We're aspiring to do better for our local surroundings, for our people and for our planet through teaching and research. We spoke to Professor David Greenwood who is currently engaged in Advanced Propulsion Systems research at WMG.
What energy research are you involved in at Warwick?
The area that I look after is propulsion systems and we work with passenger cars, trucks, motorcycles, busses and off-highway vehicles. We’ve got some marine programmes and some aerospace work going on too, so we’re pretty much involved in every sector of transport in one way or another.
The trend in almost all of these markets is some kind of hybridisation or electrification, which is all about getting the efficiency of the systems within these vehicles as high as possible. At WMG we’re focussed on the development of batteries, energy storage systems and electric motors. We also develop the power electronics that sit between those two, to drive them. Here we tie in with the work that Professor Phil Mawby, our own world expert in wide-bandgap semiconductors, is doing with the School of Engineering.
We’re looking at the step that takes these technologies into system-level implementation in vehicles. Firstly, we’re researching what makes the product work more efficiently and secondly, we want to know whether these processes are manufacturable at appropriate volumes and appropriate costs. In the car market, you need to be able to make an electric motor about every 50 seconds if you’re going to supply 100,000 cars a year. It means that we’ve got to decide on the right materials to use, the best manufacturing processes to use and designs that compromise between cost and efficiency.
Are you collaborating with any other departments or organisations?
At WMG we’ve got electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, electrochemical engineers and physicists working together. We work with Warwick Ventures, with WBS and the School of Engineering. Over time I’d like us to work more with Maths and Computer Science, we’re just trying to find the right opportunity to make it happen.
What’s WMG’s big goal?
We’re working on a process of continuous improvement. My role is to make Warwick the number one place in the UK for automotive propulsion systems. Because so many industries rely on propulsion systems, as I mentioned, we’re naturally in a very strong position for this to become a reality.
What’s the future for propulsion systems?
It needs advances on a whole variety of different fronts, which is why we’re simultaneously looking at things like battery systems, electric motors and power electronics. Lots of universities and companies look at those individually, so they’re tending to be optimised in silos at the moment.
I think the next level of gain comes from the systems-level integration across those fronts. So, we should be using systems to solve each other’s problems, rather than optimising each system individually and causing problems. I’m looking to get senior academics under one roof so that we’ve got collaboration in battery systems, electric motors and power electronics.
What is it about WMG that encourages this collaboration?
WMG is particularly well placed because of our industry links. We’re working with companies such as TVS, an Indian motor scooter manufacturer which makes 2.5 million motor scooters a year. They are very well engineered at incredibly low costs - you can buy the whole motorcycle with a 5 year warrantee for £300. Conversely, we’re working with motor sports companies which lets our researchers focus on ultimate high performance vehicles where cost is really no object. Then we’re working with automotive companies like Jaguar Land Rover and JCB, where you’ve got to get a combination of quality and cost that is right for that particular market. I’m deliberately picking our industrial partners to help explore the extremes, and from that, work out how you mix those elements for any particular application. It’s good fun!
Which one thing would make a difference for your research?
One of the reasons this industry is growing so fast is that we’ve had a sustained effort over the last 15 or 20 years to help governments, academia and industry recognise and work to the same agenda, and that’s been tremendously powerful. To keep research moving as it is, this just has to continue, because it’s resulted in some exciting developments.
Working with people like Innovate UK and EPSRC, we’ve got the Advanced Propulsion Centre based here on our campus. They’re working with a £1 billion research budget over a period of 10 years, which has just been extended through the Spending Review. We’ve got the National Automotive Innovation Centre being built and we’ll soon have a make-like production facility for electric machines on campus, which is the result of a £13m programme sponsored by the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
We’ll soon be building a pilot line for battery pack manufacture in our International Automotive Research Centre. All this means we can carry out research at a much bigger scale which is important, because we can’t work on industrial-scale problems using just laboratory-scale equipment. WMG is well placed to make some of those large-scale investments work, and we’ve now got governments and industry lined up to co-invest in them as well. We are right in the centre of all this activity, and the interdisciplinary methods that we use has positioned us perfectly at just the right time.
Image: Diesel Engines by Balaji Photography (via Flickr)