Ideally, environmental concerns are best addressed by governments, industry and academia – but often, this is easier said than done. However, last year, the Swedish government did just that. The Swedish Energy Agency set up the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre with the backing of three universities and five auto manufacturers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg at a cost of SEK 32.5 million. The agency gave the university SEK 32.5 million through to December 31, 2010 to run the Centre. Chalmers contributed SEK 10.8 million as did the Royal Institute of Technology and Lund University of Technology. The Centre’s mandate was to implement a major initiative to support the development of hybrid vehicles.

“The whole project will have a turnover of SEK 97.5 million over a four-year period. Together with the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Lund University of Technology and the automotive industry we will develop new hybrid vehicle concepts with a focus on reduction of fuel consumption and CO2-emission,” said Lennart Josefson, professor at Chalmers during the launch.

“In the light of the climate problem, measures to reduce emissions from the transport sector of harmful substances that contribute to climate change have been made a top priority. Through this extensive investment in research and the development of hybrid technology and hybrid vehicles the Swedish Energy Agency hopes to be able to contribute to improving the environment and reinforcing future Swedish research and development in this field,” added Director-General Thomas Korsfeldt in a press release from the Swedish Energy Agency.

Considering the rapid development in the alternative propulsion area in general and the hybrid electric vehicles in particular, the initiative to form the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre is a timely response to the need to join forces between Swedish industry and academia in this field commented Dagens Industri, a leading Swedish daily in an article last year.

The aim of the Centre, apart from providing know-how and expertise in this field is also to function as a hub for Swedish hybrid vehicle research and development. Support from the Swedish Energy Agency accounts for 33 per cent of the cost of the project. The remaining support comes from Sweden’s automotive industry. Companies like AB Volvo, Volvo Car Corporation AB, Scania CV AB, Saab Automobile AB/GM Powertrain and BAE Systems Hägglunds AB, each contributed 7 per cent to the project’s cost.

The Centre’s mandate is to create hybrid technology. It hopes to play an important role as a first step in a revolutionary change from ICE to electric propulsion. It has listed its objectives as creating knowledge and understanding for the fundamental processes in hybrid vehicle technology through experiments, simulations and modeling. Define and investigate new technologies and hybrid vehicle concepts that will lead to more fuel effective vehicles. “The centre emphasizes a holistic view of the problem area to meet the environmental and societal needs with new technological solutions, thus prioritizing a systems perspective of the hybrid electric vehicle. The research work is initially divided into three different sub fields, assumed to be crucial for a successful development of hybrid electric vehicles: system studies and tools (which includes methods for simulation, control and diagnostics), electric machines and drives and energy storage (with a focus on the development of lithium-based battery systems),” says a statement from a Chalmers’ press release.

While the Centre plans to research on the hybrid electrical vehicle and its technical challenges, one of its objectives is to also address the issues at an even higher system level, i.e. society at large, its infrastructure and its environmental concerns. Sweden, has always been at the forefront of the race to cut emissions and find alternate-fuel-powered vehicles. In 1989, catalytic exhaust emission controls became mandatory for cars in Sweden. At the beginning of 2006, some 3.7 million cars or 90 per cent of those on the road were fitted with catalytic converters. As a result, car exhaust emissions in Sweden have fallen dramatically in spite of greater traffic volume.

In 2007, the Swedish government allocated 6.5 million Euro for auto manufacturers and researchers to develop hybrid vehicles. While half went to the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre, the other half was given to the Volvo Car Corporation and truck manufacturer Scania to develop hybrid-powered urban buses and garbage trucks. According to a government press release, interest in hybrid engines is growing rapidly in Sweden amid a surge in demand for more environmentally friendly vehicles. “Initiatives to reduce emissions of climate-damaging substances have a high priority in the light of the climate problems we are facing,” said Thomas Korsfeldt, Swedish Energy Agency director-general.

For Sweden, the automotive industry is critical to its economy. The industry accounts for one-fifth of machine and inventory investments by Swedish industry. In 2005, exports of motor vehicles and automotive parts amounted to about SEK 145 billion, making this industry the most important single exporting sector. Investing in green vehicles, makes good business sense to the country.

Automotive Industries spoke to Lennart Josefson, Director of the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre.

AI: It’s been a year since the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre was set up – what kind of progress has been made in the time?

We have initiated some ten different research projects in our three theme areas, systems studies and tools, electric drives and energy storage

AI: The project runs through to 2010 – do you think the time frame is adequate?

No, the plan for our Centre of excellence is 10 years, but following an evaluation after four four years we foresee to continue

AI: How unique is your Centre compared to other such institutes around the world?

While there are several institutes and and companies world vide with a high competence in certain areas of hybrid vehicle technology there exist few Centres with the same broad focus as SHC

AI: What are some of the new technologies the Centre is likely to unveil in the near future?

At this point it is difficult to give examples, but possibly within the electric drive area we will see new production methods and some new technology solutions

AI: Why makes Sweden one of the leading players in the race for green vehicles?

Sweden has a green production of electric energy, almost all produced by hydroelectricity and nuclear power, the current rating is some 22 g CO2 /kWh. We also have a good capacity in our electric grid and an infrastructure for electric charging (through the spread use of engine heaters). Therefore, Sweden has a very good opportunity to provide hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles with a green energy thus the possibility to provide green transportation, in particular for city traffic

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