Motor world on the brink of change

Electromobility is nothing new for KSPG

With its Hardparts and Mechatronics Divisions, KSPG is especially known for its innovative products for combustion engines. However, the Neckarsulm-based company is also increasingly focusing on alternative drives. KSPG already offers numerous solutions that address the ever greater diversity in mobility. KSPG is thereby helping to pave the way for electric motors, hybrid units, etc.

The grand future of pure electric drive is still a long way off, autos with petrol and diesel engines will continue to dominate the street scene for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, electric motors and other alternative drives are already part of our transportation reality today. Probably the greatest current disadvantage of electrically powered vehicles is the poor range. Purely electrically powered vehicles are therefore less commonly seen on roads than hybrid-powered automobiles (a combination of several drives) and it uses at the same time the advantages of both technologies.

The term “serial operation” describes a vehicle purely mobilised with electricity supplied by a combustion engine solely functioning as an electric generator. The necessary electricity for the electric drive is drawn from a battery and produced with a generator while the combustion engine is in operation. By contrast, “parallel operation” involves combining the power of an electric motor and combustion engine in one powertrain. Both the electric motor and combustor can then be conceived with less power output than serial operation would allow. The battery is charged through recuperation. Moreover, the power-split hybrid configuration allows the combustion engine to be operated independently of the driving condition, which allows the battery to be charged during the drive. While petrol and diesel engines are still the stronger components today, the focus could increasingly move in the direction of the electric motor.

Many modern vehicles with recuperation systems are equipped. They function like this: kinetic energy is converted into heat energy when braking, which normally dissipates unused. A recuperation system uses the braking energy (and also the energy arising when coasting) to boost the voltage of the dynamo and recharge the on-board electrical system battery. When the vehicle accelerates again after the braking phase, this stored energy discharges to the generator and lowers fuel consumption.

Both technologies—hybrid drive and brake energy recuperation—play a large role in the Range Extender (REx) from KSPG. It addresses the greatest weaknesses of electric autos: the limited range and long charging times. Usually, the range is just 100–200 kilometres—and even this distance is only achievable under ideal conditions. Many consumers fear that the battery might run down before they reach their planned destination. This fear represents the biggest obstacle to making a purchase. This is where the REx comes into play.

It involves a two-cylinder petrol engine that engages whenever the vehicle battery charge runs low. It then replenishes its energy with a generator. The maximum range of the KSPG Fiat 500 test vehicle was increased from 70 to 500 kilometres in this way. Currently, a battery-powered vehicle on a subsequent journey would have to plan in even longer stops to recharge the battery. Not so for the REx, which additionally recharges itself during the drive and can be refuelled as usual.

In temperature ranges where the battery experiences unfavourable energy conversion efficiencies when charging and discharging, it can moreover supply heat or cold and thereby optimise the energy conversion efficiency. Additional advantages: except for the fuel tank and the radiator, the components are pre-assembled as a ready-to-install module. The compact REx can also fit under the floor or in the spare wheel recess. Integrating the power engine in a vehicle is likewise unproblematic.

Soon the REx will become even “greener”. Together with several partners, KSPG is developing a model that runs on regeneratively produced natural gas. A first application is to operate a small utility vehicle completely with regenerative energy. That includes the electric main drive and the Range Extender. Due to its great potential for lowering CO2, the “Green Rex” project is being subsidised by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.

The innovative heating and cooling module makes electric vehicles more energy-efficient.

The innovative heating and cooling module makes electric vehicles more energy-efficient.

The amount of electricity available for electric autos declines when the vehicle interior is heated or cooled. To ensure that the short range of electric autos is not reduced even further, KSPG has developed a thermal management module that employs a heat pump function to significantly reduce energy needed for heating and cooling. It takes into account the heat generated from vehicle operation and adjusts all components to their optimal operating temperatures. The module can be placed into the vehicle freely with little installation work.

When speaking of alternative drives, one must of course not fail to mention fuel cells. A fuel cell is a so-called galvanic cell that uses the chemical reaction of a combustible fuel (usually hydrogen) and an oxidising agent (usually oxygen) to generate energy. The fuel cell converts this reaction energy into electricity. In practice, the range of fuel cell autos is comparable to that of conventional vehicles.

By contrast, the ecological balance depends on whether regenerative energies are used in producing the hydrogen. The technology is currently still undergoing repeated prototype testing in the automotive sector, but is already well established in, for example, the military sector. But fuel cells could also soon become more common in autos: the hydrogen filling station network will undergo a massive expansion in the coming years. The first series vehicles from Toyota, Hyundai and Honda are even already on the market or ready for launch in the European market.

Consequently, KSPG also has its eye on fuel cell technology. One innovation is already in the testing phase: a hydrogen recirculation fan. This somewhat awkwardly named system is comparable to a fuel pump in a combustion engine. The presented solutions are only a sampling from the broad portfolio of KSPG. But they show: whether it be for hybrid units, e-motors or fuel cells—the company is already developing intelligent solutions today for the drive technologies of tomorrow.

Source: "Heartbeat" - The magazine of the KSPG Group, Issue 02/2015

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