How simulation can be used to improve the sustainability of commercial and industrial vehicles.
The electrification of vehicles has become a primary focus for organisations and governments all over the world as part of our collective race to net zero. Although it has been a well-established topic for a while, firms like Tesla have brought it into mainstream thinking and as a result it is often at the forefront of any discussion surrounding overall sustainability efforts.
However, the conversation is dominated by efforts to electrify cars for personal use, often not including the use of internal combustion engines (ICE) from a large variety of other vehicles and machines out there that contribute to emissions in a significant way. Cars, rightly, get a lot of attention but if net-zero ambitions are to be met, there needs to be an all-compassing approach to this problem. This would include efforts in electrifying all motor systems such as those in commercial vehicles like trucks, or industrial machinery such as mining or agricultural equipment.
Often these vehicles have larger gas and diesel engines, resulting in emitting large quantities of pollutants like nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter. Consequently, efforts that can be made to electrify these vehicles will provide an enormous boost to overall sustainability goals.
Speeding the transition with simulation
Commercial and industrial vehicles present greater challenges for engineers due to their heavy-duty loads, work cycles, and vibration – meaning that extra efforts must be made in their production when compared to other more standard vehicles. Furthermore, for many of these vehicles and the industries they are deployed in, avoiding maintenance and the resulting standstill time is crucial for them to be commercially viable and fit for purpose. For example, in industries such as mining, these machines will be used 24 hours a day in very harsh conditions, meaning that from the beginning designing them with safety and reliability in mind is of paramount importance.
This is where simulation is brought in. By using simulation, aided by sensors, engineers are able to assess how various electric powertrain components will behave under a range of acute circumstances that are often associated with their use. These include environmental conditions like dust, dirt and humidity, salt, impact, and corrosive substances and chemicals.
Heat management is key
Crucial to this endeavour is for these powertrains to be able to deal with the high power and high temperatures required in the fast charging of the batteries, in order to maximise output and keep them running. This is an age-old problem and one that battery engineers are constantly looking into – these temperatures need to be controlled to prevent batteries overheating or possibly even catching on fire.
A lot of this work involves sourcing materials that are more energy efficient and less prone to this overheating. Simulation solutions, involving multiphysics, can be used to model a battery system to ensure that each individual material and its associated properties are accounted for. Multiphysics coupling gives engineers a complete picture of the structural, thermal, and electrochemical response of a battery which supports decision-making processes in cell design, thermal management, and thermal runway. This is critical in ensuring that the batteries are resistant to the issue of thermal abuse. Simulation solutions can also be used for modelling structural stresses and strains that can arise due to differential heating and cooling, which track the impact that temperature has on the structure, again ensuring that the battery can stand up to any thermal induced stresses.
However, the benefits of simulation go beyond just helping with this key issue of heat management and much of this is due to the impact it can have on reducing physical prototypes. Prototyping is expensive, very time consuming, and uses a large amount of material that will ultimately be wasted. Instead of having to create many different prototypes, these calculations can be done virtually. This helps reduce the overall material use, which is also an environmental benefit, but also has a significant impact on cost reduction and development time. Furthermore, simulation can be used to improve accuracy, reducing errors which again have a significant impact on overall cost and time to market.
One piece of the puzzle
If we are to reach our net-zero targets, it is incredibly important that we do not focus solely on one aspect of a multi-dimensional and complex puzzle. By expanding the focus beyond the electrification of just personal use vehicles, and looking at all ICEs in a range of vehicles and machinery, it is possible to make a much bigger impact on overall sustainability efforts. Without simulation, the speed and cost of this transition could be prohibitively high and as a result, it will play a huge role in the development as we move forward.
Günther Hasna is the Chief Technologist, Automotive EMEA, at Ansys.