Building bridges, removing barriers
Among its previous projects, Cenex has supported several large-scale demonstrator programmes for electric, hybrid and biofuel powertrains, ranging from cars through to heavy goods vehicles.
From its head office in Loughborough, the UK’s first centre of excellence for low carbon vehicle technologies, better known as Cenex, has been an ever-present organisation in the first steps of the move towards alternative fuel sources, including electric and hybrid vehicles.
Founded in 2005 with funding from what is now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, this not-for-profit organisation set out to form a bridge between the UK’s low carbon vehicle industry in the UK and end users, mostly in the fleet sector. Offering consultancy and backing numerous technology projects, demonstrator programmes, purchases and infrastructure development, it’s had a vital supporting role in highlighting the cost and environmental benefits of alternative fuels.
Robert Anderson, programme manager for fleet carbon reduction at Cenex, says new technology is an area where fleets are often cautious: ‘We know that UK PLC is good at developing low carbon products, but that there’s a disparity between that and fleets taking it up. There’s mistrust and uncertainty about new technology; fleets would rather wait five years until others make mistakes first.’
A large barrier in fleet uptake is cost. Among its previous projects, Cenex has supported several large-scale demonstrator programmes for electric, hybrid and biofuel powertrains, ranging from cars through to heavy goods vehicles. It’s been a two-way process of information sharing, helping fleets understand the benefits, and providing data back to Cenex about where new technology works best.
Most recently, the organisation was responsible for managing the Low Carbon Vehicle Procurement Programme. Working with the Technology Strategy Board and Office for Low Emission Vehicles, this provided £20m funding to subsidise hybrid or electric vehicles to a price parity with conventional diesel models and encourage companies to invest. Full results will be published this summer, building on work done with the Energy Saving Trust’s Plugged-in Fleets report and ongoing analysis from previous projects.
This historical data is now benefiting other fleets. In 2011, Cenex launched its own Fleet Carbon Reduction Tool. This enables companies to find roles for plug-in vehicles using their fleets’ duty cycles as a base, and offering numerous cost and carbon reduction scenarios based on mileage covered, the length of the lease, day and night time charging and the cost of fuel and electricity over the vehicle’s life cycle. Results are shown in traffic light form, offering a quick and low-cost analysis before investing in a vehicle trial.
‘It’s a complex analysis, but worth doing for fleets to understand each new technology type,’ explains Anderson. ‘The worst thing for companies to do is take on new technology and then not use it. Then it becomes a millstone, sits in the corner of the car park and is a waste. It’s not the vehicle’s fault, it’s just not being used correctly. We help find an operational fit.’
New technology presents fresh challenges, often requiring a new infrastructure to support their uptake. As well as helping fleets to deploy vehicles, Cenex is studying the requirements for charging and refuelling networks around the UK and working with suppliers to accelerate their growth.
The biggest of these is Plugged-in Midlands. One of eight Plugged-in Places schemes across the UK, it aims to create a publicly accessible network of 500 charging points spanning from Lincolnshire to Herefordshire. Managed by Cenex, discounts have been made available to businesses and private sector organisations installing charging equipment at their premises, provided they are accessible to members of the scheme.
Anderson says this has offered invaluable insight into the requirements of a public charging network, such as how and when they are used, and for how long. It has also highlighted the need for interoperability between Plugged-in Midlands and other schemes. Allowing members to roam between Plugged-in Places regions will be vital for the electric vehicle take-up to accelerate, he says.
‘To make this worthwhile and to ensure longevity, it has to be interoperable,’ Anderson explains. ‘People have to be able to use one card in Milton Keynes and the same card in Newcastle.’
In London, the organisation is helping to support the Europe-wide HyTec project, which is taking the first steps towards building a refuelling network for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. To date, some 35 vehicles have been deployed across Europe, aimed at finding out where the technology is best suited, and the cost and environmental benefits they can offer.
The remainder of this decade will bring a continued rapid evolution of the vehicle parc, as new technology and new working processes affect the day-to-day life of UK fleets. Whatever the coming years bring, it’s a process Cenex will be closely involved with.
Some of the work undertaken at Cenex involves supporting technology which is still years from production. Through the Niche Vehicle Network, the organisation is able to provide UK technology companies with grant funding to develop innovations which will soon be available to fleets. Important projects include:
• VOCIS Four-speed EV – A four-speed transmission which uses two motors, one connected to the even-numbered gears and the other to the odd-numbered gears. This could offer improved efficiency, different drive modes and smooth shifting similar to a conventional dual-clutch transmission, and a demonstrator is under construction at the moment.
• Pi Innovo micro-hybrid – Designed to offer fuel-savings for companies with older commercial vehicles on fleet, this retro-fitted engine Start/Stop system will be compatible with all diesel engines. Potentially a very useful product for large fleets as vehicle lifespans continue to be extended and anti-idling legislation is discussed in London.
• Revolve Technologies hydrogen/biodiesel ignition – The latest phase in a seven-year project which will allow conventional diesel engines to be run on 100% hydrogen, only using diesel as a catalyst during start-up and as a backup fuel. Revolve is now redeveloping the system which will use biodiesel, instead of mineral-based diesel, as the catalyst.