Research and impact | By Sophie Cubbin

City Impact: From the lab bench to the real world

In the School of Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering, City’s academics are developing and delivering technological innovations which support the rapidly changing world.

Making electric vehicle battery power systems more efficient

The uptake of electric vehicles is increasing but one of the aspects continuing to deter car buyers and manufacturers is ‘range anxiety’, the concern that the car will run out of electricity on the road.


Professor of Energy Systems, Keith Pullen and Senior Research Fellow and Honorary Visiting Professor, Paul Riley, are developing the next generation of Power Electronics technologies to make electric vehicles a more viable option for the mass market.


Their research project, Battery Integrated Power Electronics for EV Drive train (BIPED), is exploring the possibility of splitting the battery pack into smaller segments for each motor and distributing the power electronics circuitry amongst the batteries.


Professor Riley says that our technology removes the need for expensive chargers as the electronics can power the motors, or connect directly to main electricity or PV solar cells. This is a major saving for councils and other providers of charging facilities; something key to facilitating more rapid EV growth.


According to Professor Pullen, splitting the battery from one large unit into several smaller ones offers advantages such as reducing energy losses and hence increasing vehicle range.

“As there are no high voltages present when the vehicle is stationary, swapping discharged and pre-charged batteries is much safer particularly for car maintenance and first responder personnel in the case of an accident.”

– Professor Pullen

Through innovative power electronic circuitry, BIPED can generate the required high voltages from lower voltages, halving present electronics costs and at 1/20th of the weight.


BIPED falls under the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Challenge Network in Automotive Power Electronics which brings together academic and industrial colleagues to identify and address the long-term challenges in the design, manufacture, deployment and operational management of automotive electrical-power conversion and conditioning systems.


Elsewhere in the School, academics are working on ways to make roads safer.


Developing new wind barriers to reduce bridge closures and traffic disruption

A recent survey undertaken by the traffic operators of three major UK Bridges (the Humber, Forth and Severn Bridges) revealed that wind-related bridge closures cost an annual average of £5 million.


The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (The Dartford Crossing), used by an average of 130,000 vehicles a day, has been closed to traffic 14 times in the last five years causing acute economic loss.


Focusing directly on this problem, City engineering academics Dr Alfredo Camara and Dr Chetan Jagadeesh are developing a new type of wind barrier to protect both the bridges and the vehicles that travel on them.


The barriers can modify their shapes instantaneously, optimising the shielding they provide according to variable weather conditions and without the need for extensive strengthening or external power supply.


The project is supported by Highways England and the Department for Transport and has won City’s 2018 Enterprise Showcase Competition.


Dr Camara has also embarked on a nine-month study commissioned by Highways England, of the aerodynamics of the Orwell Bridge and the wind speeds which permit vehicles to cross the structure safely.


The Bridge carries traffic over the River Orwell south of Ipswich in Suffolk and was designed to accommodate 70,000 vehicles a day. However, in the past two years the Bridge has been closed six times to protect vehicles from wind-driven accidents, causing significant traffic disruption and financial loss.


City research is even having an impact beneath the streets.

“The project aims to develop a new numerical model in which the response of the bridge under wind load is combined with the response of the vehicles steered by the drivers’ responses. The cutting-edge model will be applied to the study of the Orwell Bridge to determine the wind velocities beyond which accidents can occur for different vehicle types. This will help the bridge operators to design efficient and safe traffic protocols.”

– Dr Camara, commenting on the innovative techniques which have gone into the research

City researchers successfully implement photonics-based sensor technology in Sydney’s sewers

In Australia, photonics-based sensors developed by City academics are already in place and assisting in the maintenance of a key urban infrastructure which is hidden from view, its sewers.


Sydney’s circular brick sewers were built up to 200 years ago but the old pipelines now require renewal using cutting-edge measures. The renewal project costs Sydney Water around $50 (£30) million per year.


Led by Professors Tong Sun and Ken Grattan, the team in the Photonics & Instrumentation Research Centre at City has developed a new class of photonics-based humidity sensors to enable Sydney Water to detect deterioration in its concrete sewers.


The humidity sensors have specialised tailored coatings designed to operate under the highly biofouling and acidic corrosive conditions in Sydney’s sewers.


The electrical sensors that were previously available on the commercial market typically failed after around a week’s use. The City team’s research suggests that its sensors should last six months or longer.


High durability means the sensors can provide online, long term, continuous humidity data to establish the levels of corrosion rates in specific parts of the sewers. This will enable more selective identification of where the most urgent sewer rehabilitation works are required.


Dr Bruno Rente, a member of the City sensor team recently spent four weeks training technical staff to install and operate the sensors in Sydney Water’s Northern Suburbs Ocean Outfall System (NSOOS) in Manly.


Dr Rente says that despite a sandstorm and heavy rains which delayed the work by a few days “the system has now been in operation for months with no interruption, generating continuous valuable data for the monitoring of Sydney Water’s sewers in real time”.