Ideally, environmental concerns are best addressed by governments, industry and academia – but often, this is easier said than done. In 2007, however, the Swedish government took on the challenge.
The Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre was established by the Swedish Energy Agency at a cost of EUR 3.5 million. Based at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, the centre is backed by three universities and five auto manufacturers. Chalmers contributed EUR 1.2 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 EUR 10.5 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 centre’s launch.
For Sweden, the automotive industry is critical to its economy. It accounts for one-fifth of machine and inventory investments by Swedish industry. In 2005, exports of motor vehicles and automotive parts amounted to about EUR 15.5 billion, making this industry the most important single exporting sector. Investing in green vehicles, makes good business sense for the country.
“In the light of the climate problem, measures for reducing climate-changing emissions in the transport sector 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.
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 % 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 volumes.
In 2007, the Swedish government allocated 6.5 million Euros to 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.
“Considering the rapid development in the alternative propulsion area in general and 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% 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% 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. It aims to 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 the 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.
Whilst the centre plans to research the hybrid electrical vehicle and its technical challenges, one of its objectives is also to address the issues at an even higher system level, such as society at large, its infrastructure and its environmental concerns.
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 since then?
Josefson: We have initiated ten different research projects in our three main theme areas which are; systems studies and tools, electric drives and energy storage.
AI: The project is set to run through to 2010 – do you think the time frame is adequate?
Josefson: No. The plan for our centre of excellence is ten years, but following an evaluation after four years we foresee this timeframe being extended.
AI: How unique is your centre compared to other such institutes around the world?
Josefson: While there are several institutes and companies world wide with a high competence in certain areas of hybrid vehicle technology, few centres exist with the same broad focus as the Swedish Hybrid Vehicle Centre.
AI: What are some of the new technologies the centre is likely to unveil in the near future?
Josefson: 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: What makes Sweden one of the leading players in the race for green vehicles?
Josefson: Sweden has a green production of electric energy, almost all of it is produced by hydroelectricity and nuclear power, the current rating is some 22 g CO2 /kWh.
Sweden also has a good capacity in its electric grid and an infrastructure for electric charging – through the spread use of engine heaters.
Sweden is therefore well positioned to provide hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles with a green energy, particularly aiming at providing green transportation for city traffic.