The following key organizations (including research institutes, universities and other platforms) are involved in Belgian research on hybrid and electric vehicles: VITO, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), University of Ghent, Flanders’ DRIVE, the Limburg Catholic University College (LCUC, or in Flemish KHLim), and the electric vehicle not-for-profit organization AVERE, together with its Belgian arm, ASBE.
VITO is a leading independent European research and consulting center developing sustainable technologies in energy, environment, materials, and remote sensing. VITO’s 600 highly qualified employees cooperate with sector federations, universities, European research institutes, and business communities. The budget of 2010 was €95 million, of which more than half was from contract research.
VITO’s energy unit has a strong link with sustainable transport engaging hybrid and electric vehicles. VITO performs research on different areas in this field, from improving the energy efficiency of the vehicle itself (e.g., via brake energy recuperation) up to the integration aspects of plug-in and electric vehicles in the electricity network of today and tomorrow.
Plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles and smart grids: a perfect match. Graphic courtesy of VITO.
Smart grids offer a solution for electric vehicles: hybrid and electric vehicles can easily charge their batteries with ideally green electricity via the grid at moments that are advantageous for the network as well as the user, in an approach known as intelligent charging. A smart grid relies on the integration of power electronics, intelligent communication structures, and control algorithms, which are some of the VITO research areas. VITO has an extensive smart grid test infrastructure at its disposal that combines a thermal-technical and electrical lab with battery test infrastructure and a test bench for hybrid vehicles.
VITO is also working on the energy efficiency of the vehicle itself. VITO has developed an energy storage system for use in hybrid diesel-electric city buses. The energy storage system is used to store the regenerated braking energy, which later gets used when the bus starts to accelerate, or when the bus needs some additional energy under certain driving conditions. By using ultracapacitors as the basic storage cell, this process of storing and releasing energy can be repeated very frequently for a long time. A control system manages the complete storage system and communicates the status of the system to the drivetrain controller. Hybrid buses equipped with this storage system consume up to 25% less fuel than similar diesel buses and are less noisy. VITO has transferred this technology to a spin-off company, Bluways, for the further commercialization of energy storage systems in different types of heavy-duty hybrid vehicles.
Other research projects at VITO related to hybrid and electric vehicles include ESTO, Trans2House and EVCITY.
The ESTO project seeks breakthroughs in energy storage technologies such as lithium-ion battery cells and packs and battery management systems. Partners in this effort include the major players in Flemish automotive research and development (R&D), several of which are described further below: Flanders’ DRIVE, Emrol, PEC, PsiControl, Punch Powertrain, Triphase, Umicore, VDL Jonckheere, VITO, and VUB.
Trans2House, performed by VUB, VITO and ABEA, is short for “Transition pathways to efficient (electrified) transport for households” and is studying how to develop driving forces and shift the social, cultural, technological, economic, and political barriers to household energy consumption reduction, with transport a major portion of the study.
EVCITY is one of the innovation projects within the EIT KIC InnoEnergy and is focusing on the business and service models to support the rollout of electric vehicles in cities.
At the K.U.Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), the ESAT-ELECTA group performs research on the production, transmission, distribution, and rational use of electrical energy, including work related to electric and hybrid vehicles in the field of power electronics, electric drivetrains, and grid integration of plug-in vehicles, including solving potential bottlenecks by smart charging methods.
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
The Department of Electrical Engineering and Energy Technology (ETEC) of the VUB Faculty of Engineering Sciences established an R&D program on electric, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles in 1974, making it the premier electric vehicle research facility in Belgium. ETEC’s work mainly emphasizes the characterization, testing and demonstration of electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles and their components, such as electric drives and batteries. ETEC is also very active in participating in several European projects in the field of electric, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles.
ETEC works closely together with the MOSI-t team at the VUB, which focuses on application of socio-economic evaluation methods in the field of transport and logistics. Both teams work together under the umbrella of the MOBI research group. The multidisciplinary group results in a scientific expertise in which technical, social, and economical aspects of development and deployment of electrified vehicles are taken into account.
Limburg Catholic University College
The Limburg Catholic University College (LCUC, or in Flemish KHLim) has built a “green” charging station powered by photovoltaic panels of 10 kWp. The charging station contains different brands of charging points. The charging station is integrated in a microgrid of 200 kVA. In one current project, 22 electric scooters from Chinese company, Haoren, are equipped with a tracking system to analyze how KHLim students use these e-scooters.
Flanders’ DRIVE is the competence center established in 2001 to support the Flemish automotive industry in their research activities in different technological domains like manufacturing, lightweight materials, clean powertrains, and active safety. Flanders’ DRIVE has about 170 active members and organizes collaborative research projects with them, including the ESTO project mentioned above in the VITO section.
Green Propulsion was founded in 2001 as a spinoff of the University of Liege. It has since become an independent specialist in increasingly cleaner vehicle technologies. In the field of plug-in hybrids, in particular, Green Propulsion is without a doubt one of the leading independent R&D centers in Europe, with no fewer than seven topologies and innovative management strategies to its credit.
Green Propulsion mainly concentrates on the development of three prototype hybrid vehicles:
A plug-in hybrid, 12-m urban bus equipped with the Automixte® combined series-parallel technology, which is now at its approval phase after the completion of its development
A plug-in hybrid, estate car combining electric predominance and CNG, which is now as well at its approval phase after the completion of its development. Discussions about a pilot production of 200 similar units have started.
The plug-in hybrid Imperia GP roadster, whose first prototype was presented at the Brussels Motor Show and chassis n°2 is now equipped with the PowerHybrid® motorization.
AVERE and ASBE
AVERE and ASBE, the Belgian chapter of AVERE, are non-profit associations, founded in 1978 under the aegis of the European Community, as a European network of industrial manufacturers and suppliers for electric vehicles. The Association’s goal is to promote the use of battery, hybrid, and fuel cell electric vehicles, and to rationalize the efforts of its member companies in the scientific and technological developments. ASBE restarted in 2009 and brings together a mix of new EV-entrepreneurs together with scientists and industry. ASBE also took the initiative to show the location of the charging points installed in Belgium on their website.