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Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems projects available for funding

We are looking for industrial support for the following projects.

Chemical engineering

Carbon neutral fuels from CO2

Supervisors: Davide Mattia and Matthew Jones

A holy grail of the petrochemical industry is to efficiently use CO2. The key drivers for this research are the preparation of automotive fuels in a more sustainable fashion and reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. The conversion of CO2 is significantly challenging due to its inherent stability. One such method to circumvent this problem is the use of clever catalysis. CO2 can be converted to hydrocarbons, by the reaction with hydrogen. We are developing novel nanostructured catalysts that bring the CO2 and H2 in close proximity to allow them to react efficiently. This PhD will be at the interface of chemistry and chemical engineering.

Development of an advanced biofuel platform through the catalytic thermochemical processing of marine bioresources

Supervisors: Chris Chuck

This PhD aims to develop suitable hydrocarbon fuels from an array of promising third-generation marine bioresources. To do this effectively, we will build a biorefinery that uses catalytic hydrothermal liquefaction to produce a fertiliser, biochar and a bio-crude oil which we will then hydrogenate and fractionate into diesel, gasoline and jet fractions. We will assess the full fuel properties to determine the most suitable configuration of the biorefinery and, on development, use existing technoeconomic models to estimate the potential costs of fuels through this route.

Novel car catalytic converters for the reduction of exhaust emissions

Supervisors: Salvador Eslava

The development of nanomaterial catalysts to reduce the emissions in engine exhaust fumes is critical for a sustainable future. New catalysts are needed that are capable of working over a wider range of temperatures while minimising precious metal usage. This project aims to develop efficient catalyst washcoat formulations that work efficiently as three-way catalysts in: - the reduction of nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and oxygen - the oxidation of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide - oxidation of unburnt hydrocarbons

You'll work with a multidisciplinary team embracing a wide range of expertise in chemical engineering, catalysis and vehicle research. You'll develop novel wet-chemistry methods for the preparation of nanomaterials to maximise their surface area, expose their active facets and stabilise their structure against sintering. You'll exploit the use of nanomaterials such as graphene oxide, a two-dimensional material with extreme surface area, to tune the formation of the catalysts. Novel catalyst washcoats will be developed and their performance, aging characteristics and scale-up potential will be evaluated. Extended physico-chemical characterisation with FTIR, XRD, UV-Vis, EXAFS, TPR, and catalytic tests will be carried out to relate the performance of the nanomaterials to their properties.

Computer science

CyberSecurity in the automotive industry

Supervisors: James Davenport

The automotive industry has lagged against other sectors when it comes to CyberSecurity. A modern vehicle can easily contain 100 million lines of code, largely bought in from OEMs with very little CyberSecurity assurance. This would matter less if these lines of code were only connected to their own device. But such devices tend to be connected to the car’s general network, to the point where a GPS app can turn off the engine. GPS applications are also prone to spoofing. Individuals in the industry are concerned but feel that the industry is less concerned. Despite approaches by security vendors or industry bodies, there seems to be comparatively little progress “on the ground”.

This project proposes taking a current model, and analysing it from the penetration testing point of view, reporting on the component-level weaknesses found, with a view to (depending on the severity) remediation, or insisting on changes for future models, proposing changes to the system-level design of the vehicle to render it less vulnerable to component-level weaknesses.

Electrical Engineering

Bio-Inspired sensory system for driverless car

Supervisors: Tareq Assaf

Natural creature’s navigation in unstructured environment is unmatched both in speed and precision. Driverless cars rely on a set of very advanced sensor systems and sophisticated processing strategies. The computational burden and processing speed can affect car performances. At the same time, safety and decision-making transparency are essential.

The aim of this project is to assess how different sensory strategies and approach could improve safety, and processing effectiveness in unstructured environment for driverless car and autonomous robots in general.

This works aims to exploit bio-inspired approach to both sensors and processing. This approach aims to use bio-inspired strategies which can also be combined with higher level of controls currently used if necessary.

One of the goals of this project is to reduce the computation burden, power requirements and instrumentation needed for the onboard operations. These could be potential limiting factors for driverless cars.

Humans reaction time is quite slow but experience, muscle memory and prediction allow driving speeds in excess of 70 mph (other countries have speed limit at 130kmph or beyond). Although extreme precision measurements are key for autonomous systems, natural systems behaviour and success seem to suggest that it might be not essential to achieve high performances. Pairing a quick “thinking” decision-making system and a “higher” (maybe slower) level decision-making system could improve overall performance without the need for a constant high-level information processing when are not needed.

Improving emission/energy efficient driver behaviour through real-time estimation of driver emotional state using augmented 3D facial expression classification and driver performance data.

Supervisor: Adrian Evans

This project will explore the links between the emotional state of drivers, inferred from their facial expression, and augmented by additional physiological data such as pulse, hand moisture etc, and the driving behaviour in terms of emissions/energy efficiency.

3D imaging of the face provides a rich and robust source of data that can be used for driver identification. In addition, the classification of expressions [1] can be used to continuously infer the emotional state of the driver. To this end, additional data such as the pulse, can be used to augment the expression (and strength of expression) identified in the 3D captures, improving the performance of emotional state estimation.

To capture real-time 3D face data, photometric stereo technology can be employed as it offers a low cost and effective solution [3]. Collaborators at the Centre for Machine Vision, Bristol Robotics Laboratory have recently developed such a system that could be employed in this research or an alternative capture system can be used.

3D facial capture, and in particular photometric stereo with infrared illumination, has the significant advantage of not adversely affected by the very varied lighting conditions found inside vehicles. Face landmarking and expression classification are areas of previous research [1, 2] that will be extended in this project to estimate the drivers’ emotion state and strength.

Simultaneous, corresponding data on driver performance will be captured, ideally using a Driver in the Loop (DIL) simulator, and then advanced signal processing methods based on machine learning/deep learning developed to identify the emotional states that correspond with the most emission/energy efficient driver behaviour.

Interesting additional areas of investigation include assessing the benefits of interventions to alter driver emotion on the real-world emissions and driver behaviour and combining with a scheme for continuous driver identification and assessment of level of tiredness for driving.

All of the above is very pertinent for drivers of manual and semi-autonomous vehicles. A final interesting aspect is the reverse problem, for fully autonomous vehicles where the effect of the autonomous driving strategies for different real-world emissions and energy performance objectives on the emotions of the non-driving vehicle occupants can be explored.

Self-powered MEMS Sensors for Automotive Applications

Supervisor: Ali Mohammadi

Supplying electrical power to the sensor nodes from alternative energy sources is a key enabling factor for future wireless sensor networks especially in modern automotive applications. Using batteries as sensor power supply is associated with complications such as short life-time, maintenance costs, and environmental consequences. This necessitate further research on developing energy harvesting systems.

Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) provide a reliable platform for integrated energy harvesting and sensing approaches. This PhD project will specifically focus on developing alternative power sources for automotive sensor applications such as tire pressure monitoring systems and exhaust sensors. Hence, integrated energy harvesting from ambient vibrations and sensing transducer devices will be investigated for these applications. We will pursue new techniques in MEMS for the transducer design as well as low power, high efficiency CMOS conditioning circuits.

Microfabrication technologies are accessible to our research group through an efficient and reliable fabless approach, wherein we design circuits and devices using CAD tools (such as Coventorware and Cadence) and outsource the microfabrication to the external foundries. The PhD student will join the team of academics, postdoctoral researchers, technicians and industry advisors from Sensata Technologies with access to cutting edge laboratory equipment, microfabrication technologies and CAD tools available in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the David Bullett Nanofabrication Facility ( as well as external microfabrication foundries. The prospective student will spend three month ina placement position at Sensata Technologies and travel to national and international conferences to communicate the research results within the Engineering and Physics communities and to the end-users.

High Efficiency Fast Charging Electric Vehicle Station

Supervisor: Xiaoze Pei

Massive rollout of full battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) will pose great challenges to the charging infrastructure. High efficiency fast charging station is of great need to enable long distance traveling for electric vehicles. Wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors offer an opportunity to significantly improve the performance of power converters by reducing losses and increasing switching frequency. This project aims to design a high efficiency DC charging station to enable fast charging using WBG devices such as Silicon Carbide. This project will focus on investigating diffident topologies of DC charging station deploying WBG devices.

The EnTyre: A 2D nanomaterial-based PiezoTherm tyre for advanced seamlessly integrated energy recovery

Supervisor: Matthew Cole

The shift towards increasingly electric vehicular propulsion will soon centre on research towards increasing efficiency. One approach to efficiency improvement is the system wide adoption of new modes of distributed energy harvesting. Capitalising on otherwise wasted tyre-road impact energy loses is one such energy source that presents notable advantages, such as accurately known harvesting periods with well-defined and predictable supply harmonics. Nevertheless, though presenting much opportunity, to date little has been achieved. The ability to seamlessly integrate new energy recovery systems into conventional components, will derive new function without compromising existing function, whilst contributing to the lifetime reduction of vehicular carbon footprints.

Such tyre-centered energy harvesting system have already demonstrated industry interest. In 2016 Continental released imagery of their efforts to realise such system. To date, almost all impact related energy harvesting systems are based on commercially available, easily-fractured ceramic materials that are not sufficiently robust to provide a serviceable lifetime. The EnTyre project is dramatically different; EnTyre will exploit new nanoengineered ultra-thin 2D nanomaterials; which are not yet accessible by industry, in order to realise a long-lasting, reliable and robust fully- and seamlessly integrated energy harvesting subsystem. At R&D scales, new 2D nanomaterials will be designed, synthesised and fabricated working with Bath’s newly established Nano Electronics Laboratory. The piezoelectric and thermoelectric properties of these systems will be measured through support with HK. Via IAAPS engagement, such lab scale solutions will then be scaled to real-world dimensions and measured on the various IAAPS test beds, such as rolling-roads to provide pragmatic and functionally representative test conditions.

The EnTyre project aims to integrate rationally designed, atomically layered piezoelectrically and thermoelectrically (PiezoTherm) active 2D nanomaterials. These 2D nanomaterials, that have only just been discovered this past few years, and are only just emerging onto the academic landscape and in doing so are demonstrating a range of unique and exciting physical properties that are yet to be capitalised on in relevant applications. Their high flexibility, low mass, roll-to-roll manufacturability and high harvesting responsivity make them particularly well-suited for integration within standard tyre rubber form factors. The EnTyre project will push forward vehicular energy modernisation through the rapid adoption and development of new energy capture approaches. The projects rapid and timely exploitation of new nanomaterial systems through their marriage in an embedded macro-scale energy harvesting subsystem.

With broad relevance to human movement, commercial transportation, and air transport taxing, the EnTyre is a timely project that capitalises on state-of-the-art nanomaterials production in the IAAPS highly-applied and uniquely relevant context, much to the benefit of both the material growth and the applied sectors. The EnTyre project has much potential to drive significant and far-reaching impacts in the development of a sustainable modern transportation network.

Mechanical Engineering

Advanced control of multi-phase electrical machines for electric propulsion systems

Supervisors: Zhongze Wu

Multi-phase electrical machines based electric propulsion systems could offer a higher reliability for hybrid electric vehicles. This project aims to explore and design advanced control algorithms and experimental validation for multi-phase electrical machines for electric propulsion systems, which are expected to deliver systematic control blocks under both healthy and fault operation conditions, with a high system efficiency obtained. Different multi-phase winding types and machine typologies will also be evaluated and compared. Experimental tests will be carried out in our automotive research facilities and the Institute of Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS).

Control and drive of high-speed electrical machines for electric propulsion systems

Supervisors: Zhongze Wu

High-speed electrical machines could offer a high power density, which is desired for electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles. This project aims to explore and design control algorithms for high-speed electrical machines for electric propulsion systems, and the hardware platform based on DSP and FPGA. It is expected to deliver control and drive solutions for high-speed electrical machines for electric propulsion systems with a series of rated speeds and powers. Experimental tests will be carried out in our automotive research facilities and the Institute of Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS).

High temperature autonomous sensors for automotive applications

Supervisors: James Roscow

Distributed sensor networks can provide information on vibration, noise, and battery/engine temperatures, so as to optimise performance during operation or charging. Ferroelectric ceramics are widely used for sensors due to their piezoelectric and pyroelectric properties, meaning that they can directly convert mechanical vibrations and thermal fluctuations into an electrical signal. By the same process, these materials have gained much attention in the field of energy harvesting, whereby ambient energy is converted into useful electrical power. This provides an opportunity to eliminate the need for batteries with finite lifetime to power sensors located in regions of the engine that are difficult to access, as well as potentially simplifying the sensing systems by reducing the number of dissimiliar materials and components.

While ferroelectric ceramics demonstrate excellent functional properties, existing commercial materials are limited to operation at temperatures below around 200°C due to depolarisation effects associated with relatively low Curie temperatures. As such, there has been limited research into the development of ferroelectric sensors or energy harvesters for high temperature operation. This project will utilise state of the art materials based on high Curie temperature bismuth-based ferroelectric ceramics to develop sensors capable of self-powered, wireless operation at between 200 and 600°C.

Pyro-catalysis in automobile engine exhaust emissions

Supervisors: Hamideh Khanbareh

The development of new approaches to reduce pollutant levels in automobile exhaust emissions is crucial for a sustainable future. Pyroelectric materials convert thermal energy into electricity and have attracted significant attention due to appealing catalytic properties. These materials display a rich variety of surface chemical interactions due to their polar structures that can drive chemical reactions. This PhD aims to synthesise the first generation of pyro-catalytics capable of decomposing hazardous emission compounds efficiently over a wide temperature range to replace current expensive rare-earth catalysts. The pyroelectric materials will be tailored to have maximum activity in the temperature range of exhaust emissions.

Bi-directional high power density on-board charger using WBG devices

Supervisors: Vincent Zeng

A smart and high-power density charger is the key power electronics converter to overcome challenges such as range anxiety, slow charging for battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor devices, such as SiC and GaN, with fast switching transitions provide a solution to meet stringent automotive requirements for high power on-board charger while maintaining compact size and lightweight design.

This project will investigate an innovative multi-level topology tailed for WBG devices. Multi-level topology offers many advantages such as modularity, scalability, lower losses, limited voltage gradients, and higher AC voltage quality. The modularity of the multi-level topology also lends itself to higher fault tolerance, which is attractive in safety-critical applications. It is widely accepted as the most promising topology for high-voltage and high-power applications. In automotive application, this topology will enable high-voltage DC bus system and also help to facilitate the penetration of low-voltage WBG device for high voltage system.

Non-contacting gas lubricated mechanical face seals for high performance/efficiency turbocharger applications

Supervisors: Nicola Bailey

Turbocharges are increasingly used to improve engine performance and power output, while downsizing. They will be key in helping to reduce fuel consumption and emissions through increasing engine efficiency. For next generation technology, turbocharger speeds and pressure ratios will increase, causing blow-by to increase and potentially drastic oil leakages/insufficient lubrication due to inadequate sealing. Incorporating novel sealing technology has the potential to increase turbocharger operating ranges, maximise efficiency and improve reliability. One approach is to use non-contacting gas lubricated mechanical seals, which can operate at much smaller clearances, reduce wear and have an improved dynamic response. This project focus on mathematically modelling the dynamics of non-contacting gas lubricated mechanical seals for operation in high performance turbocharger applications.

Investigation of a novel pressure-balanced free-piston engine – ISOTOPE-X

Supervisors: Jamie Turner

Free-piston engines have the potential to provide a highly efficient, simple and low-cost solution to providing a range extender for plug-in series hybrid vehicles. There are three main configurations, and each has their advantages and disadvantages relative to the others. The proposed project will investigate a new configuration which is presently subject to IP protection applications by the University of Bath, called ISOTOPE-X. Within the project it will be necessary to study mechanical, electrical, thermodynamic, and gas-dynamic challenges, and how these interact with each other. To do this, modelling will need to be undertaken in each of these areas, with coupled simulation occurring where necessary. There is also a significant control challenge. The research will study a variety of different detail design concepts for the engine itself and for the electrical machines.

Compact and high efficiency change-gear transmissions for electric propulsion

Supervisors: Jamie Turner

Electric vehicles usually operate with single-speed, fixed ratio gearboxes. This means that their traction motors have to be high torque and low speed. If a higher speed motor could be used, this would potentially reduce cost and weight. Introducing the ability to have multiple selectable gear ratios would allow the motor torque capacity to be reduced and the ability to operate more often at high motor efficiency.

This project will investigate how such transmissions can be applied, including a novel (in this application) means of ratio selection which will reduce complexity, bulk, and mass versus a conventional selection system. It will include vehicle modelling, gearbox outline design/scheming, electric motor studies and electric motor and transmission control strategies. It is anticipated that a high-performance vehicle variant will also be studied, employing a specific configuration of two electric motors aboard the vehicle.

An investigation of novel ultra-high efficiency mixed combustion-electrochemical energy conversion cycles for future transportation systems

Supervisors: Jamie Turner

Energy conversion does not have to occur in a single electrochemical or combustion stage. Work by Fyffe et al. has shown that the minimisation of the destruction of exergy is a strong route to improved energetic efficiency, and that this can be achieved by staging the energy conversion process, with each stage best suited to the prevailing conditions in the cycle. This approach is one which could be extremely important for aviation and shipping, and possibly in the over-the-road haulage sector too.

This research will include modelling some of these complex cycles and investigating the effect of fuel properties. Scale will be taken into account – to cover the above-mentioned sectors the proposed power output range is 100 kW to 10 MW. Some easily-made carbon-neutral “electrofuels” (such as the light alcohols and ethers) have been suggested to be excellent fuels for these complex cycles, and together this presents an interesting opportunity for maximizing the efficiency with which renewable energy is used in the transport sector, in turn minimising the amount that has to be gathered.

Life-Cycle Assessment of alternative biofuels for automotive propulsion

Supervisors: Marcelle McManus

Biofuel use is now widespread in the automotive industry. Impact of its production and use is variable depending on feedstock, production and conversion routes and efficiencies. Some fuels have been perceived negatively due to real and/or perceived impacts on water use, land use, GHG and biodiversity. Any biofuels that will be used and promoted must satisfy multiple sustainability criteria based on their technical, economic, environmental and social metrics.

This project will analyse current and future biological and synthetic processes for the production of biofuel using Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA). Using life-cycle based tools, this project will explore the impacts of existing biofuel production and their use in vehicles. It will build on existing research to highlight where the major impacts occur and highlight how we can reduce these. It will also use anticipatory LCA to determine the potential impact of some of the next generation fuels – highlighting where potential problems with scale up and increased use might occur. By doing so we can ensure that the utilisation of biofuels in the future will not cause undue harm to the environment.

Life-Cycle impact of increased EV penetration

Supervisors: Marcelle McManus

The UK transport sector was the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2016, with the majority of emissions coming from passenger cars. It is becoming increasing difficult for vehicle manufacturers to meet ever-stricter emissions targets using conventional technology, therefore there has been a market shift towards electric vehicles (EVs). The emissions of EVs are rated at 0g/km under current EU rules; however, GHGs are emitted in the process of generating electricity. Therefore, there are emissions attributable to the use of electric vehicles, but these are dependent on how the electricity is generated. Fundamental to any model of the electricity demand from EVs is an understanding of how and when vehicles will be used. The time resolution to which behaviour can be modelled directly effects the time resolution of the electricity demand.

This project will use life dynamic cycle assessment modelling techniques to determine the impact of increased EV penetration. In the process it will develop more sophisticated life cycle modelling methods using spatial and temporal mathematical modelling. The interaction between EVs and charging infrastructure will also modelled, including the likely developments in electric vehicles and accompanying charging infrastructure.

Future automotive systems as drivers of material cycles

Supervisors: Rick Lupton

The automotive sector consumes about 10% of all steel and 20% of all aluminium produced globally, and is therefore responsible for significant embodied carbon emissions. With an increasing range of materials used in high-strength alloys and electrical systems, demand for other critical minerals is increasingly important. As a long-lived stock of materials, the fleet of in-use vehicles will drive the availability of end-of-life scrap materials for re-use and recycling into the future.

Understanding the dynamics of these large-scale material systems is necessary for moving towards a more circular economy and reducing carbon emissions associated with primary production of metals from ore. However, the configuration and material content of vehicles are likely to change dramatically in the near future, as new propulsion systems emerge. The feasibility of achieving high levels of recycling of high quality materials in a “circular economy” depends on what form the end-of-life products take. This project will look to how changes in the automotive sector will affect the sustainability of the wider industrial sector, and can we design future propulsion systems for minimum embodied carbon and maximum recyclability at end-of-life?

Enabling eco-innovation: identifying and addressing the challenges of innovating through the supply chain in advanced automotive propulsion projects.

Supervisors: Elies Dekoninck

Eco-innovation is the practical way that high-tech companies contribute to society’s goals for more sustainable development. The practice of eco-innovation in automotive companies is particularly challenging for the following reasons: automotive products are complex products, where a large supply chain needs to come together to deliver an innovative product within an extremely competitive market. To create step-change innovation in the automotive industry, innovation needs to occur through the whole supply chain.

The aim of this research is to identify and address the challenges of innovating through the supply chain in advanced automotive propulsion projects to increase the environmental improvements possible within the product. Research questions will include:

  • what are the challenges faced across a range of stakeholders within automotive companies attempting eco-innovation projects?
  • what are the challenges faced through the automotive supply chain to deliver an eco-innovative product?
  • what are the existing solutions to address these challenges?
  • how effective are they?
  • what tools from systems engineering can be used to address the eco-innovation challenges in advanced automotive propulsion projects?


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