Image: Ford

Dynamic geofencing, blockchain and hybrid electric vehicles – the tools smart cities can draw on to improve the local air quality.

Three years and more than 400,000km of travel in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in three cities later, Ford believes it has the solution for drivers to support cities in meeting their air quality requirements.

The trial began in London in 2018 testing how businesses could integrate plug-in hybrid vans and maximise their benefits in day to day operations. It was later expanded to Cologne in Germany and Valencia in Spain with Ford Transit and Tourneo PHEVs deployed to a variety of municipal and commercial fleets in the three cities.

Low emission zones are increasingly common in urban centres across Europe. With geofencing – a feature fitted as standard on the Ford Transit Custom PHEV – the vehicle’s zero emission electric drive mode can be activated automatically on entering a low emission zone without intervention from the driver ( provided there is sufficient charge in the battery).

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The Cologne municipal fleet trial took this one step further, with the time a vehicle entered or left a geofenced zone being recorded into a blockchain, so that ‘green kilometres’ driven could be stored and potentially shared among relevant parties such as city authorities and fleet owners.

The trial also tested dynamic geofencing. Instead of a fixed low emission zone triggering the vehicles’ zero emission modes, dynamic geofencing constantly adjusted the boundaries based on externally recorded air quality data. As the connected PHEVs entered these constantly fluctuating zones, they automatically switched to low emission mode, thereby improving the local air quality.

Smart city benefits

The outcomes: In the London pilot of the more than 240,000km covered by the 20 PHEVs, three-quarters of central London mileage was driven on zero-emission electric power. Of the 218,000km covered by the 20 vehicles in Cologne and Valencia, almost half (105,600km) were driven on purely electric power, rising to more than 70% in the Cologne geofenced zones.

“Our research has shown how plug-in hybrid vehicles, and emerging connected technologies such as dynamic geofencing and blockchain, can play a major role in transforming cities,” said Mark Harvey, director, enterprise connectivity of Ford Europe.

“With their zero-emission capability with no range anxiety, PHEVs offer a practical, flexible alternative to diesel, making them ideal as general purpose vehicles for work in and around cities.”

Unlike EVs with the range fixed per charge, PHEVs have the option of being able to recharge the battery on demand from the onboard engine, extending the range, in the case of Ford’s vans to over 500km.

The Valencia fleet also included an innovative PHEV refrigerated van fitted with a Zanotti Invisible electrically powered chiller unit in place of the standard generator. The refrigerated van achieved 82% of its mileage in electric-drive mode, rising to 90% in the Valencia geofenced area. Drivers could top up the van’s battery while reloading and fully recharge it each night. When required, the range extender enabled trips of up to 143km between supermarkets and customers in the city centre.

The Valencia vehicles also collected road traffic data, which is being collated with that from other connected vehicles in the Valencia Smart City platform to gain understanding on how vehicle connectivity can help cities become more efficient and sustainable.