The off-road vehicles of the future may consume less than half the energy used today – thanks to a multi-million project being led by Edinburgh technology firm Artemis Intelligent Power.
A consortium led by the Scottish inventors has secured £11 million from the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK to help develop a new generation of ‘Digital Displacement®’ hydraulic pumps and motors to be used in off-road vehicles such as excavators, wheel loaders and material handling equipment.
Artemis will collaborate with global manufacturer Danfoss – one of the world’s largest suppliers of hydraulic equipment to the off-road market – and Scottish firm Robbie Fluid Engineering.
It’s anticipated the 42-month project – which will be run from the Artemis base at Loanhead, just outside the capital – will bring new skilled jobs and investment in its wake.
The consortium believes the Digital Displacement technology they are developing will radically improve performance and reduce fuel consumption in off-road machines – and even with modest adoption rates, is forecast to make CO2 savings of 10 million tonnes over the first 10 years of commercial operation.
Once fully-developed, the emissions reduction of each Digital Displacement excavator will be equivalent to taking 18 diesel family cars off the road.
Artemis Managing Director Niall Caldwell welcomes the news: “This UK funding will enable our world-class engineering team to develop Digital Displacement technology as a major component in the $3.5 billion off-road vehicle hydraulic machinery market.
“Off-road vehicles today use hydraulics for propulsion and working functions, such as digging and lifting. Hydraulics are very compact, robust and cost-effective – but there’s a hidden problem. When we tested a standard excavator, we were shocked to discover that most of the work done by the engine is wasted as heat inside the system. Rather than focusing on the engine itself, we realized that the most cost-effective way to reduce the fuel consumption and emissions of these machines is to eliminate this waste, by improving the efficiency of the hydraulic system.
“The problem is that the ‘analog’ hydraulic mechanisms under the hood waste energy and are difficult to interface to modern digital control systems, resulting in excess fuel consumption and emissions. These old mechanisms have done sterling service for over 100 years – so change is well overdue. With Digital Displacement we are leading hydraulic power into the digital age by embedding digital control into the very heart of the machine. Now hydraulics can compete with electrical drives on efficiency and control, offering a new roadmap towards the low-carbon future for this industry.
“Ultimately, the Digital Displacement off-road vehicles of the future will have smaller engines, be cheaper to run and use less than half the energy – whether that energy comes from fossil fuel, hydrogen, biogas or batteries. It is a technology that pays for itself, requires no sales subsidy and will make a very positive impact on the environment.
“It's not enough to invent these technologies in the UK – we also need to manufacture here and export round the world. This announcement paves the way for the UK to take the lead in a low-carbon technology with global potential,” Caldwell concludes.
The announcement was welcomed by Eric Bretey, Director, Digital Displacement at Danfoss. He said: “This funding bolsters what is already a great partnership with Artemis and will enable Danfoss to strengthen its presence in the UK.
“Customers are asking for reliable, cost-effective solutions to reduce environmental impact and increase productivity, and Digital Displacement technology will provide just that.
“The confidence that Innovate UK has shown in our project underpins Danfoss’s belief that the UK is the right place to make this investment and will enable us to work with Artemis to develop a ground-breaking technology with significant global potential,” Bretey concludes.
Mark Robbie at Robbie Fluid Engineering says, “I have been working in hydraulics for many years and it’s clear there has been no paradigm-shifting innovation within the sector.
“The hydraulic industry has made fantastic progress on reliability and robustness but there is a clear need to improve efficiency. Digital Displacement moves hydraulics from being part of the problem to being the solution and Robbie Fluid Engineering wants to be part of that revolution.
“Here at Robbie Fluid Engineering we are investing in the training and skills of a new generation of Scottish technologists who will be able to service and maintain this exciting equipment in the years to come,” Mark concludes.
Artemis Digital Displacement technology has already been tested in a 16-tonne excavator as a ‘straight swap’ with the existing hydraulic pump. This initial trial showed fuel savings of over 20% and significant improvements in productivity.
This new project will enable the consortium to make a ‘fully digital’ hydraulic hybrid system. This would completely replace analogue pumps and valves with Digital Displacement technology, including hydraulic accumulator energy storage, to achieve even greater fuel savings.