Professor Parspour, electrical engineering shapes your career and of course your work at the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Electromobility and Drive Engineering, which was founded in 2009. Has the emphasis of the work at your center shifted in recent years or is your sector of industry shaped more by long-term trends?
The trend relating to the development of mechatronic systems got underway around 50 years ago and it’s still going strong. A key part of such mechatronic systems is the electric drive system which has a variety of application areas – for example in industrial automation, which is one of the oldest areas it’s used in, or more recently e-vehicles. I’ve not had to change the emphasis of my center because there is both short-term and long-term potential for exciting developments and some highly promising projects.
One of the areas you’re involved in is the development of highefficiency, cable-free and contact-free charging systems for electric vehicles. Could you give us some insights into how such charging systems work and describe the pros and cons?
Contact-free electrical energy transmission involves using magnetic coupling instead of cables to join two coil systems. In simple terms, the magnetic field of the stationary coil produces induced voltage in the second coil, in keeping with the physical principles of induction. The second coil is fitted in the undercarriage of the car. To create a really efficient cable-free system, it takes complex calculation of the magnetic field and complicated electronic circuitry – plus a lot of expertise.
Induction-based charging systems bring a number of advantages, most notably ease of charging and the possibility to charge batteries automatically. Vehicles can be charged automatically without any driver involvement, which is especially important if it’s snowing or raining. By automatically loading the vehicle in the parking space or at the traffic light or on a section of road, there’s no need for extra charging areas. The system’s vandal-proof and it doesn’t need much maintenance. On the downside, the systems are still only at the prototype stage so they’re more expensive.
Your Steinbeis Consulting Center also designs and develops electric motor prototypes and energy-efficient drive systems for its customers. What trends and developments are you noticing at the moment in terms of customer demand for engines and drives?
Energy efficiency is still a big issue at the moment, although it’s virtually on a par with cost effectiveness. The trend is going in the direction of compact design – developing engines with a higher output density or torque density – plus the integration of power electronics and the engine into a housing. Another emerging trend, especially since the price of permanent magnets started going up, is the demand for electric machines, things like motors and generators without permanent magnets.
Electric vehicles offer huge potential, but they’re not without their problems. They’re too expensive, they offer a limited range, and there aren’t enough charging stations. Which of these problems do you think are most important to success when it comes to a wide-scale breakthrough of e-vehicles – so what should be the priority?
I’d say it’s in the order you’ve just stated. According to the surveys, lots of people would use an electric car straight away, even if they don’t go very far – if only e-cars weren’t so expensive. As the years go by, the range of e-cars will get better. For example the Tesla S and the BMW i3are just two vehicles that can be used outside cities. Despite this, we have to work on all three problems at the same time. We need inexpensive e-cars with a good range and a seamless infrastructure, then there would be nothing stopping the breakthrough of e-vehicles.
A number of years ago, politicians announced a target for 2020 of one million electric cars. Given the existing infrastructure, what do you think is realistic from today’s standpoint within the next five years?
It’s not really possible to give a meaningful answer to that question. The important thing is that quite a lot has already happened since they laid down that target, all within a short space of time; after so many years, things are finally moving in terms of electric car development. If you contrast this with the fact that research into electric vehicles was practically put on the back burner for a hundred years, then I’m extremely optimistic about developments in the next five years.
Professor Dr.-Ing. Nejila Parspour is director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Electromobility and Drive Engineering, and is a professor at the University of Stuttgart. Parspour is closely involved in issues relating to contact- free energy transmission, the design and development of prototypes of electric engines and generators, and the design of electro-mechanical systems.
Professor Dr.-Ing. Nejila Parspour
Steinbeis Consulting Center Electromobility and Drive Engineering (Gerlingen)