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Triumph’s Prototype TE-1 Electric Motorcycle

A drawing of what Triumph’s prototype TE-1 electric motorcycle could end up looking like. (Triumph/)

The Triumph TE-1 electric sportbike you see here is not just another hasty “Grainger catalog” electric project of the kind we’ve so often seen. It is based upon a suite of new technologies and the collaboration of five separate organizations. TE-1 combines a state-of-the-art liquid-cooled electric motor, a high-efficiency power supply based upon the new silicon carbide (SiC) switching technology, and a novel battery concept claimed to permit a 37 percent increase in energy density for a target power density.

Over many years Britain’s “Formula One zone,” centered around Banbury, 60-odd miles northwest of London, has provided championship-winning engine and chassis technologies to F1 builders. In the past decade much innovation has been focused on vehicle energy recovery and management by means of electric motor-generators, advanced battery or capacitor systems, and highly efficient power supplies. Someone has understood that these technologies and the workforce skills that create them can also make real contributions to the design of zero-emissions electric vehicles for commercial sale.

The Triumph TE-1′s motor, power supply, controller, and frame.

The Triumph TE-1′s motor, power supply, controller, and frame. (Triumph/)

As you can see from the high quality of TE-1′s parts, this is a prototype and not a vehicle ready for production. For that reason, no specifications or performance figures are supplied.

This project began in May 2019 and was funded by BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, and the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV), both of the British government. The participants are:

  1. Triumph, who successfully revived the manufacture of motorcycles in England in 1983.
  2. Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), who provides the “Adaptive Multi-Chem Technology” that boosts battery energy density by combining two different lithium-ion cell chemistries with an energy management system. WAE supplies batteries to the entire grid of Formula E. Williams has long been a respected name in F1 circles.
  3. Integral Powertrain Ltd., who integrates advanced SiC power supplies and high-technology electric motors into compact units that save weight and bulk.
  4. WMG of Warwick University for electrification modeling and simulation for vehicle control. WMG originally stood for “Warwick Manufacturing Group” but is now the university’s agency of cooperation between academia and commerce.
  5. Innovate UK, a part of BEIS acting to direct group action. Its goal is to create a market-leading UK electric vehicle capability.
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The stated purposes of this two-year TE-1 project are:

  1. To develop electric motorcycles for those riders who want a vehicle having lower environmental impact.
  2. To establish commercially viable partnerships with UK industry and manufacturers.
  3. To build skills and capability in the UK workforce, creating jobs and a talent base.

The Technologies

Recent Formula One rules have sought to interest the auto industry in the series by incorporating advanced energy recovery, storage, and use schemes in parallel with the traditional internal combustion engine. The goal, for both F1 and automakers, is greater fuel efficiency. Emerging from this work have been electric motors, power supplies, and batteries of lighter weight and higher performance—just what’s needed to produce a more satisfactory electric motorcycle.

Motor

As an electric motor operates, resistive losses in its windings appear as heat. In many electric vehicle projects, when motor temperature rises high enough to threaten the integrity of wire insulation, power is automatically reduced until the motor cools.

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A better solution is to use the circulation of liquid coolant to remove resistive heat as it is produced. In this way, temperature can be controlled without requiring power reduction. This is accomplished by having motor windings stationary, allowing them to be easily liquid-cooled, while a permanent-magnet rotor spins.

The Integral eDrive motorcycle and inverter placed next to a pint glass for scale.

The Integral eDrive motorcycle and inverter placed next to a pint glass for scale. (Triumph/)

Because very high electric currents are required by high-power motors, the weight of copper conductors becomes significant. This makes it sensible to closely integrate the SiC power supply with the traction motor. High-performance electric motors are extremely powerful for their weight, each pound now able to deliver several horsepower.

Power Supply

Silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductor switching is now replacing the previous IGBT (transistor-based) silicon technology in power supplies. What the power supply does is to generate a rotating magnetic field that pulls the permanent magnets of the rotor around with it. The rotating field is kept in step with the rotor by an angular encoder. Previous switching technology provided power supply efficiency in the range of 90 percent, but the new SiC switching has shown it can provide a plateau of 98.5 percent efficiency. Reduced loss translates to increased vehicle range. Electric motor torque can be finely and quickly modulated.

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Battery

Although discussion of alternatives continues, lithium-ion (li-ion) remains first choice as the basic battery technology for electric vehicles. Within the category, however, there are different electrode chemistries, each biased toward different aspects of performance. What WAE has done is to combine two cell chemistries, one favoring high energy density (as in cellphones) and the other, high power density (as for high-amperage applications such as power tools).

Paul McNamara, WAE technical director, has said, “The two types of cell have to be separated and controlled with a DC-DC converter between them.”

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By carefully managing charge movement from one to the other, a better overall compromise between high energy and high power is achieved.

When asked if the rise of EVs could bring a lot of jobs and revenue back to the UK, McNamara replied that cell manufacture will stay in low-cost locations but that sophisticated control and management can be the UK’s forte.

The Motorcycle Itself

Triumph, whose 765 Triple engine now powers Dorna’s Moto2 field, and whose production machines are well respected, can be relied upon to provide a practical state-of-the-art vehicle free of the basic errors we have seen in some projects. As you can see from the photos, it is styled to resemble existing conventional sportbikes, distinguishable from them mainly by having no exhaust system.

The TE-1 will be distinguishable from its Triumph ICE counterparts by the lack of exhaust pipes.

The TE-1 will be distinguishable from its Triumph ICE counterparts by the lack of exhaust pipes. (Triumph/)

Contradictions and Inconvenient Realities

The last time the British government was this friendly to the motorcycle might have been the immediate post-World War II period, when the Board of Trade required that motorcycle producers export at least 70 percent of their production as a means of acquiring overseas currencies “harder” than the beleaguered pound sterling. The original Triumph firm became economic heroes by shipping impressive numbers of bikes into the vehicle-hungry and flush postwar US market.

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Much as we want to see such projects go forward, we wonder if they can buck the tide of history and the realities of elected government. To “create jobs and a talent base” is a noble ambition, but we know that Triumph Hinckley has just offshored its production to Thailand. I suspect the reason for the move is less the attraction of lower wages than that manufacturing is easier to accomplish in a manufacturing nation. Thailand is a growing manufacturing economy, with much to offer: banking, accessory suppliers, and a trained workforce in being. England, by contrast, has been deindustrializing for decades, losing shipbuilding, aircraft manufacture, and much of its auto production.

The Triumph TE-1′s prototype liquid-cooled motor.

The Triumph TE-1′s prototype liquid-cooled motor. (Triumph/)

Government funding “to grow the UK economy through science and technology” has the ring of bold initiative but may last no longer than until the next general election. England (and indeed most countries in which people can vote) has a long history of ambitious projects begun by the party in power, which at the next change of leadership are canceled and replaced by entirely other projects. Britain’s TSR-2 aircraft, Black Arrow satellite launcher (a single satellite was launched), and Blue Streak IRBM are notable examples.

When potential investors are shown prototypes exclusively made by expensive means such as CNC, they know they are looking at a one-off rather than at hardware that is close to production, employing parts produced by volume methods.

Despite these qualifications, seeing new developments that open fresh possibilities is always positive, and we can hope that all participants in the TE-1 project will find it rewarding. We hope to soon see public demonstration of what the new technologies integrated into TE-1 have accomplished.

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