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In September 2016, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continued to remain above the symbolic 400 parts per million (ppm) mark, with scientists saying that 2016 will be the year that it will continue to do so, never to return below it in our lifetimes.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), should CO2 levels hit 450 ppm, the average global temperature could increase by as much as two degrees Celsius, which has a huge impact on the world’s climate.

A major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is transportation, and with more and more vehicles on the roads these days, it’s easy to see why. Therefore, in order for us to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles, it is imperative that modern vehicles are as efficient as possible, using as little or no form of fossil fuel at all. Electrification is one of the methods to help achieve that target, and there are plenty of approaches.

Electrification includes a wide range of systems, ranging from full electric ones as used on vehicles like the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe. There are also serial hybrids in the form of range extender vehicles like the BMW i3, where an internal combustion engine (ICE) acts as an electric generator to charge the batteries, which power the electric motor.

Volvo Way to Electrification Tech Talk.pdf
Volvo Way to Electrification Tech Talk.pdf

Then there’s the split hybrid system, as used on the Toyota Prius, which can be propelled by either the engine, electric motor or a combination of both, using power-split devices. The fourth is known as the parallel hybrid, where the ICE and electric motor are connected to a mechanical transmission, which is what Volvo uses in its hybrid vehicles, albeit with a difference.

Volvo’s electrification strategy was the topic of Volvo Car Malaysia’s second tech talk, which comes following the company’s first that focused on its powertrain strategy. Like the first tech talk, Lennart Stegland, managing director of Volvo Car Malaysia, was on hand to dive into the highly technical world of Volvo’s electrified past, present and future.

As the former vice president of Volvo Car Electric Propulsion Systems, and head of Volvo Car Special Vehicles, Stegland was responsible in the development of the Volvo C30 Electric, so anything involving electricity and Volvo, he’ll know something about it, rest assured.

Volvo’s reasoning for electrification is the higher total efficiency in electricity compared to fossil fuels, where the energy need not be released by combustion, resulting in less pollution in the local traffic environment. Speaking of fossil fuels, the availability of oil in the future is uncertain, and at some point, the wells will go dry. This further champions the need for electrification, according to Stegland.

The C30 Electric was one of the major breakthroughs from the company’s efforts, offering an all-electric vehicle with a NEDC-certified range of 163 km. More importantly, the vehicle provided many important lessons in the development of electrification systems spanning 40 years that include the chemistry of lithium-based batteries, electrical machines, charging and systems integration.

The knowledge gained is instilled in Volvo’s electrification plans, which later expanded to include the S60L Twin Engine, the first-generation of its hybrid architecture. Following this, the company decided that its entire product portfolio be offered with plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery electric (BEV) powertrains.

The decision to do so was brought to the table back in 2012, when the company revealed its new SPA (Scalable Product Architecture), which will fully incorporate electrification in its development process. The SPA marked generation two of Volvo’s hybrid architecture, with the Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) being the third.

The Volvo XC90 is the company’s first vehicle to adopt the new SPA platform, offered with a plug-in hybrid T8 Twin Engine powertrain. Stegland highlights a few of the major items in the advanced powertrain – internal combustion engine, electric air-con compressor, crank-integrated starter generator (CISG), high-voltage lithium-ion battery, electric rear axle drive (ERAD) and power electronics.

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Among the main takeaways from the presentation was the XC90’s battery pack, which is not only IP67- certified, but also conforms to crash, fire and electrical safety requirements. The battery pack is located in what is normally the vehicle’s transmission tunnel for better safety, and also features an advanced cooling system to ensure maximum operational efficiency.

This form of packaging also ensures that interior space/practicality is not affected, unlike other hybrid options, which can take up a sizeable area of the car’s boot in order to accommodate the battery pack. In this way, Volvo’s approach is developed from the ground-up rather than an add-on solution.

The battery can be recharged via the CISG, charging cable or regenerative braking, which then supplies power to the ERAD (electric all-wheel drive). Alternatively, Volvo Malaysia also offers an optional wallbox, where a specialised team will be sent to inspect your home’s electrical systems to ensure they meet the required standards.

Meanwhile, the XC90’s Drive-E ICE also packs quite a punch, capable of providing performance levels equivalent to six- and eight-cylinder engines, thanks to super- and turbocharging. In fact, the T8 Twin Engine powertrain delivers a combined total system output of 407 hp and 640 Nm, and can consume just 2.1 litres per 100 km (47.6 km per litre) based on the NEDC cycle.

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For some trivia, the XC90’s plug-in hybrid powertrain is controlled by a complex network of 110 computers that manages the engine, battery charge level, and ERAD, corresponding to any of the XC90’s selected drive modes – Pure, Hybrid, Power, Save and AWD. At the start of his presentation, Stegland made a bold claim that “Volvo offers the most advanced plug-in hybrid in the country,” and with this tech talk, he does make a solid case.

So, what’s in store for the future? Volvo’s CMA platform for its smaller vehicles is the company’s main focus, now that the XC90 and its other 90 Series siblings (S90, V90, V90 Cross Country) have been revealed. We’ve already seen the new 40 Series concepts based on the new architecture while in Gothenburg, as well as the T5 Twin Engine powertrain that will be available for the CMA.

Of course, hybrid vehicles still emit some form of CO2 no matter how efficient they are, but the figures suggest that they are significantly less than other vehicles (the XC90 emits just 49 g of CO2 per km). Even so, Stegland believes that the future will be in electric vehicles, although it will take some time to develop the technology further so that it can effectively replace what we are all familiar with.