In June 2019, the UK became the world’s first major economy to put into legislation legally binding targets to reduce carbon and pollutant emissions. The Road to Zero report outlined the government’s strategy towards cleaner road transport and transition to zero emission vehicles; sending a clear signal to industry about the UK’s ambitious vision for the future of mobility.
The Advanced Propulsion Centre is at the forefront of this vision. Set up in 2013 as a joint venture between government and the automotive industry, the APC, with its partners, has £1 billion to invest in projects that position the UK as a centre of excellence for the research, development and production of low carbon propulsion technology. The projects benefitting from these funds must fit into one of four strategic technologies identified by the Automotive Council – electric motors and power electronics, energy storage and management, thermal propulsion systems and lightweight vehicle and powertrain structures. Through its investment, the APC aims to create or safeguard 30,000 jobs and save over 50 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, whilst supporting the UK’s expertise in technology for a cleaner automotive future.
Taking an impartial stance means that the APC can address the future of low carbon propulsion across the board; not just batteries and hydrogen power, but also improvements in traditional thermal propulsion systems. This presents a wealth of opportunity for SMEs and tier ones alike to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of these technologies, both in terms of future adoption, but also design and manufacture.
The UK already enjoys world-class engine research-to-manufacture capability and in 2018 produced more than 2.7 million engines; however each year, the demand is shifting further away from conventional powertrains toward electrified and hybridised ones. Batteries are key to this development.
Whilst still in the early days, there is much activity in UK battery cell development. A flurry of new battery chemistries are being developed, and each one offers improved characteristics compared to the incumbent lithium ion. Solid state and lithium sulphur batteries offer high energy densities, enabling our future electric vehicles to travel further on a single charge. However, getting the chemistry right is only the first step in producing a commercial solution. As such, the APC is funding projects focused on scaling up the manufacturing process and supply chains to bring this technology to mass market.
To this point, the APC has facilitated the investment of £108 million in the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) – a much needed new industrialisation facility in Coventry, which will support the national and regional industrial strategy for UK design, development and manufacture of battery technology. UKBIC will be key in growing industrial battery manufacturing capability in the UK; thus helping the UK to become a global leader in the manufacture and scale-up of batteries. The Centre will feature world-class, cutting-edge manufacturing technology, which in turn will attract automotive manufacturers and leading research scientists to the region to develop ground-breaking technology.
Bringing together partnerships between industry and academia to achieve pioneering research and development through collaboration is what the APC does best. The core APC projects are collaborations which can include Industry, Academic and Engineering service partners who are entering into new and fast changing areas of Research and Development, whether through accelerated capability development or more efficient product development. The APC’s experiences to date have demonstrated that the power of shared learning is crucial in levering greater value from the project investments, as when all partners are investing monies of their own rather than the conventional ‘work to the order’ approach it is in all their interests to find a workable solution first time and avoid expensive reworking due to lack of knowledge from any single partner.
One such example is Project H1PERBAT, which brought together Williams Advanced Engineering (an innovative technology developer) with Unipart (an existing automotive supplier with experience in high volume manufacturing) to create a joint venture – Hyperbat Ltd. The partnership has resulted in a new, Coventry-based, facility.
But, it’s not just about the big hitters. In conventional engine and powertrain supply chains, existing OEMs and tier one automotive suppliers have held all the cards and technological influence. However, over the next five to ten years the APC predicts a major shake-up of the industry, presenting new high-volume supply and R&D opportunities to SMEs as well. It is with this in mind that the APC insists all the projects receiving funding through its core competitions must include one SME. Through its team of handpicked specialists, the APC helps these smaller organisations to accelerate their low carbon technology to the point of commercialisation through collaborations with OEM and tier one developers, whilst facilitating investment along the way.
In its short history, the APC is lucky to have had many success stories for OEMs and SMEs alike. Sunderland-based Hyperdrive took part in a project funded by the APC in 2016 where they worked with Nissan to develop high density battery manufacturing technology. This enabled Nissan to produce 40kWh battery packs for LEAF in the UK, as well as helping to strengthen the electrified supply chain capability. Hyperdrive now utilises Nissan’s UK-manufactured battery cells, replacing ones previously imported from Korea, and has become one of the UK’s largest independent battery system manufacturers.
Originally set-up for a ten year period, the APC is now looking to the future with the hope of expanding its remit inline with the UK’s industrial and automotive strategy, with specific focus looking at future trends and creating a consensus for the research agenda to 2040 and beyond. For more information about the APC visit www.apcuk.co.uk or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Jon Beasley – Director – Technology and Projects