The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has teamed up with several industrial partners, including some of America’s largest automakers, to promote research and development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Plug-in hybrids could revolutionize the automotive industry because, unlike conventional hybrid cars, they have the potential to run largely on electricity.
Argonne’s collaboration with industry on PHEV technology complements a recently announced DOE initiative that provides nearly $20 million to further development of advanced batteries for hybrid technology.
In order to assist with this mission, Argonne has assumed a leading role in PHEV vehicle systems research, according to Glenn Keller, vehicle systems section leader. The technical expertise and facilities that Argonne possesses have enticed both well-established and up-and-coming players in the automotive industry to seek out the laboratory as a partner for PHEV research, he said.
Some of the companies that have leveraged Argonne’s expertise in PHEV technology include: General Motors, Ford, and A123Systems. In addition, Mike Duoba, mechanical engineer in Argonne’s Transportation Technology R&D Center (TTRDC), chairs a committee of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) dedicated to determining test procedures for establishing mileage estimates for PHEVs.
PHEV Fuel Economy Benchmarking
PHEVs are hybrid electric vehicles that contain a battery that can be recharged using a standard 110-volt electrical outlet. Like conventional hybrids, PHEVs use both a battery-powered motor and a gasoline-powered engine. Unlike conventional vehicles, whose estimated mileage varies based on how aggressively the car is driven, plug-in hybrids can get dramatically better mileage with lower daily use. Under certain circumstances — usually in city driving with a full charge — a PHEV could get an astronomical mileage because it would run almost exclusively on battery power. For longer commutes or long-distance trips, a PHEV would have mileage closer to that of a traditional hybrid vehicle, Duoba explained. “We have to come up with some sort of standard yardstick with which to make comparisons,” he said.
Most car owners, of course, will drive more on some days than others, and so car companies need to calculate mileage approximations that will reflect the hybrid’s average performance under actual driving conditions. In order to determine these guidelines, the SAE turned to Duoba and his colleagues in the vehicle systems section to develop a test procedure for determining advertised fuel economy. Because the SAE includes representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and automakers in the United States, Europe and Japan, “the chances are that the test procedures that we develop at Argonne will be adopted as the industry-wide recommended practice for determining what the labeled fuel economy is going to be,” Keller said.
“I’ve asked a number of engineers from automakers, even people I’ve just met, ‘what do you benchmark your results to? Whose data do you use?'” Duoba added. “I continue to be surprised as I learn that more and more engineers in the auto industry are using Argonne data.”
Advanced Battery System Testing
Argonne’s transportation researchers have not only developed fuel economy test procedure industry standards, but they have also used them to run tests on new components and vehicles manufactured by pioneering companies. One of these companies, A123Systems, enlisted Argonne’s help in testing its new PHEV Toyota Prius aftermarket retro-fit module based upon their lithium-ion batteries. Researchers in the TTRDC have assessed these packs in a vehicle under various driving conditions, providing a solid performance result that the company will use to market their product and compare to any future advancements.
The access to top-of-the-line equipment and technical knowledge that the laboratory provides makes Argonne a valuable partner for industry leaders. “We have the expertise to talk to them on a formal but impartial basis — we can tell them what we see that’s good, what we see that’s bad. We can give them professional hints and suggestions, and we’re a source for quality data that they can depend on and use us for their energy sources,” Keller said.
A123’s Chief Executive Officer, David Vieau, said that Argonne offers an independent, trustworthy validation of his company’s products, filling a critical need that will enable to commercialization of new technology. “The work you are doing is pivotal in showing that the plug-in future is viable,” he said.
Argonne Real-Time Data Acquisition
Plug-in hybrids aren’t merely an enticing prospect; several large automakers, including GM and Ford, have already produced small fleets of prototype vehicles for testing. To assist with data collection during the experimental trials, Argonne has agreed to supply these companies with the Argonne Real-Time Data Acquisition unit (ARDAQ), which uses GPS and other sensors to take moment-by-moment measurements of vehicle performance, including driving speed, fuel consumption, frequency of charges and trip length. “These are the questions that everybody has about how these vehicles are going to be operated in the real world,” said Ted Bohn, Argonne electrical engineer and lead developer of ARDAQ.
The unit is “smaller, lighter, easier to install and cheaper than all the other methods for automotive data collection on the market today,” and can record up to a month’s worth of data on a memory stick, according to Keller.
“The automakers also want to evaluate how their prototypes are performing in the field outside of a lab environment so they can see how they will perform under the stresses of daily driving — our technology gives them the ability to advance their designs and tweak them,” Bohn added.
The research was funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program.
Argonne National Laboratory, a renowned R&D center, brings the world’s brightest scientists and engineers together to find exciting and creative new solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.