Fluid solutions for future commercial vehicles

Jon Lawson

Mark Klein-Hietpas and Jacques Malfroy discuss hoses and lines for new drive systems and alternative fuels

Today’s commercial vehicle manufacturers have to meet ever more stringent emissions standards,  offer alternative drive concepts (particularly for inner-city use) and, at the same time, satisfy their customers’ requirements for affordability. Hoses and lines can help them meet these challenges.

The Euro 6 standard itself has made new solutions in terms of the exhaust treatment and fuel supply systems necessary – for example, SCR technology, exhaust gas recirculation, particulate filters and innovative fuel injection systems. However, the industry is still faced with a whole raft of new regulations that will have an impact on the market. For example, manufacturers will soon be confronted with new CO2 requirements that call for further fuel-reduction measures. In addition, all manufacturers are under considerable competitive pressure to reduce the overall operating costs of their vehicles.

There are already indications of the direction of future developments. For example, the truck manufacturers wish to specifically use those fuels that are best suited to their particular vehicles and markets. The picture we can see emerging right now is that the big trucks will probably stick with diesel, while biogas- powered, hybrid or fully electric trucks will be used in urban operations sooner or later.

Urbanisation prompting innovation

The trend towards specific solutions is being strengthened by global urbanisation. Large semi-trailers are increasingly being used just for long-distance haulage of goods to the outskirts of the growing number of megacities. Light and medium trucks then handle distribution within the city.

In the case of buses and minibuses, people are holding their breath slightly when it comes to future regulations. Some cities are already considering banning diesel vehicles soon. That is forcing bus manufacturers towards biogas solutions or electric drives. Two possible solutions for biogas already exist. The solution developed by Westport, for example, works with a gasoline/gas mixture and retains the compression ignition principle, while the Cummins solution works with spark plugs.Therefore many bus manufacturers have contracts with one of these two companies.

Buses using these engines will probably be used mainly in the regions surrounding towns and cities in future, while rapidly charging electric buses will be operated in urban centres. Bus manufacturers are also working on fuel-cell technology.

Fully electric buses are already a reality. They are mostly recharged using rapid charging systems at corresponding bus stops. They use a lot of fluid lines that can also be found in buses with internal combustion engines. These include air lines in, for example, brakes, door-closing and seat-adjustment systems, power-steering lines and air-conditioning lines. Although there is no need for fuel and oil lines, new applications include cooling lines for batteries since these become very hot while charging.

Electric trucks are also conceivable. One ContiTech customer has already trialled a fully electric truck – though the outcome showed that more development work was needed. This customer has now turned to a small diesel engine connected to a generator. With such a system, the trucks can drive to the town or city using the diesel engine, which charges the batteries at the same time, before then switching to the electric drive in the centre for as long as the battery charge lasts. That saves fuel because the diesel engine is not running permanently or, when it is running, then for the most part at constant revs.

The future emissions regulations will also entail major challenges. Solutions to deal with the very low temperatures in the biogas engines need to be found. That’s why ContiTech is putting every effort into new materials and manufacturing processes that meet these requirements. When it comes to issues such as exhaust heat recovery, completely new media are even under consideration, though these still need to be tested. If necessary, existing systems will have to be adapted and products supplied that satisfy new requirements.

Saving costs is also a timeless issue: reducing weight to save on fuel, simplifying fitting and integrated solutions are the key ways of making a difference. ContiTech is already working in this direction with plastic pipes and quick connectors. It has also set up a new Competence Centre for Plastics in its plant in Vác, Hungary where R&D into further solutions will be conducted.

Some truck manufacturers have also started using aluminium for making their air-conditioning lines. The principal benefits here lie in the weight. Another fuel-saving option that can be considered with reference to the air-conditioning system is ContiTech’s internal heat exchanger. This increases the efficiency of the air-conditioning systems by means of a simple thermodynamic effect without consuming additional energy to do so. Field trials using this solution are already underway with one of its truck customers.

There are major benefits, a key one being that if there is no need for interfaces, adapter solutions are replaced and the latest hose generations are used, which can be incorporated more easily and have a weight-optimised design.

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Mark Klein-Hietpas is with ContiTech Techno- Chemie and Jacques Malfroy is with ContiTech Anoflex.