future view

Towards affordable hybrid freight vehicles

26 January 2017 • 3 min reading time

Heavy hybrid vehicles are considerably cleaner than diesel freight traffic, but they are only used to a limited degree. A major factor in this is the high overall cost of hybrid vehicles. The European ORCA project is dedicated to hybrid freight vehicles, which emit forty percent less carbon dioxide, yet cost no more than does conventional freight transport. TNO is leading the project.

Carbon dioxide emissions in the Netherlands need to be drastically reduced; to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement, they have to be half their 1990 level by 2030. TNO is providing important knowledge and innovations in many fields in order for this objective to be achieved. This includes offering cities an integrated range of instruments for improving their air quality, their accessibility, and their economic vitality. An example of how this can be done is to enhance traffic flows in cities with the help of logistics models and sensor technology – the better the traffic is flowing, the fewer unnecessary emissions there are.

40% fewer emissions

In the area of clean vehicle technology and intelligent transport systems, too, TNO is an important supplier of knowledge. As far as the implementation of new electric and hybrid vehicle technologies are concerned, for example, TNO is right at the front of the field in Europe. The European ORCA (Optimised Real-world Cost-Competitive Modular Hybrid Architecture for Heavy Duty Vehicles) project is a good example of this. The project has the ambitious aim of developing a power train for hybrid buses and freight vehicles, which consume forty percent less fuel than do conventional diesel vehicles. At the same time, the overall costs of these vehicles may not exceed those of conventional buses and freight vehicles. “There is already hybrid transport on the market,” explains project manager Rene Corbeij of TNO, “but there are not yet any systems that meet these strict conditions. Once our solutions reach the market in four years’ time, they will be truly unique.”

“However, the overall costs of heavy hybrid vehicles have to be reduced if the introduction of electric vehicles in Europe is to be accelerated”

Optimal deployment of energy

Numerous research institute and industrial partners, such as Volvo, Iveco, Fraunhofer, CRF, Valeo, and Bosch, are developing these new solutions as part of a consortium. TNO is coordinating the project and assisting the partners with regard to energy management. “We possess a great deal of knowledge of how all kinds of components affect the energy consumption of a vehicle,” says Corbeij. “Based on these components and the specific use to which a vehicle is put, we are able to calculate, with the help of computer models, how to use energy as effectively as possible.”

Using the battery at the right time

By way of example, the optimal charging time of a vehicle makes clear what this means. Hybrid vehicles run on both electricity and liquid fuel. The less fuel is used, and the most constant the actions of the driver, the fewer emissions there are. It is therefore important to prevent a battery becoming empty at the point where the nearest charging station is still some way away. On the other hand, charging a battery too early shortens its lifespan. The optimal charging cycle of a vehicle depends on a number of additional aspects, too – a town-centre bus, which has to keep stopping and starting, uses energy in a different way to one that covers long distances. The heating and cooling systems of a bus or lorry can also play a part. Thanks to many years of research, TNO knows how to align all these types of component to each other. The project offers the opportunity to apply this knowledge in practice.

“Once our solutions reach the market in four years’ time, they will be truly unique”

Testing vehicles

“At ORCA we are going to modify our general models for energy management to what manufacturers have,” says Corbeij. “They build the components of the vehicles and we link everything up together in an energy-efficient manner, as it were.” TNO’s knowledge of logistics models at urban level and the optimization of batteries is also making its way to the market thanks to this project. The contribution made by TNO is not just limited to calculations and modelling, emphasizes Corbeij. “In the final year, the project will actually result in vehicles. They have to function precisely as we have planned. We can therefore test them in our Automotive Lab in Helmond and on the tracks.”

Lower overall costs

The project has a budget of more than ten million euros. Volvo is one of the industrial partners in the ORCA collaborative partnership. The car manufacturer believes that the project is greatly important for the competitive position of the European automotive industry. “In recent years, Volvo and Iveco have successfully launched hybrid vehicles onto the market,” says a spokesman. “However, the overall costs of heavy hybrid vehicles will have to be reduced if the introduction of electric vehicles in Europe is to be accelerated. Now that Asian suppliers of electric freight vehicles are gaining an increasing proportion of market share in Europe, it is important to offer less expensive alternatives.”

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