LCV Engineering

by agwelch

View my latest work for Low Carbon Vehicle Engineering in our online edition here.


Includes the following piece on low carbon activity at Williams Advanced Engineering:

Pole position

High performance cars roaring off the grid in a cacophony of growling engines and burning rubber; two hours of flat out racing over the world’s most demanding circuits; globe-trotting constructors using upwards of 200,000 litres of fuel per season in testing and racing. You might be forgiven for not readily associating Formula One with energy efficiency. However, as Kirsty Andrews, head of commercial operations at Williams Advanced Engineering (a division of the Williams F1 team), explains, energy efficiency is fundamental to success in motorsport. “By its nature motorsport is energy efficient because you want to get the most out of the energy and fuel that you have available in order to win races,” she says. “It is competitive as well because you need to do that better than the next team.”

Furthermore, several technologies that have been developed by constructors in pursuit of glory in motor racing’s most demanding and most glamorous discipline have potential application in the wider market of low carbon vehicles and energy efficient technology.  This has particularly been the case since the FIA (F1’s governing body) introduced regulations permitting the use of kinetic energy recovery systems (popularly known as KERS) for the 2009 season.

Within the Williams F1 team, a British-based constructor that has raced in Formula One since 1977, Williams Advanced Engineering is the division responsible for taking technologies from the grid and commercializing them for application in the broader automotive industry. “We are trying to apply knowledge and expertise where we have had competitive advantage or where it has been successful in Formula One and exploit that to address some societal issues and also to generate income,” adds Andrews.

Following the FIA’s decision to introduce KERS to Formula One racing, Williams developed a flywheel system that allowed energy to be recovered during braking that could then be used to ‘boost’ acceleration (at the driver’s discretion) at a later point in a race. “To translate this into a more ‘real world’ terminology’, KERS is the hybridization of an F1 car,” explains Andrew. “It is a hybridization activity that despite being applied in a very particular way to suit the rules of Formula One, has a number of applications beyond motorsport in targeting certain issues that companies have with regard to fuel consumption and emissions.”

One particularly promising area of crossover is in mass transit vehicles (buses, trains, trams and so forth). The flywheel system that Williams has deployed in its F1 vehicles and supplied to the Audi team that won this year’s Le Mans 24-hour race could soon be used in London buses.

Williams Advanced Engineering is currently working with the bus operator Go Ahead on a project looking at retrofitting flywheel systems to buses. “We are targeting a saving of between 20 and 30 per cent in fuel and emissions,” says Andrew. “Taking a lightweight high-speed F1 car and simulating its path around a race track is similar in some ways to taking a high-mass low-speed vehicle like a bus and simulating its route (slowing down for stops and then accelerating) because both offer the opportunity to harvest energy and use it.”

System trials are currently underway and the technology could be installed on buses in London by the end of 2013. One of the major attractions of the flywheel system to the mass transit market is that generally it can be retrofitted without loosing seating capacity. Williams Advanced Engineering is also working with Alstom on a similar application on trams. “Basically you can use it anywhere that you have that duty cycle of braking and accelerating,” adds Andrew.

In a further example of low carbon innovation being driven by changing regulations within Formula One, Williams has been active in the development of battery-based energy recovery systems. After the FIA prohibited refuelling during races (2010), Williams needed to introduce an increased fuel bladder where the flywheel sat and, consequently, the team devised a battery-based KERS system that would be easier to package in the car.

The development of this technology has led to a collaboration with Jaguar on the design and build of a hybrid supercar. The Jaguar CX75 is a hybrid-electric vehicle that was first shown at the Paris Motor Show in 2010; Williams Advanced Engineering has used its experience in building batteries and battery management systems for use in motorsport to aid development of the car to the stage where five prototype models have been constructed. Kirsty Andrew estimates that the involvement of Williams enabled the move from concept car to working prototype in one quarter of the time it would typically take an OEM. For a Formula One constructor speed is of the essence both on the track and in technology development timelines.

“People are beginning to understand that we have technologies, particularly around the hybrid piece, that we are able to adapt,” says Andrew. “Our business strength lies in rapid technology development and getting to prototype quickly. We will never be a company that makes thousands of something; we will always be an early stage developer looking to take something from idea to concept.”

Building on its expertise in battery-based KERS, Williams recently announced a collaboration with Nismo (the high performance arm of Nissan) and has signed a deal with Formula E (an electric only motor racing championship set to get racing in September 2014) to supply batteries and battery management systems to all the cars on the grid.

Whilst Williams Advanced Engineering is primarily responsible for generating income to support the organisation’s involvement in Formula One racing and as such is largely funded by its commercial customers, the division does, on occasion, involve itself with government driven research initiatives (led by organisations like the Technology Strategy Board).

Indeed, in July this year Williams was awarded funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to examine using a large static flywheel in conjunction with a renewable energy installation (a wind farm or solar park for example) to function as an energy accumulator. The technology in question might help to smooth output from and increase penetration of intermittent renewable energy sources and provide fast-response frequency regulation to help strengthen electricity grids.

Competing in top-level motorsport requires constructors to be on the cutting edge of technology development to pursue those marginal gains that lead to all important pole positions and podium finishes. Many of these technologies have potential applications beyond the world of motorsport in the broader automotive market and beyond. “As a company we have invested significantly in our motorsport activity and beyond that world in developing our systems, knowledge and capability because we see that battery and electric vehicle technology is growing in importance,” concludes Andrew. “We are pleased that the FIA created a set of rules that prompted us to develop knowledge that has so many applications.”