Vehicular Power and Propulsion Conference Looks to Sustainability

Conference covers components for hybrid and electric cars

7 July 2009

As the U.S. auto industry seeks ways to make environmentally friendly vehicles, it might take a look in its own backyard—in Dearborn, Mich., where the fifth IEEE Vehicle Power and Propulsion Conference (VPPC) will take place from 7 to 11 September. Nearly 350 papers will be presented there, many on the components that make hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles go, such as batteries, fuel cells, electric power systems, electronic motor drives, power semiconductor switches, and electric machines that serve as motors to move the car or as generators during braking. Other papers will describe techniques for computer-aided modeling and simulation of hybrid vehicles and their control and cooling systems.

For the second year in a row, sustainability—meeting today’s needs without compromising those of the future—is the conference theme. High-efficiency vehicles with low emissions are a vital part of that, according to IEEE Fellow Mark Ehsani, a keynote speaker and organizer of the first VPPC in 2005. Sustainability here refers to powering vehicles with electric energy generated by wind, the sun, ocean waves, and other renewable sources and using internal combustion engines burning flex fuels derived from plants.

Vehicular propulsion systems are not sustainable in their present state of development and won’t become so overnight, notes Senior Member Chris Mi, the conference’s general chair. “The needed breakthroughs in batteries, propulsion systems, and flex fuels will take another five or six years,” estimates Mi, who is also a past president of the IEEE Southeastern Michigan Section. But because of their importance, the vehicles will offer a very big payoff.

IT’S ALL IN THE BATTERY “The next wave of economic development may well come from battery-powered automobiles, with power electronics converting battery DC to three-phase power for electric motors,” says Ehsani. “Digital electronics will control vehicle speed, manage regenerative braking, and protect the batteries from charge and discharge cycles that limit their life.”

New kinds of batteries will also be needed to store energy from wind and photovoltaic arrays to meet the grid’s electric power demands and reduce the amount of natural gas and coal utilities must burn to provide peak loads on hot summer days. “The wave of economic growth that will come from plug-in hybrids will be as important as the silicon wave and the computer wave,” concludes Ehsani.

Adds conference vice chair and IEEE Fellow James Gover, “The technology that will most determine the plug-in hybrid’s future is the battery: its lifetime, its ruggedness, its depth of charge and discharge, its size, and especially its cost.”

Electrical and electronic technologies already account for a quarter of a typical car’s cost and more than half the cost of a hybrid vehicle, Gover estimates. Communications networks will also link these vehicles to each other and to the Internet and satellites, as well as to electronic accident-avoidance systems.

HYBRID SHOW This year’s conference will also have exhibits for the first time, mostly of hybrid vehicles, their components, and simulation tools. And there will be booths set up by universities to promote their hybrid vehicle courses and to show off their students’ hybrid vehicle projects. Also new are tutorials on the major components of hybrids (open, for a fee, to those not attending the entire conference) and a technical forum for researchers wishing to present their work without contributing full papers, in the hope of receiving early feedback. The conference, with roughly half of its attendees expected to arrive from outside the United States, is jointly sponsored by the IEEE Vehicular Technology and IEEE Power Electronics societies.

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