Second life for commercial vehicles maximizes sustainability

Air pollution from exhaust fumes and particulate matter are extremely detrimental to our health. The transport and logistics industry is a major contributor of these pollutants. Electric retrofit solutions for commercial vehicles are a sustainable approach to reducing exhaust output and protecting the environment and our health.

 The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 7 million people worldwide die every year as a result of particulate matter and air pollution1. Respiratory diseases, as well as heart disease, are caused by high levels of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone and the aforementioned particulate matter. The UN Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE, estimates that more than 90 per cent of European citizens are exposed to particulate matter beyond the yearly limits of WHO guidelines for air quality2 Worldwide, this figure is said to be as high as 99 per cent of all people3. According to the WHO, efforts to make transport and traffic cleaner are a key element in reducing this high number of pollution related deaths and illnesses. This is because the transport sector was responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU in 2018. Road transport accounted for 72 per cent of this4.

A quick solution through retrofitting

Fast and practical solutions are needed to effectively reduce this major contribution to air pollution. Bringing new vehicle series with alternative drive systems onto the market takes a lot of time, and development cycles in the automotive industry are long. However, there is an option that can contribute to the desired emission reductions faster and more sustainably: retrofitting existing vehicle fleets, particularly in the commercial vehicle sector.

Commercial vehicles are designed to achieve enormous annual mileages. Buses often drive more than 50,000 km a year, trucks sometimes more than 100,000 km. The mechanical components and chassis of the vehicles are designed to be correspondingly robust. The weakest link in the vehicle's life is usually the drivetrain, which has to cope with the most wear and tear. This is precisely where fleet operators can start. Existing vehicles can be equipped with sustainable alternative drive systems, giving them a second life. This makes it easier for vehicle operators to comply with emissions regulations, but also saves costs. Retrofitting is generally much more economical than purchasing a new bus or prime mover. The total cost of ownership of the vehicles is also significantly reduced due to the extended service life.

Award-winning specialists

pepper motion GmbH, based in Denkendorf, Bavaria, specializes in the development of sustainable powertrains for used and new commercial vehicles. The pepper electrification kits have won numerous innovation awards in recent years. The high speed of development and the modular vehicle concepts enable pepper motion to design electric drive systems for all market-relevant vehicle models at short notice - including hydrogen-based drive systems with fuel cells. Thanks to a clear quality strategy with renowned suppliers, customers can be sure that they will have access to the most efficient battery technologies and the latest digital services. Florian Hetzendorfer, Team Leader Project Management at pepper motion, explains: "Our suppliers are Tier 1 companies in the commercial vehicle industry. Our claim is: retrofitting at the highest level. The vehicles should continue to run at least as long as they did before the retrofit."

The entire range of components fulfill the relevant norms and standards. This includes ISO 26262 conformity. Functional safety plays a central role in the design of the vehicle and drive control system. "Vehicles with alternative drives generally have a high level of software complexity. Above all, this requires high-performance control solutions, such as our Vehicle Control Unit," explains Florian Hetzendorfer.

Heart and soul of the second life

The Vehicle Control Unit (VCU) is at the core of the electric drivetrain. It networks the drivetrain components and provides the interface to the existing vehicle systems. The hardware basis of the VCU is the ESX.3cm from STW. The compact controller is suitable for safety-related applications up to Performance Level PL d or Safety Integrity Level SIL 2. A robust die-cast aluminium housing with automotive connector contains a fast 32-bit microcontroller with 300 MHz, four MB flash and eight MB SRAM. It provides four CAN interfaces, one Ethernet and one serial interface for vehicle integration. With the ESX.4cm-a, STW already has a powerful successor in its portfolio, with more performance for automation applications, a multi-core processor and a managed Ethernet switch.

One advantage of digitalized processes is the possibility to improve functions or provide new features over time. pepper motion can provide their customers with over-the-air updates for the drive system. These updates are received and processed with STW technology. The TCG-4 communication module is provides this functionality. In addition, internet based data access enables remote maintenance, which reduces downtimes and repair costs. The TCG-4 supports fast data transmission via 4G/LTE or Wi-Fi, and precise global localization is provided for with GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU and GALILEO functionality. The TCG-4 also has 4 CAN interfaces, and Ethernet and USB connections.

Florian Hetzendorfer explains why pepper selected STW products: "The STW control and telematics systems are robust and of impeccable quality. We were impressed by the reliability of the products in our vehicle applications. When we had questions, the support team was competent and helpful. We greatly appreciate the professional cooperation we have with STW."

1 WHO: