Artist’s impression of the new gas turbine engine being developed by the University of Birmingham

Electric vehicles that travel a complete journey on each charge – making them more appealing to drivers – have moved a step closer, thanks to an innovative gas turbine engine being developed by experts in Britain and China.

University of Birmingham scientists have received a £554,000 grant from Innovate UK to work with partners in China to develop the turbo range extender which charges vehicles on the run and resolves the range concerns associated with electric vehicles.

The new engine uses innovative air bearings to reduce friction and wear, whilst improving efficiency. Compared with conventional piston engines, it can cut emissions of nitrous oxides by 85% - potentially making a significant contribution towards reducing air pollution.

Primarily designed as a range extender for electric vehicles, the engine can also be used as a highly efficient, compact power source for unmanned air vehicles, boats, buses and lorries.

Professor Kyle Jiang, Director of the Research Centre for High-performance Turbomachinery at the University of Birmingham, commented: “This is a radically different proposition to current piston engines - ours has much higher thermal efficiency and much lower emissions.

“Current range extending engines are all piston-driven, but gas turbine range extenders are superior technology. We believe that this innovation will give a competitive edge to the British automotive industry and have a major impact on the European light vehicle market, which is worth around half-a-trillion Euros.”

A UK-based company, Birmingham High Performance Turbomachinery Limited, has been set up to design and construct the engine. The Chinese company Wuxi Yuanchang, based in Jiangsu, will develop a high-speed electric generator to be installed on the engine.

Multiple patent applications have been filed to protect the engine and related technologies. A demonstration version of the engine is being developed, which will provide a solid foundation for improvements and applications.

“Electric vehicles feature zero emission and excellent driveability, but travelling range per charge has reduced their public appeal,” added Professor Jiang. “Adding batteries is one solution to extend range, but this increases a vehicle’s weight and cost considerably.

“Some companies use a small piston engine with an electric generator, but emissions and thermal efficiency are worse than those of bigger piston engines measured in per unit power output.”

The University of Birmingham and Jiangsu Industry Technology Research Institute (JITRI) signed an agreement, in September 2017, intended to help strengthen links between Jiangsu Province and the City of Birmingham in working together on industrial research and development, such as advanced manufacturing and electronic information systems.

Professor Jon Frampton, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for China and Director of the University’s China Institute, said: “This partnership between the University of Birmingham and Wuxi Yuanchang is tremendously exciting. It is testament to the strength of our partnerships in Jiangsu Province and the University’s growing reputation in China as our researchers establish innovative collaborations around the globe.”

For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The history of collaboration between China and the University of Birmingham dates back almost to the foundation of the University in 1901. The China Institute was created to reflect the University’s extensive academic activities its colleagues undertake in China.
  • Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit www.ukri.org .
  • UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. It aims to maximise the contribution of each component part, working individually and collectively. The organisation works with many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.