Hydraulic systems redesigned to boost efficiency of heavy commercial vehicles

Tom Austin-Morgan

Stock image. Off-highway vehicles are notoriously difficult to decarbonise (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image. Off-highway vehicles are notoriously difficult to decarbonise (Credit: Shutterstock)

Most of the energy that heavy commercial vehicles use is not consumed moving around sites but rather in lifting, carrying or digging. The hydraulic equipment used to perform these functions can often be old-fashioned and inefficient.

In 2018, the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) awarded a £10.9m grant to the DDisplace project, to address these challenges by redesigning hydraulic systems. It is led by Edinburgh-based technology developer Artemis Intelligent Power, working in collaboration with Danish-American multinational Danfoss Power Solutions and hydraulic system specialist Robbie Fluid Engineering.

Alasdair Robertson, marketing director at Danfoss Power Solutions, said: “Hydraulic systems in a machine like an excavator have been shown to waste up to 70% of the energy that goes into them as heat. This inefficiency is a barrier to widespread electrification of off-highway machines and needs to be tackled urgently as part of the global road to net zero.”

Radial design

The DDisplace concept uses a radial configuration on its DDP096 Digital Displacement pump rather than a mechanically governed axial pump, with its pistons actuated by computer-controlled valves. 

“By replacing a conventional pump with a DD one you can expect to save 10-20% of the input energy,” said Robertson: “For more complex implementations where we start to use the ability of the DD pump to have multiple independent outputs we will leverage that to develop more advanced system architectures.”

Robertson believes that, once the technology is fully developed, it could improve system efficiency by up to 50%, considerably reducing emissions and energy consumption. Furthermore, it could play a key role in the electrification of heavy commercial vehicles. Danfoss has also developed an electric powertrain as part of a second APC-backed project, and the company estimates that the two technologies combined could reduce the lifetime CO2 emissions of the global excavator fleet by 80 megatonnes by 2030. 

Zoe Hall, head of competitions and projects for the APC, said: “Off-highway vehicles, due to the duty cycles and power requirements, are notoriously difficult to decarbonise, so the impact of the work of the DDisplace project shouldn’t be underestimated. Danfoss’s investment in UK hydraulics manufacturing in the past year alone has been significant, and I’m sure we’ll see the learnings from the APC project applied to future products.”

The DDisplace project has also become the catalyst for further innovation: the expertise gained from the development of the technology has led to Danfoss investing £25m in a new Low Carbon Innovation Centre near Edinburgh.

“Funding from the APC has helped massively in attracting this investment,” said Robertson. “Danfoss is now building up a much larger presence in the UK, based around the technology developed in this project. The production line that will go into the new facility has been funded by the APC, as has the development of the processes that are involved.”

Boost to networking

Beyond the financial support provided by the APC, the organisation has also assisted the consortium with marketing and networking.

Robertson explained: “The APC has helped to raise the profile of our business and our technology, through activities such as trade shows. It’s also helped with our networking – including putting us in touch with other APC-backed projects where our technology might be useful.”

Hall added: “It’s great to see how this project has catalysed additional R&D investment from Danfoss who recognise the UK’s innovation capability and the growth opportunities that presents.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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