Setting the stage for advanced vehicles

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Michael Duoba, Vehicle Systems Research Engineer and technical leader for the Advanced Powertrain Research Facility at Argonne National Laboratory.

Michael Duoba (SAE Member, 1993), Vehicle Systems Research Engineer and technical leader for the Advanced Powertrain Research Facility at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), is considered one of the foremost experts in the area of hybrid electric vehicle testing. In addition to overseeing the development of the state-of-the-art multi-dynamometer, multi-technology test facility at ANL, Duoba served as Chair of the SAE International Hybrid J1711 Task Force, which wrote the recommended practice for measuring emissions and fuel economy from hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and was a major contributor to J1634— Electric Vehicle Energy Consumption and Range Test Procedure. At the recent SAE 2014 World Congress, Duoba also organized the four-part “Advanced Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Powertrains” session. Automotive Engineering Assistant Editor Matthew Monaghan spoke with Duoba prior to the World Congress to discuss his career progression and the type of work conducted at his lab.

Can you describe the type of work you do at Argonne and how it benefits the U.S. Department of Energy?

We have a small but sophisticated laboratory, where we can test vehicles on a chassis dyno, and for years we’ve been doing this work for DOE where we benchmark the latest technologies and provide in-depth analysis, so they can do target setting and model development. A lot of the data we take will end up in vehicle systems models so that they are up to date and providing accurate results. We also look at impacts of things that aren’t necessarily on the EPA cycles. We’ll look at the impact of air-conditioning and heating, different types of drive cycles, and so forth. Because we’re doing benchmark testing of new advanced vehicles, we’re also experts at developing test procedures for them. We do a lot of testing and inventing ways to apply novel procedures so that they can provide results that properly reflect vehicle capabilities so that you get the right answer—you’re not overestimating or underestimating new-technology vehicles. All judgments and comparisons made of new technology come from standard test results. If consumers or DOE underestimate technology then adoption may never happen; if results overestimate capabilities and the final products disappoint expectations then investments were not well-directed. It’s an important risk management on the part of DOE’s Vehicle Technologies program that test procedures paint an accurate picture of new technologies as they are developed.

You’ve been active in advanced vehicle technology competitions throughout your career. How have you benefited from that experience?

Since we did student competitions at so many different laboratories—Ford, Chrysler, EPA, CARB, and many others—we absorbed all the best ideas from all the different laboratories where we tested student-competition vehicles. So when it was time for us to develop our laboratory, we kind of cherry-picked all the best ideas we found and built a really flexible laboratory and one that could test all different kinds of cars. It’s ready-made for the type of analysis we want to do with these vehicles. When we test a vehicle, we test one vehicle for a week or two rather than every day testing five cars. The way we approach it, we embrace big data when it comes to these vehicles, we’re collecting all these different data streams and developing software tools for analysis and for immediate print-outs. It’s kind of neat that we had the ability to learn from so many different laboratories.

What have you gained from your time participating in SAE International?

Being at a national laboratory, it’s a great opportunity to work with other professionals at companies and industry that without SAE there would be no conduit. So we’re able to sit down and share data. Especially when you’re chairing a session, you’ve got to get everybody else engaged, and you need people’s feedback. You can’t just go off on a tangent and think that you’ve got the right answer when obviously somebody thought about it maybe 10 years ago and they already have the answer.

What made working at a national lab an attractive option for you?

There are two key things about the national labs that are attractive. One is that it’s a research atmosphere. You really keep going until you find the right answer. I’m sure all too often in industry people are not at liberty to keep pursuing unanswered questions because it might not be geared toward their next product. We’re investigating things that seem curious and then once we do find something we’ll publish it and that’s exciting. The second thing is the ability to work with so many different people. We have working-level contacts at many companies, and those aren’t bound by any memorandum of understanding or contract. I think there are folks at the car companies that are just as curious as we are about things, and they’ll give us some advice or input and we’ll end up incorporating that into the test and everybody wins. We publish that information and now there’s a little bit more information on the state of the art for the entire research community.

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