In the latest in the ‘Speaker Spotlight’ interview series, Conference Director Mindy Emsley catches up with Eric Rask about his latest research, adoption of hybrid technologies in commercial applications and the growing interest in automation technologies.
Eric is a Principal Research Engineer within Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research (CTR). His primary research relates to technology assessment across a wide range of advanced vehicle technologies to support the CTR’s Advanced Powertrain Research Facility (APRF). This work includes electrified and other advanced vehicle technologies as well as components including electric machines, batteries, engines and transmissions. Through the Society of Automotive Engineers, Eric also is a member and co-chair of several committees working to develop recommended vehicle testing and assessment procedures. Prior to joining Argonne he worked at General Motors in several areas related to electrified vehicle development. Assignments during his time at GM include Hybrid Powertrain Architecture Analyst, Lead Powertrain Analyst for Extended Range Electric Vehicles, and Project Engineer for Future Motor Architectures and Strategy. He is the co-author of several patents related to hybrid powertrain architecture and vehicle operation.
Tell us about your current role as Principal Research Engineer. How would you summarize your core responsibilities? What would you say are the challenges and opportunities you currently face?
As a Principal Research Engineer at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Powertrain Research Facility (APRF), I am responsible for leading a variety of research projects related to testing, evaluation and analysis across a wide range of advanced vehicle technologies and their related infrastructure. I consider my core responsibility to propose research directions regarding advanced transportation technologies and ensure that these questions get adequately answered from project inception to final reporting and analysis. The largest challenge (and opportunity) I face is the need to stay on top of the ever-evolving marketplace of advanced vehicle technologies as well as the state of the art in terms of data acquisition, laboratory equipment and analysis techniques. Manufacturers have made great strides in terms of improved vehicle electrification as well as more traditional improvements, and understanding the implications of these technologies and how they tie into other DOE-funded research requires a fairly wide set of up-to-date knowledge. On a more day-to-day basis, the realities of dealing with physical hardware and test equipment and all of the idiosyncrasies that come with this type of testing is always a challenge. In terms of opportunities, since we see such a large range of vehicle technologies we can offer insight on issues ranging from engineering details to high-level energy policy, so having that much room to think about improving transportation efficiency is very enjoyable.
Adoption of hybrid technologies in the commercial vehicle segment is improving year on year. What do you think is driving this positive uptake?
I think three of the major drivers for this increased adoption of hybrid (and electric) technologies are: continued technology improvements, increased consumer awareness and a broader range of available vehicle options. Looking back to the original Toyota Prius (or even the TRW systems from the early 70s), the pace of technology development for nearly all aspects of electrified vehicles is truly remarkable. Electric machine and inverter power density and efficiency are continually improving, while costs are often decreasing. Moreover, the automotive commercialization of lithium-ion batteries across the entire spectrum of vehicle electrification has been particularly enabling in terms of facilitating greater energy storage for PHEV/BEVs and more efficient packaging for more mild systems. More recently, a stronger focus on overall systems optimization and real-world fuel economy has begun to improve hybrid vehicle performance in some of the areas that were historically lagging (i.e. highway operation, extreme ambient temperatures and more aggressive driving). Looking forward, I’m very interested to see if wide band gap materials can enable some of the efficiency and packaging gains they appear to be capable of providing.
In addition to the dramatic improvements related to vehicle technology, consumers seem to be more aware of what vehicle hybridization and electrification means for their overall energy usage. When we have public open houses and speaking events, it’s amazing to see the level of understanding and knowledge a typical car buyer has regarding these once somewhat esoteric vehicle technologies. Related to this elevated consumer awareness is the increased breadth of electrified vehicle options currently available. A fairly wide range of HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs are now available, providing a range of performance, efficiency and cost characteristics. This market diversification has enabled more customers to select an advanced technology vehicle that meets their particular driving need and ultimately helps the overall electrified vehicle market.
Power management systems have the potential to significantly impact the overall efficiency and performance of pure electric and hybrid vehicles. What can you tell us about the key power management trends and strategies emerging for commercial and heavy-duty vehicles?
In the light-duty market, I think the largest general trend is still toward more refined drivability while retaining high efficiency. One of the more interesting recent trends is the move toward increased vehicle awareness in terms of current location and driving route. More specifically, we have begun to see vehicles that will change behavior depending on geographical location and predicted/actual driving route. For example, a PHEV may begin to more aggressively utilize electric energy as the vehicle nears its home location or another location that frequently is used for charging (i.e. work). The increased amount of information afforded to today’s more connected vehicle will likely be used to tailor operating strategy to a more specific and optimal usage trajectory. On the more conventional side of things, more vehicles are getting start-stop functionality and increased deceleration fuel cutoff capability, which is a major enabler for increased fuel economy. In the PHEV and BEV space, one of the more interesting research areas, while not necessarily a trend, is how vehicles respond to more aggressive driving behavior (speed and/or acceleration) and a range of ambient temperatures and HVAC requirements.
In terms of the heavy-duty market, I think the most interesting energy management opportunities lie in increased flexibility to detect and optimize toward specific operational missions. Medium and heavy-duty vehicle are operated across such a wide variety of use cases, it is often difficult to provide an optimal energy management strategy that works broadly enough for a wide variety of vehicle uses. Fortunately, intelligent energy management can begin to understand the particular use case of an individual vehicle in the field, and tailor its operation more closely to what is optimal. For example, a delivery vehicle that operates in a city environment with significant stop-and-go operation will use energy (and perhaps even be configured) much differently than a delivery vehicle that is used in a suburban, higher average speed environment. Furthermore, a vehicle may be able to better adapt to its particular use case by adjusting the energy management strategy during non-driving operation. For many medium/heavy-duty vehicles, non-driving, auxiliary power takeoff loads are often a significant driver of energy consumption. If these PTO and APU functions can be electrified and incorporated into the overall vehicle efficiency optimization, a large savings is likely possible while not necessarily requiring the size of components required for the more power-intensive features associated with hybrid vehicles, such as electric launch. For long-haul Class-8 type trucks, an emphasis on intelligent accessory usage and possibly exhaust heat recovery into electrical (or other) power appears promising, since these vehicles often have a much less transient operating profile in comparison with light-duty vehicles.
For commercial vehicles, intelligent vehicle automation is claimed to have the potential to improve fuel economy, safety and productivity. Do you think these are realistic claims? What’s your view of automation technologies?
As someone who drives on the frequently congested highways of Chicago-land, I am a huge fan of automated driving technologies and am very excited about the prospects for improved safety and perhaps productivity (at least hopefully by allowing freer-flowing traffic). I would say the energy consumption side of automated vehicles is still an open-ended question. Clearly more coordination of vehicles and/or infrastructure as well as ways to smooth and optimize individual driving can provide the possibility of more efficient operation, but the claims in these regards differ dramatically from study to study. Moreover, these claims will differ dramatically across vehicle technologies. For example, more intelligent vehicle operation to avoid unnecessary stops at intersections (V2I) shows dramatic improvements for conventional vehicles, but the benefits are likely to be quite reduced for a vehicle that has idle-stop capability, and even more so if the vehicle has electric operation and regenerative braking capability. In addition to these more micro-level type issues, the ability for autonomous vehicles to dramatically change the overall vehicle-miles travelled (either significantly less or significantly more) is a truly interesting and relevant research challenge. As a simple example, balancing the convenience of having a driverless car run errands while you are at work, with its possibly dramatically increased energy consumption, merits quite a bit of research and even possibly suggests new business models and usage modes developing around these vehicles. Despite these challenges, I think intelligent/automated vehicle technologies will only become more pervasive, and I have high hopes for the possibility of not only improved safety but also increased operational efficiency. That said, I think there is a huge amount of research to assess the implications of how these technologies will alter vehicle usage both near-term and looking into the future.
As development of partially or fully autonomous vehicles becomes more prevalent, creating effective tools and methodologies for streamlining the development process will become increasingly important. What can you tell us about the work Argonne is conducting in this area?
As someone whose current focus is on dynamometer-based vehicle testing, I’m likely a bit biased, but I absolutely think a range of new development tools and methodologies will be important in increasing the pace of automated vehicle development. In my work, I am always looking for how new technologies will impact transportation modes and energy usage; clearly, automated vehicle technologies look to be a major influencer of these items. To these ends, at the APRF, we are looking at ways to expand the boundaries of what it means to test vehicles in a laboratory. More specifically, we are looking at ways to emulate environments and signals relevant to automated vehicles. For example, we can emulate GPS position to a vehicle while simulating grade on the dynamometer to assess how a vehicle’s control strategy may change with location awareness related to local grade and/or route information. Additionally, we are looking at ways to emulate additional vehicles and other inputs to automated vehicle sensors and control systems, so that we can look at certain scenarios that may be difficult to evaluate in the field. It is my belief that bringing laboratory repeatability and control to certain aspects of automated vehicle development and evaluation will greatly aid in streamlining not only the development process, but also the regulatory and policy environment related to these technologies. In order to further these goals, we are developing methods to better handle automated vehicle operations in the lab, as well as looking to partner with companies and researchers to better integrate the various levels of signals processing and emulation related to making this type of testing feasible.
In terms of Argonne at a larger level, we are leveraging our expertise in vehicle simulation and high-performance computing to assess a wide range of automated vehicle scenarios. In a similar fashion to our efforts in dynamometer-based testing, Argonne’s modeling and simulation group is improving its simulation-based tools to incorporate, evaluate and optimize automated vehicle behaviors such as route-based control, vehicle platooning and vehicle-to-vehicle cooperation. Argonne’s Transportation Research and Analysis Computing Center (TRACC) is working to leverage its expertise in transportation systems modeling to assess a range of intelligent transportation systems as well as develop new methodologies for how to visualize and couple the variety of agents and sensors required for such a system. At the hardware level, Argonne has a wide range of scientists and engineers developing new technologies and methodologies that will hopefully aid in new developments for future vehicle systems.
We’re looking forward to hearing you present at the show in September. Can you give us a sneak preview of what you will be sharing with us?
Certainly. I’m looking to provide an overview regarding the range of HEV, PHEV and BEV energy management strategies we have observed over the course of time here at the APRF. I will try and highlight how these strategies are impacted by ambient temperature (and HVAC setting), vehicle capability and degree of hybridization. Focusing more on the accessory load side of things, I will also try and provide a brief breakdown of where accessory energy goes for a selection of vehicles.
Don’t miss Eric Rask’s talk during the 'Optimizing Power Management in Electric and Hybrid Vehicles' panel on Wednesday September 17, 2:00pm at The Battery Show Conference (track 3).