Hello Francisco Márquez Fernández, Theme leader of theme 2, electrical machines, drive systems and charging and Associate Senior Lecturer at Lund University.

Hello SEC! So cool to be interviewed for the newsletter and web! I hope I can bring our Theme a little bit closer to all SEC members =)

What does researchers within electrical machines, drive systems and charging focus on during 2020? Is there a hot topic?
There are many things that are hot right now! Looking at the market it is clear that electric passenger cars are developing fast. New EV models are appearing almost every month, and their characteristics and performance are constantly improving. Up to now, in my opinion, electric passenger cars have been competing against gasoline and diesel cars. However, we have reached a maturity level in which, in terms of performance, EV cars are at least comparable to their fossil-fuelled counterparts, or even better in some aspects. So now the competition is not  against fossil-fuelled vehicles any more! We strive for the new EV cars to be more powerful, more reliable, quieter, more efficient,  and to have lower environmental impact and cost than the previous generation, and a great deal from these improvements comes from advances in the drivetrain. 

In this direction, we in Theme 2 have started several projects during 2020 looking at e.g. new electric motor topologies (to improve the noise and vibration characteristics, to reduce the amount of rare-earth permanent magnets without compromising performance, or to enhance recyclability once the vehicle reaches its end of life). Another interesting new project in the theme  focuses on developing methods to assess the health status of the power converter in commercial vehicles.

When it comes to heavy vehicles, the market is not as developed and even though there are a handful full-electric distribution vans, buses and even heavy trucks available, they are still mostly used in pilot trials. However, this is rapidly changing, since the decision whether to buy an electric vehicle or not for this type of vehicles is very much influenced by economics, and with the steady reduction of battery costs, the total cost of ownership for the electric vehicles is becoming competitive in many cases. 

Yet another interesting topic is charging. What kind of equipment will be necessary to charge all these vehicles? High-power charging (over 1 MW) in order to charge large vehicles in reasonable times, Electric Roads to be able to charge vehicles as they drive, multi-port chargers enabling the energy to run in multiple directions, allowing your EV to power your house and charge directly from your solar panels… are all examples of relevant research topics that we address in our theme, in collaboration with theme 5 “Interaction between Electromobility and the grid” and theme 3 “Energy storage”.

How has theme 2 been tackling collaboration in times of a pandemic?We live in difficult times, all of us, and we have had to adapt our activities to the new circumstances. 

However, being a distributed Centre with partners in several cities, we are used to collaborate online with the help of digital tools. Of course we miss our face-to-face meetings, the study visits to our partners and the interesting discussions usually happening during the coffee breaks. These are very difficult to replace! But we try to make the best out of the situation, and for example replace the technical visits by virtual tours.

A consequence of the pandemics that I have experienced is that our meetings have become shorter, but more frequent and more visual. We have to prepare better slides, videos, and different material to overcome the distance. 

Do you see possible collaborations within SEC that are not happening today? Who should collaborate more?
There is always room for more collaboration, and the Centre is continuously growing with new partners as electromobility becomes more common in our daily lives, reaching new actors in society. In this very dynamic process, it is hard to point out a single collaboration possibility.

In our theme, we try to identify research topics of common interest, and organise projects around those. I personally encourage all members to be active in the discussion, and this strategy has served us very well in the last project calls. However, the circumstances associated with the pandemics have had an impact on the activities this year, with several of our partners affected by temporary lay-offs, which set many of our activities on standby for some time.