Ohio State earns DOE funding to drive fuel economy improvements in nextgen vehicles

Posted: March 11, 2021

The Ohio State University has received $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to optimize fuel economy in connected and automated vehicles.

Ohio State NEXTCAR development vehicle at TRC
NEXTCAR development vehicle at the Transportation Research Center test track

This is Ohio State’s second project to be funded through ARPA-E’s Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program. Research will be led by Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

CAR’s initial NEXTCAR project demonstrated a multi-horizon vehicle dynamics and powertrain control optimization algorithm that improves fuel economy on a light-duty vehicle by more than 20%. In the current project, Ohio State, BorgWarner and the Transportation Research Center Inc. (TRC) will integrate advanced system-level optimization and control technologies for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with level 4 (L4) automation, aiming to improve energy efficiency by more than 30%. Level 5 vehicles are fully autonomous.

Light-duty vehicles, like those targeted through the NEXTCAR program, are responsible for almost 60% of overall energy consumption in all vehicles across the transportation sector. Further increasing vehicle efficiency in this sector through the development of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies like those in the NEXTCAR program can drastically reduce emissions across the transportation sector, leading to a more efficient domestic vehicle fleet and further reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

“This is a team with considerable depth of experience and innovative practices in powertrain control systems and in connected and automated vehicles,” said CAR Director Giorgio Rizzoni. “We are confident that the findings from this challenging and exciting program will pave the way for energy-efficient autonomous vehicles to enter the market in the near future.

In addition to Rizzoni, project leaders include Engineering Professors Marcello Canova, Shawn Midlam-Mohler, and Stephanie Stockar, as well as Engineering Project Manager David Cooke.  

“Our goal in Phase II is to push the envelope of energy savings even further, taking advantage of L4 automation,” added Canova. “To do so, we will leverage our expertise in optimal control and system-level optimization with the newest developments in artificial intelligence and deep learning to forecast the impact of traffic, route changes, weather conditions and all environmental and usage factors that influence vehicle energy consumption.”

Ohio State leads one of four teams selected to continue their work and receive Phase II funding from ARPA-E’s NEXTCAR program. Since Phase I began in 2016, the team has been awarded nearly $10 million in federal funds, while contributing over $4 million in cost share, for the two-phase, 7-year project.

In close collaboration with BorgWarner, CAR will transfer the technology developed during the first phase of the project to a PHEV that will also be modified to allow for L4 automation. The development of L4 functionality will be carried out by CAR utilizing TRC’s state-of-the-art SMARTCenter facilities and will enable more comprehensive implementation of energy efficiency optimization technologies developed in the first phase. 

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to fully leverage our world-class facilities and engineering expertise in support of technologies that are changing the face of transportation worldwide,” said TRC President and CEO Brett Roubinek.

The Intelligent Driving technology developed as the result of the first phase project is already being commercialized by BorgWarner for deployment to vehicles with low levels of connectivity and automation (L0-L2). As vehicles with L3 capabilities and beyond come to market, the energy efficiency improvements developed and demonstrated in Phase II will impact these vehicles as well.

“BorgWarner is pleased to continue the partnership with CAR and ARPA-E’s NEXTCAR Program,” said Paul Farrell, vice president and chief strategy officer of BorgWarner. “On the heels of a successful Phase I, we look forward to Phase II where we continue our work and research to support the advancement of connected and autonomous vehicles with clean and efficient propulsion systems.”

ARPA-E’s NEXTCAR program develops enabling technologies that use connectivity and automation to co-optimize vehicle dynamic controls and powertrain operation, thereby reducing energy consumption of vehicles. The program’s Phase II projects will further develop the interconnectivity abilities of vehicles, with teams focusing on moving their technologies further towards full automation at Levels 4 and 5 of automation.