Formula One style energy recovery technology tested to make trucks more efficient

While Formula One teams are testing in Spain this week ahead of the 2017 season opener later this month, a newly formed £2.2million consortium is gearing up to trial F1 style energy recovery technology to improve how heavy goods vehicles perform in city environments.

The aim is for the technology to make heavy goods vehicles, which account for 30% of UK road CO2 emissions, more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly by reducing pollution and noise levels.

Dr Marc Stettler, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “There has been a rising awareness and growing number of drivers switching to hybrid and all-electric vehicles. However, the freight industry still relies heavily on diesel combustion engines. It’s vital that we find commercially viable options for the industry that are affordable and have the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and air pollutants emitted on our roads. That is why this project is so important.”

The trial will involve the installation of a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) on 20 heavy goods vehicles used by Sainsbury’s and Howdens to deliver their goods to their stores across the UK.

In congested urban environments vehicles frequently have to stop and start as they move in traffic. This takes a significant amount of energy to accelerate a vehicle each time, especially heavy trucks. With KERS, the energy from a moving vehicle is converted into electricity during the braking phase. It is then used to help with acceleration the next time the vehicle moves forward, reducing the amount of diesel fuel used.

The consortium is planning to install a new type of KERS into the trucks being trialled in the pilot study, which is scheduled to run for 18 months. It involves the use of an ultracapacitor, rather than a battery, to store energy.

Ultracapacitors have the advantage of being able to absorb and release energy more rapidly than conventional lithium ion batteries, which is especially important for heavy goods vehicles that need a sudden burst of power.

Fuel consumption and air pollutant emissions of the KERS vehicles will be closely monitored and compared to the data of standard diesel vehicles that haven’t been fitted with the technology so they can evaluate whether the system being trialled could help tackle air quality problems in cities.

Since the KERS system could reduce the amount of work the diesel engine needs to do, the team will also be quantifying any reduction in noise emissions.

Dr Stettler added: “If we could make heavy goods vehicles quieter in our cities it could have a number of advantages in the way that they are used. For example, a significant noise reduction could be more acceptable to residents living near delivery zones who could then agree to late night deliveries. Taking trucks off the road during the day could lead to reduced daytime congestion and that could mean a reduction in emissions hotspots caused by other vehicles.”

The consortium will use the data to develop models that they can use to optimise the effectiveness of the KERS and at the end of the project they will share the information with policymakers and the wider road freight industry to encourage adoption of the technology.