What is the direction of European transport research

by Alkiviadis Tromaras and Aggelos Aggelakakis, Research Associates, CERTH/Hellenic Institute of Transport

Innovation has been at the forefront of the European Union priorities as the best mean to tackle challenging societal issues such as changing demographics, ageing population, dependency on oil, climate change, traffic congestion, increased demand for transport, the rise of globalisation, digital technologies etc. The transport sector in Europe as well as in other continents is already adapting accordingly in order to overcome these challenges and meet future transport needs. The European transport sector is in a transitional period, which will shape the future transport system that is to come in 2025–2030. Although the transitioning of the transport system seems to be slow and the adoption of new technologies by the market and the industry is lagging, a shift away from conventional technologies and thinking will be required in order for the EU transport sector to meet the targets for decarbonisation of transport and move towards green mobility. Technological advance and innovation will be the basis for the future transport system although socioeconomic megatrends, political imperatives and the adaptation of new transport concepts will play a significant role in its evolution.

The European Commission has funded over the last few years various forward looking research projects (INTEND, MOBILITY4EU, FUTRE, RACE2050, OPTIMISM, METRIC, iKNOW) that aimed to predict how the world and the future transport systems will be shaped, in an effort to develop transport research agendas or identify the technologies to invest in or policies to adopt.

Part of the INTEND research project is to identify future transport technologies that will be required by the sector with an outlook to 2020–2035. Within this framework a part of the project’s work entailed the identification of transport technology themes that were funded by the EU from 2010 until now and specifically under the 7th Framework Programme and the Horizon 2020 programme. This effort also briefly covered the transport research roadmaps of other nations such as the USA, Russian Federation, Japan, India and China.

Road transport is one of the key sectors where reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency will be required. Within this framework a large part of the research has focused on electromobility, covering all aspects of the vehicle and relevant recharging/refuelling infrastructure including hydrogen. A dominant theme identified was the design of small urban electric vehicles (EVs) focusing on modular design, made of lightweight materials such as Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics, Glass Fibre Reinforced Polymers or advanced metal materials (aluminium, magnesium, high strength steel), while retaining crashworthiness. Although this theme has been dominant at an EU research level, automakers do not seem to be introducing many of these vehicles in their fleet neither as conventional vehicles nor as electric. In contrast in the USA the SUV market is on the rise which will eventually create further challenges in the decarbonisation of the country’s transport system. Countries like Japan have prioritised the development of ultra-small EVs for use in cities, at mountainous regions and remote tourist resorts.

Other aspects that have been identified as current research trends are the modular design of electric batteries, battery materials and their second life usage. Design of new electric motors such as Magnet free Switched Reluctance Motors (SRM) and Permanent Magnet Assisted Synchronous Reluctance Motors that do not require rare earth materials could be the answer to a problem that will arise in the future with the further penetration of Electric vehicles. Hybridisation of vehicles, especially buses, vans and trucks is also a research theme that will be required for the medium term until electrified or hydrogen vehicles gain wider outreach for such applications. Electrification of auxiliary systems for trucks is also a promising field of research due to energy saving benefits and the cost reduction it can offer. Overall electrification of road transport is identified as a priority across Europe, US, Russia, China, India and Japan as well as other nations and continents. The Indian government has expressed the view that the development of indigenous electric vehicles and manufacturing capabilities will help both the economy and the reduction of CO2 emissions in the country. China will remain the biggest EV growing market with the EU and US trailing behind. Furthermore, Chinese domestic EV automakers BYD, Beijing Electric Vehicle Corp, ZhiDou, Shanghai Auto and Zotye attribute to 96 percent of the domestic sales with a focus on compact urban vehicles. Companies like BYD are also expanding into the European and US market offering both electric buses and manufacturing facilities overseas.

In addition hydrogen fuel cells are already being used by both private and public transport. Demonstrator projects of such vehicles and refuelling infrastructure roll out projects are also part of the EU transport research. Countries like Japan are also heavily investing on hydrogen not only for mobility purposes but for electricity generation especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster where energy production dropped dramatically. In fact the Japanese government believes that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will leave a hydrogen legacy with private companies including automakers working together to establish hydrogen refuelling networks by 2021.

Powertrain development and improvement for conventional vehicles has been another major area of research, which will enable better energy efficiency and lower exhaust emissions. One area of research focussed specifically on efficient engine design and improving compression or spark ignition engines, smaller downsized engines for hybrid electric vehicles, electric forced induction, waste heat recovery, ultra-lean combustion or improving dual fuel engines for trucks. Automakers are also introducing new and more efficient engines with examples like Mazda, soon to release their ground breaking Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) SKYACTIVE –X petrol engine in 2019, Toyota and their variable cycle 1.2L turbocharged aluminium block engine (using Otto/Atkinson) or Infinity that uses variable compression ratio in specific sport engines. Other areas of research on powertrains dealt with reducing exhaust emissions, using technologies that can trap pollutants such as Advanced Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR); Integration of the advanced SCR catalysts onto a Diesel Particulate Filters (SCR/DPF); Lean NOx traps (LNT); AdBlue processors; Gasoline particulate filters and three way catalysts without precious metals; Electrified DPFs.

Autonomous and automated vehicle research is also a technology theme that a lot of European projects are working on. Such themes include demonstrating autonomous small buses and truck platooning, to creating Advance Driver Assistance Systems and other V2X (Vehicle to X) or V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) systems, that will enable automated driving. Similarly, demonstrator projects for autonomous trucks/ buses/ cars or shared vehicles are underway in the USA (with pilot projects in New York, Wyoming and Tampa) while the US Department of Transport considers automation to be the greatest personal transportation revolution since the popularization of the personal automobile a century ago. The automated vehicle research programme of the USDOT carries out research that involves two main technology themes 1) advanced driver assistance systems and 2) autonomous vehicles. Similarly in Japan, autonomous passenger and freight transport are main priorities for 2020–2030, with the Japanese government planning to introduce truck platooning between Tokyo and Osaka as well as last mile automated logistics or terminal based automated traffic systems.

Finally, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms and sharing platforms are applications not limited to EU research but also to many private endeavours. Such applications will help solve congestion problems in the near future and their further integration into automation could have a significant impact for transport. Several MaaS pilots have already appeared around the world, such as Whim — Helsinki, UbiGo — Gothenburg, Qixxit — Germany, Moovel — Germany, Beeline — Singapore, SMILE — Vienna, Bridj — Boston Kansas City, Washington and Communauto/Bixi — Canada. Recently Moovel a MaaS provider company by Daimler has announced that it has 5 million users worldwide which shows the scale of impact that such transport concepts can have.

INTEND research project representatives will attend the Mobility4EU project’s #TUCTE18 final event on 13th of November 2018, to present a poster about our results, supporting Seamless, Sustainable and Inclusive mobility for all. Do not miss the chance to meet us and get involved in the activities of the future European Transport and Mobility Forum.

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