University of Birmingham scientists have received a £554,000 grant from Innovate UK to help develop an enhancement for electric vehicles, which will enable the cars to travel a complete journey on just one charge.

The university will work with partners in China to develop an innovative gas turbine engine, named the turbo range extender, which charges vehicles on the run and aims to resolve the current concerns around electric cars.

Together the teams will be using innovative air bearings to reduce friction and wear, whilst improving efficiency at the same time. Compared with conventional piston engines, it means emissions of nitrous oxide can be cut by a huge 85%.

Alongside electric cars, the range extender can also be used as a compact power source for unmanned air vehicles, boats, buses and lorries.

Professor Kyle Jiang, Director of the Research Centre for High-performance Turbomachinery at the University of Birmingham, said: “This is a radically different proposition to current piston engines – ours has much higher thermal efficiency and much lower emissions.

“Current range-extending engines are all piston-driven, but gas turbine range extenders are superior technology. We believe that this innovation will give a competitive edge to the British automotive industry and have a major impact on the European light vehicle market, which is worth around half-a-trillion Euros.”

Electric cars

Birmingham High Performance Turbomachinery Limited, a UK-based company, has been set up to design and construct the engine. Chinese company Wuxi Yuanchang will then develop a high-speed electric generator to be installed on the engine.

Currently, a demonstration version of the engine is being created, which will provide a strong foundation for future improvements.

Speaking about the project, Professor Kyle Jiang, noted: “Electric vehicles feature zero emission and excellent driveability, but travelling range per charge has reduced their public appeal.

“Adding batteries is one solution to extend range, but this increases a vehicle’s weight and cost considerably. Some companies use a small piston engine with an electric generator, but emissions and thermal efficiency are worse than those of bigger piston engines measured in per unit power output.”

 

We’re looking forward to seeing the future of cars being worked on right here in the city of Birmingham!

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