Paul Turner

Paul Turner

A greener form of motoring, low carbon vehicles emit fewer harmful gases compared to a conventional car. Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of interviews, we caught up with Paul Turner, engineering director at Revolve Technologies, a powertrain engineering specialist to discuss its low carbon vehicle projects, electrification, lithium-ion and the prospects for hydrogen FCEVs.

Could you tell us a little more about Revolve?

Revolve is an engineering services company with broad expertise and a foundation in automotive engineering and technology. We have grown and diversified into many industries, including rail, maritime and clean energy. The skills and expertise that Revolve has refined over the years are easily transferrable to new applications, something that has been demonstrated many times over. While consultancies certainly have their place, we distinguish ourselves by implementing the solutions we provide. Almost all the projects we take on are things that have never been done before.

Could you give us an example?

Many of the projects we are unable to talk about publicly. Perhaps one good example that I can mention is Tether motors. We worked with them to develop a hybrid truck and built the first three vehicles of the programme, incubating them at our site and conducting the initial testing.

Who are your customers and what does Revolve offer them?

As you can imagine they are quite wide-ranging, from designing specialist vehicles and safety systems for the MoD to large OEM projects for Ford, BMW, JLR and MANN as well as niche vehicle manufacturers like Morgan, TVR, Noble and other niche vehicle customers.

Outside of automotive, we do a lot of work with various train, maritime and power generation companies. We are also quite involved with Innovate UK and the Advanced Propulsion Centre, which helps keep us at the forefront of R&D in a very collaborative environment. I believe the reason these companies turn to us for these complex projects is our pioneering spirit and dynamism. Revolve is able to bring a very creative approach to the problems presented by clients and an ability to think outside the box to develop novel solutions and processes. 

Revolve has a history of low-carbon vehicle projects, could you tell us about some of these?

These dual-fuel vehicles combusted diesel and hydrogen together to achieve CO2 reductions of around 70 per cent with few changes to the existing vehicle.

Perhaps our most well-known project is the development of dual-fuel Ford Transits, which earned us a reputation as low-carbon specialists. These dual-fuel vehicles combusted diesel and hydrogen together to achieve CO2 reductions of around 70 per cent with few changes to the existing vehicle. These are now on trial in several countries around the world, including Holland, Belgium, Canada and soon Chile. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this project is the variety of potential applications for the technology, from passenger and commercial vehicles to shipping and power generation.

Revolve has also been heavily involved in the development of several EVs and were a key partner in the development of the LEVC Taxi and Ford's PHEV Transit.

As low-carbon specialists, what other potential applications are there?

Within the automotive industry, the options are essentially limited to EV, PHEV, hybrids, FCEV and hydrogen combustion as the five main low-carbon technologies. Some people will talk about CNG, LPG and biofuels but these have pretty much fallen by the wayside thanks to their questionable low-carbon credentials.

At what point do you think the electrification of the powertrain will be consumer led, rather than driven by regulation and governments?

I think more than anything it is a consequence of two things: range and price. At the moment, people are not interested in a more expensive vehicle that can't perform the same job as their ICE vehicle. If you are driving your ICE-powered car and it gives you a 50-mile range warning, that indicates a very minor inconvenience – just find a fuel station and fill up. If you are in an electric vehicle and get a 50-mile range warning, then you are faced with a much greater level of inconvenience. Once the price is level and the advantages of a vehicle with an electrified powertrain are established and made obvious, then the preference of consumers will shift.

To what extent is the electrification of the vehicle driving more actuation as well as new sensor technologies?

I don't have a specific answer for this. Fundamentally every new technology has a new set of 'tools' that it uses but has there been a significant breakthrough in these technologies? Not particularly, in my experience.

How do you see lithium-ion technology developing?

I think the fundamental physics of the batteries will need to change at some point. The chemistry itself will need to change, continuing with lithium-ion will not be sustainable in the long term. There needs to be a breakthrough with a different chemistry that is lighter and cheaper without being too resource intensive. If you are considering replacing ICE with lithium-ion, you must look at all the applications. It is okay for passenger cars but if you start pushing anything bigger than that, the weight starts to become a major problem. You then have to trade payload for range or make the vehicle heavier to carry a larger battery, further complicating the situation – with the current generation of batteries it is a losing battle.

Is there a future for diesel?

In the long term no, I do not believe there is. The best power source for commercial vehicles is something lightweight with flexible delivery, I think many will agree that the weight and low range of EVs rule out their application here. It is likely that the eventual solution will be a transition period using dual-fuel and then pure hydrogen. The transition period is vital as it allows for the development of infrastructure and dedicated hydrogen engines. With current diesel engines running dual-fuel we can achieve a thermal efficiency of around 43 per cent, on the other hand, ICEs designed for pure hydrogen combustion reach as high as 54 per cent thermal efficiency – largely thanks to the advances brought on by technology developed during downsizing of existing ICEs.

From your perspective, what will the next generation of hydrogen FCEVs have?

Cheaper fuel cells! A lot of work has been done to reduce the amount of platinum in fuel cells, but the essential missing ingredient is the scale of manufacturing, as they are not raw material dominated. It's all about making them it at the right price. If you look at batteries, you can see that the technology and its production is dominated by raw materials. People argue that battery prices will come down the more you make but typically the higher the demand for raw materials, the higher the price. If the technology has a materials bias then you will see costs increasing with volume, whereas if your costs are associated with the manufacturing process then, typically, your costs will come down.

What do you see as the prevailing technology of mobility in the future?

I think an important truth we need to accept is that nothing will be cheaper to implement than petrol and diesel, simply because it is already well established. With that said, I believe the roads of the future will feature a much greater mixture of technologies than there is at present. The current dominance of EVs as the industry's focus is somewhat misguided due to short-sighted government policies more than anything else. Everyone has an electric socket at home, so it is easy to say "we are going electric" without considering the full implications. That is not to say pure electric vehicles do not have their place. As the technology advances, they will become a much more attractive option. If we were to look at the two-car family of the future, then they might have a small, pure electric runabout that is charged at home overnight and a longer-range fuel cell vehicle for trips of greater distance.

Over the course of the next ten years, I can see the passenger vehicle transitioning from diesel and petrol to electrified hybrid, then to hydrogen fuel cells. For commercial vehicles I see the internal combustion running on hydrogen, perhaps with some hybridisation, I am very much of the belief that the internal combustion engine has a long life ahead of it, just not as we know it today.