The Future Propulsion Conference 2023 was another resounding success.

The collective energy from the delegates, keynote speakers, session speakers and the many companies showcasing their latest technology, was palpable.

The National Motorcycle Museum National Conference Centre is perfectly positioned to welcome a gathering of Engineers, Academics and Businesses all with one agenda, one goal: to be part of the collective responsible for mitigating climate change and decarbonising the transport sector.

The Dolphin N2 ThermoPower Recuperated Split Cycle Engine demonstrator dominated the Britannia Suite and reminded delegates and attendees that heavy-duty is still an important topic to discuss given the decarbonisation challenges the heavy-duty sector face.

The Dolphin N2 stand was never quiet, with constant conversation surrounding the engine.

On day 1 the team included CEO Simon Brewster, Technical Director Nick Owen, Chief Engineer Rhys Pickett, Chief Engineer Colin Bennett, Test and Development Engineer James McCartney, Chief Engineer Andrew Rodham and Simulation Engineer Gilbert Sammut.

The collective Keynote speakers and Session speakers came from all sectors to share their combined vision for how they and or their company, university or consultancy body could share their knowledge, expertise and products to aid in the decarbonisation of the transport system.

Although the conference immediately seemed heavily weighted toward electrification, it became evident throughout the conference that a balanced and varied approach to decarbonisation was recognised as being needed to aim towards carbon neutrality. It was also widely acknowledged that technologies available now which can reduce CO2 emissions; should be being rolled out already, rather than waiting until deadlines set by Government and Policy makers.

On that note, the welcome – delivered by Professor Greg Offer, Imperial College – recognised that although the conference would recognise the vast developments in electrification technology and how this feeds into the UK Governments electrification targets; he did not want FPC to become a “battery Conference”. He also recognised and acknowledged that a lot of the delegates represented the ICE sectors and that the sessions on offer would hopefully create a balance of interest for all attendees.

With that in mind, Professor Offer introduced Konstanze Scharring as the first Keynote speaker of FPC2023.

Keynote a.m. Konstanze Scharring – Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)

Konstanze explained that despite the fact that the BEV was the most popular car sold in 2022, new car registrations in the UK continue to take a downward turn. This downward turn is partly based on the UK not recovering from the ongoing impact of economic uncertainty and the impact of the COVID pandemic. Furthermore, UK manufacturers continue to move their factories abroad.

Konstanze spoke at length about the role out of electrification in the UK and the continued expectations of the target of 2030 for the ban on the sale of all new ICE cars in the UK.

One of the challenges facing UK vehicle manufacturing is a lack of engineers to develop new systems for a carbon neutral future. Konstanze recognised as part of her keynote that to reach the targets and goals set by Government, that collectively there needs to be more investment in a workforce which can move the decarbonisation programmes forward.

As delegates moved to their respective sessions, we focussed on Session 2 in the Trafalgar Suite entitled Heavy Duty and Off-Highway.

Session 2 – The fugitive Methane Tractor and its Role in the Energy Independent Farm.

Alistair Walshaw CNH Industrial

Alistair introduced the subject of the methane tractor by explaining more about the role diesel has played in the evolution of farming. He explored how in the past diesel offered a one size fits all solution but that in the carbon neutral future this won’t work.

With this in mind Alistair explained that a variety of carbon neutral fuels will be required to reduce CO2 and support carbon neutrality.

As part of the investment in supporting agriculture decarbonise, a H2 production test was undertaken in Italy whereby a farmer was given H2 for his farm vehicles. The very practical Farmer advised developers of the test that he naturally had an abundance of methane and therefore why couldn’t they use that?

Alistair explained that tractors are all built differently for different applications and therefore electric batteries or H2 tanks would take up too much space on a vehicle and add unnecessary weight.

Methane may not be a perfect solution, but in use it is recycling the gas and therefore not producing any more. It also proposes a sustainable and readily available option for farmers and can benefit the circular economy.

Dr Chris Mann, Bennamann Ltd.

Dr Mann explained to the delegates how methane produced from dairy farms is one way to support the circular economy and produce a permanent supply of onsite fuel for the farming communities.

The process sees dairy farmers taking cow manure and turning it into methane in slurry lagoons.

With Methane being the worst contributor to global warming, 80% worse than CO2, if fugitive methane can be captured on site, it could help mitigate emissions.

Benamman Ltd are trialling this process and currently move the methane offsite for processing and then return as a usable fuel. However, plans are in process to find ways of processing methane on farms and enabling the direct access to the methane fuel, removing additional CO2 generated by its movement off and on site.

In addition, Methane capture can mean another income for dairy farmers who are already struggling. In its liquid form it’s on a par with diesel and easier to move than in its gaseous format, with any excess being used to generate energy and being fed directly into the national grid.

Keynote pm. Ryan Ballard – JCB

“The off-highway road to Zero CO2

Ryan introduced delegates to JCB by explaining how the company started in 1945 and now has 11 factories in the UK, 11 abroad and are a global player in the construction market.

Ryan explained that climate instability and climate change are the key driving forces behind the road to zero CO2 and that the reduction of CO2 must happen now to avoid the existential threat to all of us.

Ryan spoke about how emissions measurements for on or off-highway vehicles must be measured not just by tailpipe, but must take into account entire LCA.

Current global legislation only looks at CO2 produced while in use and what fuel the vehicle is being run on and doesn’t take into account building of the product and end use.

Ryan explained that off-highway sits in heavy duty sector and is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise. There is a vast difference between a passenger vehicle and heavy duty vehicles and due to these disparities, how they can be decarbonised poses additional challenges.

Ryan explained how all heavy duty, including on and off-highway, run almost constantly for many more hours per year than passenger vehicles and the heavy duty life expectancy from investment is quite high.

Taking into account the locations off-highway vehicles are use in, often remote, often running in high temperatures and where there is a lot of dust; JCB have an infrastructure to repair and refuel onsite. Furthermore, as off-highway vehicles do not move fast, keeping their engines and systems cool poses additional problems.

All of above influences the CO2 free solutions available to off-highway.

JCB produces 350 machines and they fall into three categories – compact, mid range and heavyline.

Their small compact machines are often used in urban settings and therefore making them BEV makes sense as they are often only used for short periods of time, produce no noise and can have access to easily accessible charging outlets.

However, do batteries scale in off-highway?

Ryan explained how the JCB small excavator is 2 times more expensive than the diesel alternative and that customers need to see a reason for them to shift over to a product which does not have the same running times available as its diesel alternative.

However, Ryan posed the question – can a 20-tonne excavator be run on batteries?

Excavators of this size can move 4 tonnes of materials per minute, running 16 hours per day and use a huge amount of energy.

Ryan explained that it would take 1000kwh/1 megawatt to run 20 tonne excavator for 16 hours, that the batteries would weigh in at 10 tonnes and would add another £100k to already £120k price tag. Furthermore, based on the amount of usage they would be required to do, the batteries might only last 12-18months.

With 400,000 JCB machines in operation worldwide today, all of them have the capacity to feedback telemetry about their use and in doing so, support JCB to make better and more efficient machines.

Therefore, if batteries are not an option for a 20 tonne excavator, H2 makes a compelling alternative for these and other energy dense machines.

But what about fuel cells, can these land movers not run on these as an option?

Ryan explained that the main challenges for fuel cell applications is that they are expensive, difficult to engineer and fit in a variety of different applications and are intolerant to off-highway environments (they don’t like dust, heat or vibrations)

With this in mind, JCB have now developed their own H2 engine. The success of the engine is shown in its efficiency and being zero emissions in use. The NOx can be mitigated by running the engine lean and dropping the combustion temperature.

So, what are the benefits of developing H2 engines for off-highway? H2 is fast to market, fast to deploy and is not dependant on rare earth minerals. However, investment needs to be ramped up in UK to keep up with international investment already going on in Green Hydrogen production.  €30 billion have already been allocated to Hydrogen production in Europe, India have a vast Green Hydrogen economy growing as does the USA. Currently the UK are lagging behind their international competitors.

But what about fuelling infrastructures for H2? JCB plan to overcome fuelling infrastructure issues by collaborating with infrastructure builders on major construction sites, then when the construction is completed, the H2 fuelling ability would be left as a legacy, adding to the fuel options available across the UK.

Session 5 – Fuel cells. Dr Francesca Ludicello, Ceres.

With the conversation surrounding hydrogen beginning to gain traction at the conference, Dr Ludicello introduced Session 5 – Fuel Cells by saying that Green hydrogen and fuel cells have key part to play in net zero and both have an important role to play in clean power for different applications.

John Caine – AVL Powertrain Ltd.

John explored how hydrogen could be placed in the global fuelling and energy markets. With countries already moving large amounts of energy around the world, how could a product such as hydrogen benefit these markets?

Renewables such as solar and wind energy are a great source of energy and continue to boost energy requirements; however, this form of renewable energy is not being produced where it is most needed and therefore there is an imbalance in the energy capabilities of our planet.

John went on to explore the challenges hydrogen poses in its movement. H2 is difficult to move, but can be moved as a gas or liquid. However, depending on how the hydrogen is moved/transported, depends on how it is packaged and therein lies the additional challenges posed by production and transport.

Due to hydrogens energy density and specific conditions it must be transported in – either as a gas or liquid – there are questions about the additional CO2 generated to accommodate its specific transportation requirements.

Globally there is already $240billion invested in H2 and by 2050 this will have increased to $1trillion.

John explained that one of the key benefits of H2 is that it can be stored for when it is required, for example when wind and solar energy not available.

However, hydrogen is not only being earmarked as an essential element in the energy sector. The automotive sector has already recognised the opportunities hydrogen offers. However, with the UK infrastructure lacking by European comparison, Germany already having a national H2 fuelling infrastructure.

John closed his session with the question “So what is the answer to decarbonising transport? BEV? H2? ICE?”

As many speakers concluded throughout the conference, John concluded that all three have a part to play in the journey to net-zero and the decarbonisation of the transport sector.

With the first days sessions complete, many attendees went on to the evening networking sessions. These informal sessions are a great opportunity for delegates, engineers and academics to network and discuss further the questions posed by the decarbonisation of the transport sector.

A review of Day 2 will be released the week commencing 06.03.2023. This will include more information about Dolphin N2’s Technical Director Nick Owen and the “Clean, Efficient Off-highway Power with a Split Cycle Hydrogen Engine” Session 8 – Combustion (incl Hydrogen)

Written by Katy Mason for and on behalf of Dolphin N2