simulation tool SIMCAT. This tool can model various components and after treatment configurations and includes a patented method to fit models.

Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) control
TNO’s after treatment simulation tool SIMCAT is crucial for DPF system optimization and control design. We developed control strategies for various DPF system layouts, including an innovative and robust DPF state estimator that combined a physics-based DPF model and sensors for on-line monitoring of DPF performance as input to On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) and regeneration control. And in the anticipation of their introduction in the future, we also incorporate the use of pre- or post-DPF soot sensors.

Integrated Emission Management (IEM)
We aim to get the desired functionality realized in a systematic way, namely (engine-based) thermal management strategies for after treatment and adaptive EGR/SCR balancing concepts. The real-time adapting of control settings can be achieved by using real-time model information of the actual status of engine, SCR and DPF system. This is beneficial for robust performance.


Fuel is an important parameter in the engine development process. Up and until now, most attention was given to the effect of fuel quality and composition variations (like biofuel content) on engine out and tailpipe emissions. In the future, fuel will become more of a design parameter. Our ultimate goal is to develop an engine that can deal with a very wide range of fuels. This will significantly reduce the development and calibration effort and will enable the introduction of alternative fuels and the usage of new feedstocks.

Diesel-natural gas Reactivity Controlled Compression Ignition (RCCI)
Driven by the increased interest in natural gas, TNO has explored the operating conditions and load range for a diesel-natural gas RCCI concept in a multi-cylinder engine. Our current research focuses on a thorough understanding of the relation between in-cycle conditions and control actions, on the one hand, and heat release and emission formation, on the other hand.

Closed-loop combustion control
TNO developed a cylinder-pressure based control concept that enables flexibility in diesel quality (flex fuel) and auto-calibration of diesel injectors. Besides real-time heat release estimation, in-cylinder NOx and soot emissions are on-line predicted in this concept by cycle-to-cycle control. Recently, TNO also started with the development of combustion control strategies for in-cylinder fuel blending.


To reduce CO2 emission and fuel consumption, we also focus on energy recovery and energy management for (hybrid) electric vehicles and for engines with waste heat recovery systems. Energy and emission management are integrated by developing real-time optimal control strategies. These model-based control strategies are situation adaptive and can also deal with route information (predictive control).

Battery state of health modelling
Our expertise of modelling for battery systems focuses on accurate state-estimation as part of an energy management and control perspective. This constitutes a fundamental building block for Integrated Powertrain Control (IPC), and applications to Battery Management System (BMS) and Human Machine Interface (HMI). In addition, through EU projects like ABattReLife, TNO focuses on ageing predictions and measurements – a key area of interest within highly electrified vehicles.

Energy Recovery and Energy Harvesting
A considerable amount of the available fuel energy in a powertrain is not used for propulsion, but is converted to heat (engine cooling, tailpipe gas flow, brake energy). Energy recovery forms the enabler for the next step to further reduce CO2 emissions and to reduce fuel consumption, especially for heavy-duty applications. Besides regenerative braking, our research focuses on Rankine cycle concepts and the combination of multiple energy recovery and buffering systems.

Energy Management
Our latest activity? We are developing energy management for electric vehicles and for Waste Heat Recovery systems. We will incorporate this knowledge in the powertrain model, as part of our ADVANCE toolbox. And based on optimal control concepts we developed Integrated Powertrain Control (IPC) strategies for a hybrid-electric diesel powertrain with a SCR system as well as for a modern Euro-VI diesel engine with Waste Heat Recovery system.

Want to know more? Please contact Martijn Stamm.

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