As the automotive industry moves towards development and production of hybrid and electric vehicles the need for an auxiliary power unit (APU) to recharge the vehicle battery packs as a range extender has grown in importance. As part of their ongoing innovation strategy Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) asked IXC UK to search for novel auxiliary power generation solutions.
One potential form of auxiliary power unit (APU) which was deemed interesting was a micro-gas turbine. Since the 1950’s the automotive industry has dabbled with gas turbine engines as the primary motive power for vehicles because the technology is simpler, requires less parts, is able to run on a variety of fuels, including natural gas and bio-fuels and most importantly, is a low emission power source. Although several concept vehicles and a few production vehicles had been produced the problems of turbine lag and poor fuel efficiency at low speed and idle meant that these engines could not compete with the internal combustion engine.
However when run at a constant speed and joined to a generator a gas turbine has the potential to provide significant benefits in terms of efficiency, weight savings and a reduction in emissions compared to other types of APU. JLR recognised this potential and asked IXC UK to find manufacturers of micro-gas turbines. During the IXC UK investigation into this technology area several potential suppliers were identified, however the investigation highlighted a small Staffordshire based company called Bladon Jets which sparked the interest of IXC UK.
One of the requirements of an APU is that it must have a low weight and low package size in relation to its power output. Axial-flow is the ideal design for a gas turbine but it current technology does not allow it to be scaled down easily. Small turbines have therefore had to rely upon a centrifugal flow design reducing power, efficiency and reliability. IXC UK recognised that the novel axial flow micro-jet engine developed by Bladon Jets using a patented blade forming process gave the size reduction required by JLR along with the power capability, efficiency and reliability needed for an APU.
IXC UK facilitated a confidential meeting between Bladon Jets and JLR ensuring a frank discussion about the capabilities of their engine could be had. During this meeting both sides recognised the potential for collaboration.
The meeting IXC facilitated helped Bladon Jets clearly identify the requirements for a vehicle APU and to establish a relationship with a major automotive OEM a good 12 months ahead of what they had assumed in their business plan. JLR was given the opportunity to examine a novel APU technology which could give the power they required along with significant weight savings and lower emissions.
Bladon Jets had identified that they were going to need a new supplier of high speed generators to complement their micro-jet turbine technology. IXC UK was approached by Bladon Jets to source generator manufacturers which could meet their development needs. IXC UK produced a report for Bladon Jets which highlighted SR Drives as the most likely candidate. SR Drives proprietary switched reluctance technology combined with their development and manufacturing capabilities made them an ideal partner for the development of the high speed generator needed by Bladon Jets.
The capabilities of SR Drives were already known to IXC UK because collaboration between SR Drives and JLR had previously been facilitated by IXC UK.
Following these introductions facilitated by IXC UK a consortium led by Bladon Jets and including JLR and SR Drives has received £1,103,392 from the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform (LCVIP) to develop “the worlds first commercially viable - and environmentally friendly - gas turbine generator designed specifically for automotive applications".
This Ultra Lightweight Range Extender (ULRE) project will use the novel Bladon Jet micro-jet turbine engine coupled to a high speed generator utilising SR Drives’ proprietary switched reluctance technology. JLR will oversee the vehicle integration aspect of the consortium's ULRE.
"IXC trawled their networks and other sources to find us experts and suppliers at the cutting edge of the technology field in which we were interested. The search revealed companies we probably wouldn’t have found by ourselves and the validated leads saved us time by rejecting any dead ends."
- Paul Barrett, Chairman, Bladon Jets Limited
"We are grateful to IXC UK for the introduction which has led to us winning a substantial and interesting project with such high profile partners."
- Steve Cummins, SR Drives Ltd