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Thursday, 15 September 2011

Laboratory on Wheels

Sept 14, 2011

Electric and hybrid vehicles will be conquering the cities: cars, bicycles, buses and trains. This is why new ideas are in demand for individual and public transportation. In “Fraunhofer’s System Research for Electromobility” researchers are coming up with solutions for tomorrow’s mobility.

The AutoTram® is as long as a streetcar and as maneuverable as a bus. It doesn’t need rails or overhead lines because the “BusBahn” rolls on rubber tires and simply follows white lines on the street. Another plus is the fact that people waiting at stops will not have to smell exhaust fumes in the future when a bus stops and starts again because tomorrow’s means of transport will be using electricity, hydrogen or a combination of various regenerative drives.

In “Fraunhofer’s System Research for Electromobility” the AutoTram® was used as an experimental platform. It was a component of the research collaboration of more than 30 Fraunhofer institutes. Dr. Ulrich Potthoff is the department head at the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI in Dresden, Germany, and this is how he sees it: “We provide functioning solutions for advancing electromobility in Germany. We use these two demonstrator vehicles – AutoTram® and a passenger car – to demonstrate that the recently developed components function interactively.” The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has promoted this project with 34.5 million euros from its Economic Policy Program II for a period of two years while Economic Policy Program I invested another 14 million euros. The research topics in this group project were vehicle designs, power generation/distribution/conversion, energy storage engineering, technical system integration, reliability, testing and launch as well as social issues.

The first designs of the AutoTram® were built a couple of years ago at the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems. Dr. Matthias Klingner has been the director of the institute for six years: “This vehicle provided the ideal platform for our colleagues and us to test new developments not just as a simulation, but also in action.” New modules installed in the vehicle such as an energy storage device, double layer capacitors and clutches can show what they do in real-life practice. Potthoff adds, “We have set ourselves the task of testing all of the components interactively. We can use simulations to accelerate developments, but we can only be sure that it functions if the components and systems have stood up to hands-on testing. We fit the modules into the overall system of the AutoTram® at the Fraunhofer IVI Institute, and then we configure the interfaces.” For the scientist, the key is getting several institutes to collaborate: “It was fantastic to work with our colleagues because together we are more than the sum of the individual institutes. A case in point is the lithium-ion battery system we built into electrical vehicles last week. Eleven Fraunhofer institutes each added their specific expertise to the project.” Incidentally, these packs can also be used for passenger cars.
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