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Nearing a decade of government investment in UK low carbon vehicle technology proofs of concept

Posted on 29/05/2018

Find out about the opportunities in the UK low carbon vehicle supply chain.

Since early 2009, Innovate UK (previously Technology Strategy Board) has run a series of low carbon vehicle research, design, development and demonstration competitions under its Low Carbon Vehicle Integrated Delivery Programme (IDP) brand.

To date, fourteen IDP competitions have been held, sometimes as often as every six months or so, in partnership with other government research funding bodies, principally the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

KTN has also been instrumental in helping nature collaborations for IDP competition, including facilitating networking and pitching events.

From 2014 the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) also allocated funding to help the development of low carbon vehicle technologies, through its APC branded competitions. The latest, APC10, is offering up to £30 million for UK-based projects that could support long-term capabilities in the design, build and manufacture of zero-emission vehicles.

IDP continues in parallel, now as part of a network of government support for the UK automotive industry. The current arrangement is for the Research Councils to provide support for fundamental science, while IDP provides support for proofs of concept, and the Advanced Propulsion Centre provides support for pre-commercialisation projects.

Promoting low carbon vehicle research, design, development & demonstration

Innovate UK’s Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform was set up in September 2007 to promote low carbon vehicle research, design, development and demonstration in the UK. It aimed to deliver:

–     significant carbon emissions reduction in domestic and international vehicle markets

–     faster introduction of low carbon vehicle technology and vehicles (compared with a purely market-driven process)

–     a UK automotive sector including the supply chain to benefit from growing demand for lower carbon vehicles

Funding has been allocated to research related to on-road passenger vehicle technologies: the latest figures (IDP1 to IDP13) show IDP branded competitions have delivered 831 individual grant awards worth £211.676 million, equating to total project investments (including match-funding by grantees) of over £383 million.

Technology areas have included light-weighting of vehicles, carbon reduction, electric motors, vehicle efficiency, energy storage, advanced engines, battery technologies, range extenders, powertrains, and transmissions.

Furthermore, a September 2015 impact review of The Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform had helped unlock further investments from prototypes to vehicle deployment of more than five times the initial grant investment made by Innovate UK and its partners.

Accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles

The most recent IDP competition, IDP14: accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles at the end of 2017, offered up to £20 million for R&D projects and feasibility studies, and to cover up to 70% of project costs.

IDP 14 looked to support projects which could reduce system costs, particularly for projects addressing:

– electric machines and power electronics

– energy storage and energy management

– lightweight vehicle and powertrain structures

– highly disruptive zero-emission technologies

– propulsion for zero-emission medium and heavy goods vehicles (the first time a proportion of the budget focused on medium and heavy goods vehicles).

Battery technology projects were eligible, and if successful would be funded by the Faraday Challenge Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

IDP Case Study

In May 2017 Norwich based Equipmake Limited was awarded the largest single grant under IDP13 low emission vehicle systems, the most recent edition for which recipients have been announced.

It was awarded over £1.25 million out of its £1.75 million costs to lead the Cost Effective Electric Bus project, following its Cost Effective Electric Bus feasibility study supported in a year earlier under IDP 12.

Equipmake’s novel EBus drivetrain is being developed to offer increased range at reduced capital cost, and so help encourage wider adoption of Electric Buses.

The first prototype vehicles are expected to be tested in Q2 2019, with in-service testing due in the following year.

Automotive Sector Deal

The government is currently developing missions to tackling the Grand Challenges as part of its Industrial Strategy.

The mission for future of mobility challenge is to ‘put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles, with all new cars and vans (to be) effectively zero-emission by 2040’.

Under the Automotive Sector Deal published in January, actions promised for supporting the automotive sector include:

–     Advanced Propulsion Centre: funding of £500 million over 10 years to 2023 to research, develop and industrialise new low-carbon automotive technologies in the UK

–     Automotive R&D: £225 million from 2023 to 2026 to support R&D in the sector

–     Transition to ultra-low and zero-emission vehicles: £246 million for the Faraday Battery Challenge to make the UK a world leader in the design, development and manufacture of batteries for the electrification of vehicles.

KTN Automotive Power Electronics Machines and Drives Scoping Workshop

To assist Innovate UK in reviewing the investment potential of the UK automotive power electronics sector, KTN facilitated a scoping workshop in Birmingham on 26 April.

This provided insights into the cross-sector challenges and opportunities for enhancing the UK electric vehicle supply chain for industry experts.

Perceived gaps were highlighted, and potential synergies between industry sectors proposed (including aerospace, rail, defence, energy and consumer electronics companies).

The workshop also brought to light some technical commonalities between sectors (such as with software, industrial electronics, energy, IT and cybersecurity), and some ideas about the scope of any competition to incentivise new business models (such as around business model innovations, sustainability or innovative circular economy business models).

The workshop also considered opportunities overseas and areas where assistance with upscaling may be needed (such as investing in supply chain gaps and providing access to prototype solutions).

Transition strategy expected soon

According to its Industrial Strategy Automotive Sector Deal, the government’s partnership with industry has yielded results: vehicle and engine output has increased, productivity has improved and the proportion of UK components in each vehicle produced in the United Kingdom is rising (44% in 2016, up from 36% in 2011). For the seventh successive year expenditure in research and development by motor vehicle manufacturers has increased, and in 2016 it reached £3.4 billion, growing by 20% on the previous year.

The sector is able to provide over 390,000 jobs, both directly in vehicle manufacturing and through the supply chain, increasing prosperity across the country. The industry is an international success story, generating over £40 billion of export revenue in 2016, and helping the UK to maintain a reputation for engineering innovation and manufacturing excellence.

The government is expected to publish further detail of its strategy for the transition to zero-emission road transport in the next few months.

At the KTN hosted networking event for IDP11, Mark Roberts, MD of Exeter based Ashwood Automotive (a company that had been supported by four previous IDP awards) described IDP funding as “totally transformational” for his company.

To support future competitions along these lines, briefings and networking events providing similar opportunities are expected soon. Full details will be announced here in due course.

Article written by Tim Watt