UK consortium to develop lightest, most efficient EV powertrain

GKN Automotive is collaborating with Drive System Design and the University of Nottingham on an £8 million project to design and develop a world-leading electric vehicle powertrain for the global market.

The project is called ACeDrive (Advanced Cooling and Control of High Speed e-Drive) and it is backed by match-funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC). Already progressing through concept selection, it aims to achieve the level of technology and performance outlined in the Automotive Council’s roadmap for 2040 and be production ready by 2023.

The goal is for ACeDrive to be the world’s lightest and most efficient electric vehicle powertrain for the volume market. To achieve this, it adopts ground-breaking concepts in cooling and system integration that enable a significant reduction in the number and size of components. The programme’s core targets are a 25 per cent reduction in both packaging size and cost, a 20 per cent drop in weight, and a ten per cent increase in efficiency compared to current equivalents.

The ACeDrive project will deliver a complete system that combines a downsized electric motor, optimised transmission and high-frequency inverter within a single unit, enabling shared cooling and a remarkably compact housing. Not only does this reduce the packaging size and cost; fewer interfaces means less internal friction, improved transmission alignment and a boost in efficiency and NVH management.

GKN Automotive is responsible for the design of the ACeDrive system, including the overall packaging and the development of the motor, inverter and transmission. Following detailed simulation and analysis, final design will commence in the third quarter of this year. Prototyping, rig and vehicle testing will follow in 2020, before a vehicle demonstrator equipped with the prototype system is unveiled for public demonstration in the first quarter of 2021.

The project will be based at the GKN Innovation Centre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, with support from consortium partner Drive System Design in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, as well as the University of Nottingham.

Drive System Design is one of Europe’s leading automotive engineering consultancies, with a reputation for technical excellence in the field of electric drive unit efficiency and NVH optimisation. Its simulation-led approach will optimise ACeDrive as a whole unit, thereby identifying key trade-offs much earlier in the design process than is usually possible. Ultimately, its enhanced test capabilities will meet the growing requirements of the automotive industry for higher speed electric motor testing – up to and beyond 20,000rpm, and with voltages over 800V.

The University of Nottingham is noted for its expertise in thermal management, semiconductor technology and high-speed motors. It will lead the development of the electric motor, the power electronics modules and advanced integrated cooling. Central to the ACeDrive concept will be the use of advanced SiC transistors, enabling higher frequency control unlocking efficiency improvements, enabling a high speed, next-generation design that is smaller than current motors of equivalent power and affordable for OEM customers.

Gordon Day, general manager at GKN Hybrid Power Limited, said: “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. 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 lower cost to OEMs,” added Simon Shepherd, head of Electrified Powertrain at Drive System Design.

The APC’s 2018 Roadmap Report, Towards 2040: A Guide to Automotive Propulsion Technologies, highlights the key growth opportunities for the UK supply chain in low-carbon propulsion systems. The ACeDrive project will examine the UK supply chain and its capability to support large-scale manufacture of Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD). With the support of the APC supply chain team, new contacts and business relationships are already being developed that will explore and demonstrate this potential.

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