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Volvo plans to convert diesel trucks into clean energy storage units

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Volvo has thrown its backing behind new research which could see old diesel truck engines converted into compressed air energy storage systems for fuelling large electric vehicle fleets.

The research is being carried out by a team from the University of Nottingham with the backing of Volvo’s Trucks division.
Upwards of 200,000 Volvo truck engines could eventually be re-purposed for energy storage purposes across the UK.
(Image via Volvo).

While diesel engines are still viewed as being essential power sources for long-distance commercial vehicles, increasingly stringent emissions regulations are forcing older models off the road. But what’s to be done with these end-of-life engines?

Professor Seamus Garvey, lead investigator for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, suggests that, “one option is to melt them down to recycle the steel, but we propose to explore another possibility- re-task these engines to become machines that compress and expand air to store and release energy.”

He continues…

“Power is increasingly being generated from renewable sources that are intermittent by nature – chiefly, the sun and wind. How to store that off-grid energy for use when needed and not just when generated is a pressing issue to solve.”

As regular readers of EngineeringPro will be aware, the intermittency of renewable energy sources poses a very real challenge to their usability and integration into the grid. Hence, the increasing focus on developing energy storage systems, from batteries to more novel ideas such as this one proposed by Volvo and the University of Nottingham.
The research centres around the transformation of existing engine hardware into effective reversible compressor / expander machines.
(Image via Volvo).

The solution being explored by Volvo Trucks and Nottingham University centres around the transformation of existing engine hardware (the engine block, crankshaft, conn-rods, pistons and crankshaft bearing) into effective reversible compressor/expander machines, at relatively low cost per unit of power rating.

These machines will then compress air to put energy into storage or expand stored compressed air to release the energy again. One potential application for these machines would be at charging stations for fleets of electric buses and trucks.

Explaining the solution in more detail, Professor Garvey said:

“The UK would be very nicely catered for beyond 2030 if we had ~50GW of rated power in energy storage facilities. Each individual truck engine would form the low-pressure stage of a three-stage 250kW compression/expansion train. Thus, in theory we could see up to 200,000 truck engines repurposed to drive that level of power.”

Whilst the work is at an early stage, it could be an ideal way to both repurpose end-of-life technology, and help bridge renewable energy’s looming intermittency problem.

At present, re-manufactured engine hardware from Volvo Trucks is being gifted to the University where engineering researchers are adapting the parts and incorporating them into new compression / expansion machines. It is estimated that the pilot project will run until at least August 2019.

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Volvo plans to convert diesel trucks into clean energy storage units - Time to read 3 min
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