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The future of the electric car, analyzed from within the University

The green revolution for cars is just around the corner. The electric car is part of the almost immediate future, although certainly challenges first have to be met, such as the availability of good supply and recharging networks, the development of more autonomous batteries, and the perfection of electric engines.
These issues as well as many others were discussed at the I Cumbre Universitaria del Vehículo Eléctrico (1st Conference on the Electric Car) held at the Leganes campus of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), where more than 100 experts in the field debated how to confront such issues and presented some major projects in this area.

The spark was ignited more than 10 years ago by the arrival of the first hybrid vehicle in the market, a vehicle which combines a traditional combustion engine with an electric one. But since then the panorama has changed and we now speak of “total electrification” of cars; some consultants say that within 10 years the percentage of electric cars could even reach 25%. In addition, this could result in very important savings in energy and environmental benefits, based on the data from the sector. And in the case of the electric car, 46% of the energy released by batteries is spent in propulsion, which indicates an efficiency level that is between 10% and 30% higher, with respect to the conventional combustion engine.

The engineering revolution
From an engineering point of view, this is truly revolutionary, according to the Director of the UC3M Leganes School of Engineering, Professor Emilio Olías Ruiz, one of the speakers during these sessions. If the car of today, which runs on fossil fuels, has supposed a change in the model of transport for our society, the electric car “is beginning to be introduced in our collective consciousness as a necessity which is of ever increasing importance as it could be one of the most important solutions for the problem of sustainable transport, incorporating appropriate new technology solutions adapted to its requirements”, he pointed out.

This “green world” is just beginning. “There are many challenges to be met, which also makes it a world of technology research, development and innovation, to which this country is totally committed, and it is making a strong bid, for example, to have electronic vehicle manufacturing plants”, said the Full Professor Vicente Díaz López, Director of the UC3M "Duque de Santomauro" Instituto de Seguridad de los Vehículos Automóviles (Institute of Vehicle Safety) (ISVA), which organized this University conference, held May 6 and 7 in the Leganés Auditorium of this Madrid institution. “This will create many jobs, directly and indirectly, in addition to fomenting the synergy between the university and the business world, which I think is a desirable point and a generator for intellection and economic wealth”, Díaz pointed out.

An interdisciplinary design
The talks on the first day of this conference focused on the possibilities for these cars in the tourist sector as well as delving into issues such as the regulations associated with the electric car and the hybrid car, and the new concepts of cars for urban mobility within the framework of sustainable development or design strategies. In this vein for example, the electric car can be thought of as a whole in which many different branches of engineering are involved. “It has to be understood as a complete system, in which a multitude of technologies are involved, from the mechanical to the electronic, and including informatics, and not as something autonomous, since it requires a supply of electric energy to recharge its batteries", Emilio Olías, Full Professor of Electronic Technology at UC3M, stated. For it, it is essential to take into account different aspects, such as weight, aerodynamics, power, performance, acceleration, braking Systems, efficient energy management, and establishing a driving culture which contemplates aspects related to sustainability. "All the systems and subsystems should be supervised through adequate electronic control, completely dependable computer systems, and an internal communications network which guarantees a similar or even improved level of performance than that offered by today’s commercial vehicles”, Professor Olias concluded.

The fact is that in the interaction between the electric motor and the storage systems, the two critical elements for this type of vehicles, electronics plays an important role, as do programming and software. The main challenge in this sense is incorporating the software engineers into the electric car production process, affirms the UC3M Full Professor, Antonio de Amescua Seco, who spoke on this matter within the framework of the sessions. "It must be understood”, he explained, “that the software for a electronic car is not only lines of code, but also an engineering software process that must be taken into account from the moment the vehicle is conceptualized until it is sold".

Innovation and sustainability
The vision of these researchers as to how to participate in the development of this kind of vehicles from the Software Engineering perspective is to opt for innovation and sustainability. In the first case, being creative, making innovations in technology which allows the interaction between machines, its occupants and environment; and in the second case, developing programming based on re-use, portability and the ability to be maintained. This is true in the software on board, which allows the vehicle to function well internally, as well as the software not on board, by which the car can be connected to assistance or traffic information systems, traffic slow down areas, or recharging points, which "begin to be necessary to make driving safer and to guarantee that the infrastructure of electric service stations communicate appropriately with the vehicle”, Profesor Amescua pointed out.

Also analysed in the other first day sessions of the conference were the transition of the electric car, some keys to its marketing strategy and the regulations associated with it, among other matters. In addition, diverse manufactures of the vehicles (Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Toyota, Renault, Seat, Honda) joined in on a round table discussion to debate the past, present and future of the electric car. “Japan is some years ahead regarding what is being presented, while in Europe we are still talking about non-commercialized prototypes”, reflected Vicente Díaz, who stated the big manufacturers are making significant efforts to make competitive and economically viable electric vehicles available to society.

Industrial vehicles
In the second session of this conference, other complementary aspects of the sector were dealt with, regarding industrial vehicles and collective transport vehicles, in addition to presenting various projects that are underway in these areas. In this respect, Spain stands out more in the bodywork sector than in production, since these buses are usually produced in other countries. This is in spite of the fact that in 1954, PEGASO, which is now known as IVECO, commercialized an electric car in our country. “In fact, added Díaz, “the first vehicle that existed in the world, one with a steam engine, was followed by an electric vehicle that reached speeds of up to 100 Km/h. However, it later disappeared without really knowing why, and then internal combustion engine became dominant at the beginning of the past century.” Now it appears that the fate of the electric motor vehicle will be different.

According to the organizers of this University Cumbre of the Electronic Vehicle, the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid is the first Spanish university to be involved from a technical and scientific standpoint in the area of electric vehicle design and production. "We are now in the phase of relations with some important companies through the research institute, of which I am in charge, and I believe we are going to be able to achieve some solid scientific advances through the ISVA, as well as other University Institutes”, Vicente Díaz concluded.

More information (spanish)

Ana Herrera | EurekAlert!
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