Electrifying Automobiles: Mild hybrid: Why 48 (Volts) is Great

In July, both France and Britain have taken action to combat growing air pollution and fight climate change.  These countries have joined Norway to ban sales of new diesel and gas cars by 2040.  This is the latest step in Europe’s battle to reduce CO2 emissions.

Legislation to drive CO2 reduction and improve fuel economy is being driven by the European market, known for the most stringent regulations in the world. At the end of 2013, the European Parliament established the strictest legislation of its type, calling for mandatory year 2020 emission targets for new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles in the EU. Known as the Euro VI standards, vehicle emissions are limited to 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven (g/km). Factoring in the U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards, this would be the fuel economy equivalent of approximately 57 miles per gallon.

The next round of EU regulation, known as Euro VII, is being met with much speculation. However, if adopted, would take place prior to 2019 and placed in effect between 2025-2030, and would set a target of approximately 75 g/km, or the U.S. equivalent of just under 73 mpg, a quantum leap in legislative efforts, and a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and a gigantic boost in fuel economy.

While developed countries have long led the way with aggressive CO2 reduction targets, most all regions are enacting similar legislation, following the lead of EU legislation, versus developing their own national standards. Countries such as Brazil, Russia. India, and China (BRICs) are all evaluating the use of Euro VI regulations in major cities by 2025. Even today, most of these countries are following earlier-enacted EU standards (Euro V).

Because the EU has been the most aggressive region for adopting CO2 and fuel efficiency standards, the very strategies and technologies for meeting those standards will be first applied to EU-produced vehicles, then expanded around the world as other countries adopt stiffer vehicular air quality regulations.

Strategies available to automakers as they move forward to meet stricter standards include:

  • A market shift towards smaller vehicle segments. Vehicles in smaller segments already dominate in the EU, so a change in consumer attitudes about even-smaller cars would have to take place.
  • Alternative fuels, such as natural gas, to propel vehicles
  • Reduction of drag and weight, with greater concentration on aerodynamic design cues, and greater use of lighter-weight materials, such as aluminum and carbon fibers
  • Introduction of new vehicle architectures or advanced propulsion technologies, such as gasoline-electric hybrid engines and fully-electric vehicles
  • Optimization of the internal combustion engine (ICE) to extract the most power and fuel efficiency per gallon of fuel

Mild hybrid: why 48 (volts) is great

One vehicle architecture that utilizes many of these strategies is the mild hybrid.  This is when automakers combine the micro hybrid start/stop system with electrical power regenerative braking and a 48-volt electrical system (versus the standard 12-volts) advances powertrain technology. Here, as with the micro hybrid system, the internal combustion engine stops when at idle, and while coasting, disconnecting itself from the transmission. Meanwhile, the 48-volt battery can partially power the vehicle, while also powering its other electronic components. In addition, the mild hybrid’s starter generator converts the vehicle’s kinetic energy into electrical energy during braking and deceleration. The system, incorporating the starter generator and ICE, boosts engine torque and power, enabling automakers to match it with smaller displacement engines. Conceptually for some automakers, it could mean downsizing its families of V8 and V6 engines to just one family of more-efficient four-cylinder engines.

Mild hybrid technology provides automakers a very attractive cost-to-benefit strategy, with the ability to achieve a significant 10-11% reduction in CO2 emissions at a cost of between $1,000-$1,200 per vehicle. When compared with full hybrid systems, mild hybrids offer 50% of the CO2 reduction for approximately 30% of the cost of a full hybrid system.

With automakers adoption of mild hybrid systems just beginning, it’s expected that this technology will be a primary strategy for European automakers to meet Euro VII legislation and the 70-75 g/km target.

The 48-volt system offers additional advantages to automakers as they continue to add more electrical and electronic features to vehicles, including additional passenger climate control options, fuel efficient electronic auxiliaries, and vehicle connectivity to communication, diagnostic, autonomous features, and entertainment packages.  These additional advantages, when combined with an attractive cost benefit analysis and the aggressive adoption by automakers creates a significant market opportunity for suppliers.  The 48-Volt Mild Hybrid is forecasted to become a $29 billion global supplier market by 2030.

Eventually, as bans like those from France and Britain approach, alternative powertrains like battery electric vehicles will be the eventual answer, but until that happens, mild hybrids will be an increasing solution to reduce CO2 emissions and improve vehicle efficiency.

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