Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a major aerospace company predicted the number of commercial aircraft would double by 2037. But how could the aerospace industry meet this demand while forging a greener path?
This conundrum doesn’t specifically apply to aircraft. Assuming a quick resolution to COVID-19, virtually every form of mobility, from motorbikes to cars to ships, faces the same reality — the need to meet increasing demand while reducing environmental impact.
With CO2 and NOx emissions rising 16% and 25% respectively between 2005 and 2017, consumers are hungry for greener options. By 2040, analysts predict that 57% of all passenger vehicle sales will be electric.
As a result, businesses are embracing the positive environmental impact of electric vehicles. Therefore, their engineers are racing to electrify and reduce the carbon footprint of their products.
To win this race, engineers must deliver technology that solves three key challenges:
- Overcome consumer anxiety over electric vehicle range
- Reduce the cost of electric vehicles
- Accelerate the rate at which electric vehicle batteries charge
Consumers Embrace The Positive Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles
The median range of the latest all-electric automobile models lie between 200 to 250 miles (320 to 400 km). That’s good, but lags behind a typical car that gets 30 miles per gallon (12.7 km/L). For a 16-gallon (60 L) tank, that translates to a range of about 480 miles (770 km).
Aerospace technologies further highlight this disparity. A traditional turboprop can travel 1200 miles (~ 1900 km). While large electric aircraft are far in the future, the turboprop’s electric equivalent — where the power source is replaced by batteries — would be limited to about 200 miles (325km). That translates into a lot of layovers.
On top of that, going electric can be expensive. The manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of an electric car could be $13,000 (USD) more than the equivalent car with an internal combustion engine (ICE).
Charging batteries creates another disadvantage. This could take hours — compared to the minutes it requires to refuel traditional transportation systems. This means that a refueling stop, or layover, will take a lot of time.
Consumers hoping to go green will be paying more for less performance as a result of current electric technology.
However, people are still making the environmental choice. The automotive industry sold over 2 million electric vehicles in 2018, compared to a few thousand in 2010. These sales aren’t expected to slow either; according to estimates, there will be 10 million sales in 2020, 28 million sales in 2030 and 56 million sales by 2040.
This translates into a market opportunity: The faster engineers can create electric systems that compete with the performance and cost of ICE engines, the more they can corner the market while helping the environment.
Winning the Race to Green Electric Vehicles
Engineers will need to use simulation technology to overcome many of the challenges associated with developing environmentally friendly electric vehicles at the speed the market is demanding.
For instance, to accommodate the weight of batteries, engineers will need to reduce the overall weight of the vehicle without affecting safety or reliability. Simulation achieves this in a few ways, including optimizing strength to weight ratios by:
- Simulating and designing new materials, such as composites
- Performing structural analysis that leverages topology optimization
- Incorporating additive manufactured components into their designs
Additionally, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) helps optimize the vehicle’s aerodynamics. For instance, simulations using adjoint solvers automates shape optimizations until the drag is minimized.
By reducing weight and improving the aerodynamics, vehicles travel further on a single charge, reducing consumer range anxiety.
The biggest impact engineers can make will come by delivering advancements in battery technology. These advancements will improve performance while reducing costs. Simulation excels at studying the battery at various scales — down to the electrochemistry and up to its integration into large scale systems. For instance, engineers can study how the battery is integrated into the whole vehicle system to assess its interactions with the electric motors that create the car’s propulsive forces.
By addressing these problems through the use of simulation, engineers will be responsible for making the electric mobility revolution possible.
To learn of more ways to optimize electronic vehicles, read: Design More Fuel-Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Aircraft.