Williams Advanced Engineering is currently the sole battery supplier in Formula E. With a heritage in Formula 1 and the development of cutting edge batteries, the British manufacturer was given the task to design, develop and manufacture batteries in record time to power the vehicles in world’s first championship with electric single seat racing cars.
Electric Autosport co-founder Tim Biesbrouck looked into this epic journey with Okan Tur, the mastermind behind the concept of the Formula E battery. Tur, having worked previously for AVL and Mercedes-Benz, took a leadership role in the design and development of the entirely in house manufactured batteries.
Without a reliable battery, a performance vehicle wouldn’t last very long on the race track. And as it is the championship’s aim to demonstrate the viability of electric vehicle technology, this component is vital for the series’ success. It also had to meet the FIA’s safety requirements, to provide enough energy to run a specified distance and must provide a significant amount of power too.
Williams had the right credentials for the job as the engineers have decades of experience with Formula 1 technology including the more recently introduced Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). When Formula 1 introduced KERS, Williams was the only team to develop this technology entirely in house. The industry was impressed and Jaguar became its client. The gathered knowhow on batteries was soon integrated in the C-X75 hybrid supercar. Williams established Williams Advanced Engineering in 2010 and from that point a growing team of engineers with automotive, aerospace and motorsports backgrounds are working on tomorrow’s technology.
And this technology is one way or another ending up in consumer vehicles. “We commercialise our technology in a range of sectors such as public transport, road cars, and energy grids. Our engineers get a real kick out of seeing technology that has originated in racing being used by people in their everyday lives. This is especially true when it is energy efficient technology that is helping to tackle important issues such as global warming,” Tur knows and the gives an example. “Williams pioneered active suspension in Formula One in the early 90’s, and this has now worked its way into road cars. We have also seen some of our energy storage technology being introduced in London buses and energy grids.”
Williams was given one year to design, develop and manufacture the batteries that would power all cars. A tough challenge began. “We were given a very strictly defined size and shape that the battery had to fit into. Our initial concept started to evolve as a number of obstacles became apparent, but we specialise in problem solving at Williams and we always managed to find a solution,” Tur knows.
He explains: “One of the fundamentals of designing any racing car component is making sure that the component works within its optimum operating temperature range. The Formula E battery was no different. We have skilful thermodynamics engineers at Williams. It took long hours of testing and computer aided engineering studies. We came up with electrical, thermal, computational fluid dynamics models to estimate the thermal behaviour of the battery and the solutions we considered.”
However, the development went very quickly. As they were used to work in a demanding Formula 1 environment, they developed the first prototype in 6 months. Testing started immediately and the battery was powering the first Formula E car as early as February 2014. In May, Tur and his team were satisfied with the product and started the manufacturing process. “In total we completed over a season’s worth of mileage testing the car on racing circuits around France. Not many, if any, companies aside from Williams would have been able to design and build such sophisticated batteries in 12 months and I am very proud of how the team has performed.”
As Tur said, technology developed in motorsports might get introduced to road cars in the future. We already have battery electric cars on the road and the first hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles are becoming available. Both types of propulsion has its advantages and disadvantages. The question rises: what is the outlook for sustainable car technology? “Some manufacturers are already quoting more than a 400 kilometre range on their products. I do not want to fortune tale but at Williams we are closely monitoring some promising new cell level developments,” he says intriguingly. “I would like to be optimistic and say it will be possible within the next 10 years to extend the range of electric vehicles in a cost effective way.”
Batteries are key in any sort of vehicle, Tur predicts. “The battery electric cars have progressed more than the fuel cell powered cars. That’s my observation in the last 15 years I’ve been involved in this industry,” he says and notes that the challenge is not only technical, but also economical. “I would think that hydrogen fuel cell cars will need to be some sort of hybrid cars anyway, including a battery to keep regenerative braking capability of an electric propulsion system.”
Being the sole battery supplier for Formula E has advantages. The British firm has extensive knowledge in the design, development and manufacturing of these components. From the second season the teams are able to develop their own powertrain, including the battery. “I think we will be well placed to become the leading choice and help Williams powered teams achieve more success in Formula E,” Tur hopes. ” I want the Williams Advanced Engineering electric propulsion system to be the dominant one on the circuit.”
In the end it comes down to another important pillar of racing. “You race to win. This is core to the DNA of Williams and we have won 16 World Championships in Formula One and 116 races because we constantly strive for success,” Tur concludes.
This article is based on the interview conducted for contemporary men’s style magazine CODE where Electric Autosport co-founder Tim Biesbrouck contributed on. Some information may or may not have been published before in the Dutch and German language.
Photos Adam Warner/ LAT / Formula E and Frederic le Floc’h / DPPI / Formula E