Electrified reading

Reading time: approx. 3 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: BPW, AdobeStock – Salih

Electric drives such as eTransport from BPW can revolutionise the commercial vehicle industry. But how exactly does the technology work and how can it be optimally applied? Bernd Rhein, Application Engineering Manager at BPW, has written a compact technical book on this subject, which conveys in-depth knowledge in an easily understandable way.

“As an energy source, electricity is so versatile that all its possibilities should be exploited,” Bernd Rhein is convinced. With eTransport, BPW Bergische Achsen has presented a groundbreaking variant: With the electrically driven axle, light trucks for inner-city use can be converted into emission-free commercial vehicles. Rhein describes how the technology works in his book “Elektrische Antriebe leichter Nutzfahrzeuge” (Electric Drives for Light Commercial Vehicles). It was published in July 2020 and offers an easy-to-understand overview of electric mobility and its application on 72 pages. The target group is not only technicians, but above all people with an interest in technology, including business people, for example.

Driving developments forward

BPW has built up a lot of experience in the course of developing eTransport. “Within the framework of the topics we are tackling anew as a company, we have thus committed ourselves to an innovative and very exciting area,” explains Rhein. The Application Engineering Manager at BPW already published a title in the same book series about six years ago: “Running gear systems of towed vehicles”. While he was able to write down his own extensive knowledge on the subject at the time, this time the project began with thorough research: “I conducted long interviews with the BPW electromobility team and was pleased that my colleagues shared their knowledge with me.” He had gained great respect for their achievements: “They had to discover, invent, program, question things again and again and certainly also go through a learning curve. They have achieved this: BPW has developed a prototype vehicle to such an extent that it also works in a small series and is now in professional use on German roads, including for the Berlin city cleaning service and the logistics service provider Hellmann Worldwide Logistics.“

The know-how is in the software

The drive technology is visible directly on the vehicle. “If you look at such a converted van, you might recognise the battery packs, the inverter and the electric drive. But the actual know-how lies beyond the sophisticated hardware in the software: For example, an enormous number of safety functions are stored there,” explains Bernd Rhein. In addition, one of the tasks was to ensure the supply of all consumers: “For example, you can’t use the waste heat from the combustion engine to heat the passenger compartment in winter”.

»If you take a long-term view, there is a very, very strong case for electric drives. And you can say that now is the time for it.«

The advantages of electric mobility are undisputed

The many advantages of the technology, especially for climate protection, are undisputed. “The green discussion about the finite nature of our resources is so omnipresent that, as a technician, you naturally keep asking yourself how things can continue,” says Rhein. Electromobility is a core methodology here, he said. “The other drive alternatives, such as the fuel cell or hydrogen, all ultimately lead to an electric drive on the axle.” Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to achieve zero-emission heavy trucks – the car industry’s production facilities are still fully geared to the internal combustion engine and capacities for the new technologies have only been expanded to a limited extent. Bernd Rhein believes that synthetic fuels or LNG, among other things, could form the bridge here. “But if you look at the long term, there is a very, very strong case for electric drives. And it can be said that now is the time for it.”

A technology gets going

Historically, many electrical solutions were also available when the automobile was invented. However, since the 1920s, oil became more and more affordable and the electric starter for the combustion engine was invented, this variant began its triumphal march. “One of the first cars still had a hand crank at the front to get the engine running – although one had to accept a certain risk of injury. If it had stayed that way, the combustion engine would certainly not have gotten this far,” reports Rhein. “Remarkably, it was therefore an electrical solution that made the technology convenient and its widespread use possible in the first place.”

Explaining the basic principles of operation

As a technical application consultant for BPW customers all over the world, Bernd Rhein’s task is always to convey sophisticated technology: “I often explain the functionalities in a very basic way. Then I notice quickly whether what I say is well understood and we can go into the details, or whether I should just put it another way”. So when writing the book, he always had in mind that the readers have very different levels of previous knowledge and experience: “The entry level is often set a little too high for literature of this kind, and then you quickly lose the readers. I think that as an author you also have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know that much. You can still lead him into the depths of the subject, but you should not assume too much.“
The book “Elektrische Antriebe leichter Nutzfahrzeuge” has been published as volume 405 in the series “Die Bibliothek der Technik (BT)”. The bound edition costs 12.80 Euro and can be ordered directly from the publisher, via Amazon or in bookstores (ISBN 978-3862361298). Available in German only.
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