New lab to study fuel cell hybrid vehicles

Diesel/electric hybrid bus.

Diesel/electric hybrid bus.

An old laboratory within UCL Mechanical Engineering is set to be converted into a state-of-the-art facility to study fuel cell hybrid electric vehicles.

The department has won a grant of £180,000 for the conversion, which will start in September and be completed by the end of the year.

The new facility will allow research into hydrogen-fuelled power plants and initial studies will concentrate on examining the potential of fuel cells in hybrid buses.

The grant is part of a three-year, £4m project - involving UCL, BAE Systems and Alexander Dennis, and funded by the Technology Strategy Board - to develop hybrid bus technology, seeking significant fuel savings through a number of innovations.

The bus is a series hybrid, which means the electric motor is the only means of providing power to the wheels. The motor receives electric power from either the lithium-ion battery pack or from a generator run by a diesel engine. Computer algorithms determine how much of the power comes from the battery and how much comes from the engine at any time. 

One of the best aspects of the technology is the ability to capture in the battery energy that would otherwise have been lost on braking. The bus was recently awarded ‘Low Carbon Emission Bus’ certification by proving that its greenhouse gas emissions were over 30% lower than an average diesel bus with the same passenger-carrying capacity.

Principal investigator Professor Alan Smith (UCL Space and Climate Physics) said: ‘This is an exciting project, as it allows us to apply systems engineering techniques that we routinely use for space technology projects to projects a bit closer to home. It’s great to see the buses that we‘re working on rolling down Gower Street every day.’

On the UCL side, the project is managed by the Centre for Systems Engineering, as a collaboration between staff from UCL Space and Climate Physics, UCL Mechanical Engineering, and UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering.

The funding for a fuel cell laboratory extends the opportunity to push the boundaries in system design, operation and control with benefits to the environment in terms of reduced emissions (both exhaust and acoustic).

For more information about UCL Space and Climate Physics, UCL Mechanical Engineering, and UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, follow the links above.

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