Highlights: Libertine’s Free Piston technology will create clean renewable-fuelled range extenders for battery electric trucks. Addresses vehicle range, payload and productivity barriers to battery electrification in heavy duty vehicles. Offers the efficiency of fuel cells, the durability of conventional engines and the convenience of liquid renewable fuels. Development to validate prototype performance for against OEM requirements.
Libertine FPE (“Libertine”), the creator of Smart Engine technology for hybrid electric vehicles and distributed power generation, has secured funding to advance development of its heavy-duty vehicle range extender concept.
The 12-month project has been awarded funding by InnovateUK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund to develop and demonstrate a performance validation prototype, building on successful proof of concept testing completed in 2020.
In a joint statement in December 2020, the CEOs of Europe’s leading truck makers agreed that the shift to decarbonised transport must be driven by demand and affordability: Those who operate trucks will not invest in zero-emission technologies if there is no straightforward and affordable way to run, refuel and recharge them.
Libertine’s CEO Sam Cockerill is also a director of Providence Holdings Ltd, whose transport operations move over 150,000 tonnes of potatoes annually, providing a first-hand perspective of this challenge.
Sam Cockerill noted, “Battery electrification alone is unlikely to meet Providence Holdings’ fleet requirements because of the impact on payload and productivity, compounded by the higher up-front costs, limited charging infrastructure and lack of choice when it comes to new vehicle purchases.”
“Instead, the combination of an economically sized battery, serving the majority of journeys, and an onboard power generator that can use 100% renewable fuels for the remainder has the potential to solve the pain points for transport operators like Providence Holdings and drive significant uptake of net zero capable trucks before the end of the decade.”
Free Piston range extender engines for heavy duty powertrains could offer the efficiency of fuel cells, the durability of conventional engines and the convenience and safety of liquid renewable fuels.
Libertine’s linear e-machine and control technology platform solves the piston motion challenge for Free Piston Engine developers, replacing much of the mechanical complexity in a conventional engine with software controlled linear electrical machines to optimise combustion conditions from the first stroke.
During 2020, discussions with prospective OEM customers identified the need for a performance validation prototype as the next key milestone on the path to commercialisation of Libertine’s ‘intelliGEN’ Opposed Free Piston technology.
2021 development will integrate Libertine’s free piston technology with MAHLE Powertrain’s MJI passive pre-chamber internal combustion systems to form a multi-cylinder opposed Free Piston Engine, optimised and calibrated to start and run cleanly on renewable alcohol fuels.
The project will also integrate and demonstrate multiple enhancements for thermal management, durability and electrical power conversion efficiency allowing extended run times to validate performance against OEM customer-specified requirements.
Adrian Cooper, MAHLE Powertrain’s Head of New Technology said, “This OEM customer-facing performance validation phase is ideally matched to MAHLE Powertrain’s design and development capabilities.”
“In a world-first we will be integrating our passive-prechamber combustion hardware and control systems with Libertine’s free piston platform and validating the performance of this novel architecture under load conditions and duty cycles representative of real-world operation.”
Sam Cockerill added, “This win is fantastic news for Libertine, and for the UK’s ambition to reach net zero across all sectors by 2050. We are grateful for the support of the UK government, which acknowledges the strength of our technical and commercial proposition, and that better engines for renewable fuels will play an important role alongside battery electrification in the UK’s roadmap to net zero.”
The project is the second phase of development to be funded through Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund Competition which supports organisations to develop and demonstrate new products that help the UK’s clean growth led recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and accelerate UK’s transition to net zero.