Ready for the electric transformation03/10/2018
From industrial applications such as mining and material handling, to both commercial and leisure marine applications, Volvo Penta’s customer base covers a wide variety of different segments. Yet one clear trend can be seen across them all – a growing need for cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient drivelines.
Fast approaching the tipping point
“The cost of ownership is reaching a point where it is more profitable to operate an electric application rather than a diesel engine, and that is when the market will really take off,” explains Niklas Thulin, Director Electromobility, Volvo Penta. Industrial applications, particularly material handling, is a promising segment due to high machine utilisation. However, electrification is also becoming economically more feasible for commercial marine applications too, especially vessels that travel short distances in environments subject to emissions legislation. When it comes to the marine leisure segment, zero emissions drivelines with low noise and vibration mean enhanced boating experiences.
A proven technology platform
There are a lot of synergies across each of the applications, and new solutions can be developed in parallel. Volvo Penta is also benefiting from the Volvo Group’s tried-and-tested electromobility platform that has already been successfully industrialised for buses, heavy-duty trucks and construction machines. In fact, Volvo Penta’s new state-of-the-art electromobility workshop is located just across the road from the Volvo Group’s 120-strong electromobility team.
“Our strategy is to start by reusing as much as possible from the Volvo Group’s electromobility platform, and it seems it will cover quite a big part of our customers’ needs,” explains Niklas Thulin. “The Volvo Group has invested a lot in building these components and control systems, so we should reuse them where they fit. As we go into more unique applications, we will eventually develop additional components to fit the needs of our customers.”
Battery technology at the epicentre of development
As with all electromobility products, the key enablers – and challenges moving forward – are battery capacity and charging times. Over the past decade, the cost of lithium ion batteries has dropped dramatically, enabling the proliferation of new technologies such as smartphones, drones and electric bikes. However further improvements will be needed before Volvo Penta’s industries can make a full transition into electrification. Shorter and faster charging times, and easier accessibility to charging infrastructure, will also enable smaller batteries, which in turn will further reduce costs.
“This is really the key,” says Niklas Thulin. “The lower the cost of batteries, the faster the transition. At this rate, we think electrification will really take off in the next few years, so 2021 will be a very good time to be in the market with a ready solution.”
Why customer collaboration is mandatory
The frequency and method of charging will also be an important parameter from the customer’s perspective and will help determine if any given electromobility solution is practical or not. This is one of the reasons why close collaboration with customers, operators as well as the OEM’s building the machines or vessels is a vital part of the product development process. The approach is to run a number of pilot projects with selected customers. “It’s important to spend time with both the customers, operators and the end-users to understand why they will benefit from electrification, where it will be used and how often they can charge,” says Thulin. “Only by understanding all the details can we propose a system. Whatever the application, it will not be an off-the-shelf solution – it will need to be something that we develop together with the customer.”
Entering a new era
The transition into electrification can also potentially open up new opportunities for tailoring individual machines and vessels depending on use. “Being zero emissions removes some of the hurdles in changing powertrain settings,” adds Thulin. “When you certify an engine, it has a certain data set, and you can only sell and use it as certified. But when there are no emissions, it allows for powertrain parameters to be changed depending on the specific use, which can also change over time. This creates more technical opportunities when it comes to tailoring or in the end even self-learning powertrains.”