Electronic engine technology holds the key to meeting industry demands for increased energy efficiency in order to comply with more stringent global regulatory emission targets, while still meeting consumer demands for better vehicle performance and affordability.
Automotive industries (AI) asked Craig Balis, SVP and CTO of Garrett Motion, how the company’s first-generation E-turbo is helping OEMs meet these challenges. Balis: The E-Turbo can do two main things, which creates a variety of options for optimizing the overall vehicle powertrain. It can either accelerate the turbocharger electronically, or it can regenerate power from the unit as it slows down. Being able to provide extra boost pretty much instantaneously helps with engine downsizing, as it addresses one of the big impediments to downsizing – low-speed torque response. And, as smaller engines use less fuel, you can now have great responsiveness and better fuel economy. With an E-Turbo you can also run the engine at Lambda 1, which is the most optimized fuel usage for a given engine speed and power.
The E-Turbo is an enabler. Being able to regenerate electricity is also important. In our testing we’ve been able to show that, over the course of the cycle, you regenerate more electricity than you use with the E-Turbo. “Free” electrical energy converts back to fuel economy because the alternative, which is generating it using an alternator, requires fuel. Those things together are big movers in terms of fuel economy. Added to that is improved performance. When we match a big turbo charger with a small engine, we get more horsepower, and we can reduce the back pressure, which is good for fuel economy.
AI: Does the new E-Turbo hardware come with control software? Balis: There is another part of our business which focuses purely on engine management software. It is there that we develop control software and control algorithms around the powertrain. The software we provide with the E-Turbo is used to manage the boost or, more broadly, the air management function.
AI: Do you think electrified engine technology will be the key in meeting industry challenges for increased energy efficiency and emission targets while still meeting consumer demands for better vehicle performance and affordability? Balis: We have to listen of course to our OEMs on this and the strategies that they develop. But, yes, what we see right now is that electrified engine technology is one of the more efficient ways to achieve fuel economy.
AI: Do you see hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as an opportunity toward zero emissions? Balis: We definitely think it is very interesting because it is so clean. It seems to solve a lot of the problems associated with pure battery electric vehicles, specifically refilling time and range. We are engaged with many customers in this technology, but I don’t think anybody is seeing big main stream application in the short term. But, of course, everybody sees it as a very interesting opportunity for the long-term future.
AI: What do you offer in terms of predictive maintenance and connected vehicle software? Balis: In terms of predictive maintenance, we look at health management for the entire vehicle. We start with what we call intelligent, smart diagnostics. In this we have proprietary ways of vehicle modelling that allow us to identify the root causes of certain symptoms. The symptom can be so minor that it does not trigger what the industry calls DTCs (diagnostic trouble codes) that turn on a dashboard lamp. But, they are important early signals of system degradation. That means when the vehicle is taken in for repair, it is able to guide technicians very quickly to the right solution step by step. Efficiency in the service bay, fixing something the first time, making sure that the part changed is the part that needs to be changed – all of these things are benefits of the predictive system. The next element is cybersecurity. When people think of cybersecurity, they think of a vehicle being hacked. But, if something on the vehicle is not behaving correctly, you need to identify whether it is due to a fault or a hack. In our solution we don’t believe you can answer one question without the other. To have a complete health management solution you have to have the cybersecurity aspect, and to have a complete cybersecurity offering you need to have the health management aspect; because you need to be able to say that something is not working because of a fault or if it is a hack. And we have both of those elements.
AI: Do you see continued opportunities for improving mechanical turbocharging for the foreseeable future? Balis: Yes, very much! We are constantly updating our turbochargers from generation to generation. Usually, this is pretty well synchronized with the next generation of emission norms. We still see significant opportunity to improve efficiencies in our next generation of products to meet the needs of our customers. They have more strict fuel economy regulations; they have more strict emissions norms and for that they need better and better turbochargers. A good example of this is the big change we see going on right now, which is very apparent to our customers, but maybe less apparent to the end consumers: Gasoline engines have gone through a big shift in the last 10 to 15 years by being downsized and then turbocharged for fuel economy and performance. Most of that has been what we call wastegate – standard basic turbocharger technology – whereas during the same period diesel engine turbocharging moved toward variably geometry, which is a more sophisticated level of technology. The industry is now shifting to variable geometry in gasoline engines, which is another complex level of boost control and another level for our turbocharger technology. We are working with a number of customers on new programs which will have that level of technology. I think that is a good example when you ask “Is there more room for turbocharging to continue to improve?” – absolutely! And there are steps beyond that we are working on.
AI: What’s next for Garrett Motion? Balis: You could look at our future probably through three lenses or dimensions. Stage one is continued growth in turbocharging. This is the Garrett that everybody knows, and we still see more and more turbocharger penetration in the industry, and we continue to make advances in the technology. Stage two is around electrification. People will start to see the electrification of the boosting system. Electric turbocharging will be on the road in a couple of years. The third area is around software. The things we are doing in cybersecurity, in health management, in advanced controls. And, we have more innovations coming. There are exciting developments in the pipeline which we can’t go into detail about yet. They are in the fields of connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and electric vehicles, as well as several other concepts. Garrett will be seen as much more than a leading turbocharger company.