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ARPA-E awards $18M to 4 teams to optimize vehicle performance and efficiency; NEXTCAR Phase II

The US Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding $18 million in funding to four projects that will help passenger vehicles operate more efficiently. This funding is part of Phase II of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program. (Earlier post.)

Launched in 2016, ARPA-E’s NEXTCAR program focuses on reducing vehicle energy consumption by developing Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies that optimize vehicle dynamic controls and powertrain operation, allowing a vehicle to automatically process and react to its surrounding environment, traffic conditions and nearby vehicles. Current CAV technologies predominantly focus on the improvement of vehicle safety and adding driving convenience, while NEXTCAR is among the first of research efforts in this space to specifically focus on developing CAV technologies to reduce vehicle energy use.

Phase I of NEXTCAR focused on the development of CAV technologies for use in all vehicle classes, including cars, trucks, and buses, with the goal of enabling a 20% reduction in energy consumption. The teams moving on to Phase II of NEXTCAR are building on these goals with a specific focus on light-duty passenger vehicles, a 30% reduction in energy consumption, and taking vehicles to Level 4 of automation, where a vehicle is able to perform all driving operations on its own with optional human override.

The four teams selected to receive $18 million in funding through Phase II of NEXTCAR are:

  • The University of California Berkeley team has developed an innovative vehicle dynamics and powertrain (VD&PT) control architecture based on a predictive and data-driven approach. In the NEXTCAR Phase I program, UC Berkeley optimized the performance of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) in real-world conditions, improving efficiency up to 30% in urban driving and 14% on the highway.

    In the next NEXTCAR phase, UC Berkeley will adapt and expand its eco-route, eco-drive, and eco-charge controls to leverage connectivity and SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Level 4 (L4) automation to generate additional fuel efficiency benefits in electrified vehicles including EVs and PHEVs. UC Berkeley’s NEXTCAR project resulted in a spin-off company, WideSense Inc., which will commercialize the technologies developed in both phases of the project. Award amount is $3,474,864.

  • Michigan Technical University and its partners developed vehicle dynamics and powertrain model-based predictive controllers and optimizers using a variety of real-time information about vehicle, traffic, and roadway conditions, and route characteristics to improve PHEV energy efficiency in NEXTCAR Phase I. The team achieved a 21% reduction in energy use over a representative drive cycle demonstrated on road and in simulation.

    In Phase II, the team will expand its set of test vehicles to include a Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, and a 48V mild hybrid Ram pickup truck. The team will leverage connectivity and L4 automation to identify additional opportunities for fuel savings and EV range optimization in partnership with the American Center of Mobility, Stellantis, and General Motors. Award amount is $4,498,650.

  • The Ohio State University team of BorgWarner, Transportation Research Center (TRC), and Tula Technology 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 Phase I. The solution integrates look-ahead control, mild hybridization, and advanced cylinder deactivation to increase efficiency in urban and highway travel.

    In NEXTCAR’s next phase, OSU, BorgWarner, and TRC will integrate advanced system-level optimization and control technologies for a PHEV with L4 automation; the goal is to improve energy efficiency by more than 30%. BorgWarner has formed a key partnership with a commercial mapping provider in pursuit of a path for deploying its technology in production vehicles. Award amount is $4,933,933.

  • Southwest Research Institute team developed VD&PT controls during the NEXTCAR Phase I program for a hybrid light-duty vehicle (HEV). Using a combination of eco-routing, eco-driving, and hybrid power split control strategies, the team demonstrated up to a 22% improvement in energy efficiency in real-world driving conditions.

    In the next NEXTCAR program phase, SwRI will adapt and expand its control strategies using vehicles with L4 automation. The team is offering its software as a fully integrated solution or driver advisory system to OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, after-market companies, and fleets. Award amount is $5,250,000.

Light-duty vehicles, like those targeted through NEXTCAR Phase II, are responsible for almost 60% of overall energy consumption in all vehicles across the transportation sector. CAV technologies can increase vehicle efficiency, which in turn can reduce emissions across the transportation sector.

NEXTCAR Phase I teams successfully demonstrated that technological advancements in connectivity for automated vehicles can greatly improve the efficiency of our transportation sector. We are eager to see how these Phase II teams can continue this crucial work in designing the efficient vehicle fleet of the future.

—ARPA-E Acting Director and Deputy Director for Technology Jennifer Gerbi

Ten teams were originally selected under NEXTCAR Phase I to receive $32 million in funding. In addition to the $18 million being provided to the four teams from Phase II at this time, additional funding will be provided at a later date for program-wide demonstration and testing activities.


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