Two of the biggest challenges that almost every city faces are pollution and traffic congestion, they have a very negative impact on the health of citizens and effect greatly the quality of life for all citizens. There has been a lot written about autonomous cars and the electrification of vehicles, but one thing that has not been looked at in so much detail is new forms of transport. Solutions that allow for the easy movement of citizens around cities and that have a carbon neutral impact on air quality.
This piece is taking a look at The WEEVIL Project, a Horizon 2020 funded project that is aiming to develop and test a new 3 wheeled urban electric vehicle – the vehicle will have a tadpole design with 2 wheels at the front and 1 at the back. A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about how cities need to be re-designed for bikes, rather than continuing to design cities for cars, so when I heard about this project I thought that it could be of interest to take a deeper look.
The project is being led by IK4-Tekniker, a research alliance that is based in the Spanish city of Eibar. When the project was accepted onto the H2020 program it set out a number of aims and objectives. The first of these addressed the safety aspect of the vehicle, it will be made of a composite material that is not only super light, but it will offer 3 times the energy absorption of typical metal structures. Safety is of paramount importance, if society wants citizens to get out of their cars and onto bikes or other new forms of transport (such as the Weevil 3 wheeler) then citizens need to know that these options are safe and that in the event of an accident that the vehicle is not going to crumble.
Another addition to the vehicle will allow it to adjust its wheel span based on the speed that it is travelling. The Weevil vehicle will take up roughly one third of the space on the road as a standard car, but by reducing the size you will potentially reduce the stability of the vehicle at certain times. In order to remedy this the vehicle will be able to increase the wheel span of the 2 front wheels, increasing it when the vehicle is travelling at higher speeds, thus increasing stability. It is an interesting idea, but one that makes perfect sense, in big cities a lot of the time traffic moves around very slowly, so in those situations the vehicle can have a narrow wheel base and increase its nimbleness and ability to move in and out of traffic, but when the roads are clearer it has the ability to switch and adapt to a higher speed. This also has a positive impact on parking because the vehicle can be set to its lowest width so that it takes up as little space as possible.
One of the main challenges for the project is to develop a new, more efficient motor, which does not use permanent magnets. This engine will integrate the three main elements into a single component with a very compact design: the electric machine, the gear unit and the electronic converter, designed by Fagor Automation. The converter’s high-level control algorithm will also be developed by IK4-TEKNIKER.
So why do they want to design without magnets?
Electric engines make use of rare earth permanent magnets because of their power density, whilst very effective in the job that they do there is a scarcity issue with such magnets. A large % of the worlds rare earth magnets are extracted from China and there are strict export quotas on these minerals, therefore as the production of electric vehicles increases the demand and therefore the cost of these magnets will increase. So, a new, sustainable option is required if the electric engine is to be a long term success.
In addition to being magnet-free, these types of motors also provide a higher speed ratio, so transmission can be simplified and costs reduced. The engine aims to bring three important advances:
The configuration of the engine will be modified to improve the operation of the engine and simplify its manufacture
The electronics will be designed ad hoc, with a geometry adapted to that of the electric machine to compact the design of the entire engine, and with a distributed pole configuration that allows, among other achievements, to reduce the size of electronic components
The speed reducer between the engine and the vehicle wheel is integrated in the engine itself
The project is now 2 years in and there has been a lot of progress thus far, along with some very interesting results. If you would like to find out more then you can do so on their website: http://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/201025_en.html