Abingdon, UK — Heat management specialist Zircotec confirms that it is to provide expertise to a pioneering government funded initiative to develop viable and cost-effective low carbon off-highway vehicle technologies.

Zircotec is part of a consortium of major UK Automotive suppliers to be awarded funding through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) to develop viable and cost-effective gas-fueled off-highway vehicle technologies.  The consortium’s focus is to improve the performance, autonomy and efficiency of a low carbon agricultural tractor concept using an engine fueled by natural gas or bio-gas instead of diesel.  If successful, the technology developed will enable other vehicles, such as trucks and buses to adopt gas-fueled engines too.

Significantly higher exhaust gas temperatures occur with gas-fueled engines, compared with diesel, necessitating advanced thermal management techniques to meet cost and packaging targets.  Zircotec is providing essential thermal management consultation to contain the higher exhaust temperatures associated with the change of fuel, which increase from around 500 C to as much as 850 C.

APC is investing circa £10 million to the carefully selected consortium for the project. It aims to develop and demonstrate practical and cost-effective technologies to use biomethane produced from agricultural waste to power farm equipment directly, reducing emissions significantly and becoming close to carbon neutral.  In well-to-wheels analysis of CO2 emissions, biomethane outperforms all other fuels and competes with electric power produced from wind turbines.

“The change of fuel leads to much higher exhaust temperatures and a completely different after-treatment system to a diesel tractor, without any realistic package space remaining for conventional heat shields and insulation.  This means developing compact, high performance, integrated solutions to manage the engine bay temperatures and protect the external environment,” explained Zircotec Group sales director Graeme Barette.  “There are also significant challenges to overcome with regard to emission control, especially during cold-start conditions.  We are being given the opportunity to apply Zircotec’s heat management expertise to the entire integrated system, allowing us to manage heat much more effectively, minimizing heat loss in some regions so that heat can be utilized elsewhere within the system.  We are already using our existing ceramic based products in new ways to achieve the required performance; for example, by creating a ceramic ‘second skin’ for some areas we have reduced external temperatures by over 50 percent.”

The project is scheduled for completion mid-2020.  Currently, individual thermal barrier materials are being optimized for specific applications before vehicle-based development gets underway later this year.  Great potential exists for future technology transfer to other transport applications such as large commercial vehicles and buses.

Led by New Holland Agriculture (a global agricultural machinery brand of CNH Industrial N.V.) based in Basildon, Essex, the program brings together a consortium of world-class UK technology companies alongside Zircotec. These include Ricardo (engine consultancy), Eminox (after-treatment) and the National Composites Centre (high pressure composite gas tanks).

The APC aims to position the UK as a centre of excellence for low carbon propulsion development and production.  The APC team brings together and supports those who have good ideas in the form of innovative technologies with those who can bring them to market as products.