Battery Pack Prototype Build
Two UK firms have pioneered next-generation battery packs for commercial vehicles as part of the Government’s £20million ‘Zero Emission Road Freight’ programme.
In August 2021, Automotive Electrical engineering firm, RLE FutureMotiv, based in Leamington Spa, and Composites Evolution, a Chesterfield-based manufacturer and supplier of pre-impregnated composite materials (prepregs) commenced this innovative new project, designed to support the fast-growing demand for electric commercial vehicles.
In order to meet the UK’s 2050 net-zero emissions target, sales of diesel-powered lorries will need to be phased out. Manufacturers and operators have therefore been developing electric and hybrid powertrains, initially on existing vehicle architectures. However, building a module-based battery pack to fit an existing vehicle structure is space-inefficient, heavy and expensive.
Instead, research has shown that arrays of cylindrical cells significantly improve the use of available space in conversions of diesel vehicles, optimising weight distribution, reducing cost and significantly increasing the battery capacity.
One of 20 initiatives chosen to receive funding, the objective of the ‘FlexPack’ project was therefore to assess the feasibility of a new battery design, using arrays of cylindrical cells (rather than large modules) to directly create a low-cost 3-dimensional battery pack that maximised the available space in existing vehicle envelopes.
To test the feasibility of the concept, the key aim for the project was to build a prototype 3-dimensional battery pack, representing a section of a typical battery pack likely to be used in a freight vehicle.
RLE FutureMotiv explored how to fit high performance batteries into existing vehicle designs with limited space, modelling concept designs for how battery packs could be flexibly configured around shapes in a vehicle.
Composites Evolution developed a lightweight, fire-retardant composite material for moulding the complex-shaped enclosures. The material selected was a variant of its Evopreg PFC range of composite ‘prepregs’, based on a polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA) bioresin, which demonstrated outstanding fire resistance, as well as having low environmental impact. A prototype lightweight battery enclosure was manufactured from the developed material, reinforced with carbon fibre, and successfully integrated into a battery module demonstrator.
Mark Basten, Engineering Director at RLE FutureMotiv, said “RLE-FutureMotiv and Composites Evolution are pleased to announce the successful completion of the government funded project ‘Low Cost Flexible Battery Packs for Commercial Vehicles’. This has led to the development of flexible scalable concepts for battery cell configurations in large HV batteries. This permits the batteries to be shaped in flexible manners, permitting the installation in tricky areas of vehicles with complex mechanical intrusions.”
Dr Brendon Weager, Technical Director at Composites Evolution, said “This innovative, collaborative project has shown how Evopreg PFC prepregs can be used to make lightweight, fire-safe, sustainable battery enclosures. We are now working with customers in a range of sectors, including automotive, rail and aerospace, to integrate this material in high performance battery packs.”
The Zero Emission Road Freight programme is a £20million scheme from the Department for Transport and delivered through Innovate UK that was announced in July 2021 following the release of the Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which saw the UK become the first country in the world to commit to ending the sale of new fossil-fuelled road vehicles by 2040.
Fig 1. Example concepts of how battery packs could be configured to fit around shapes in a vehicle.
Fig 2. Battery Pack Prototype Build
RLE FutureMotiv Ltd. provides engineering services to support vehicle programs at all stages of development. The company has design and build capability for high-voltage batteries and power distribution units, including low volume pilot battery and sub-assembly manufacture. These systems can be integrated into test rigs, HiL rigs, labcars or vehicle structures for subsequent analysis and verification. FutureMotiv aims to be the trusted supplier for high quality, low-carbon vehicle technology for cars, buses, trucks, marine, aero and off-highway applications.
About Composites Evolution
Composites Evolution is a developer, manufacturer and supplier of pre-impregnated composite materials (prepregs) for the production of lightweight, high-performance components and structures. Its Evopreg product range includes carbon fibre and glass fibre prepregs for the manufacture of components and tooling, along with sustainable options using flax fibre and bioresins. The company is rapidly building a position as a leading manufacturer of composite prepregs for highly engineered industrial, automotive and aerospace applications, through product innovation and responsive service. Composites Evolution’s manufacturing facilities are based in Chesterfield in the UK and are ISO 9001:2015 certified.