Emerald - the luxury end of green

Last week also saw the second Low Carbon Vehicles event at Millbrook.  Organised jointly by Cenex, the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Energy Technologies Institute and ourselves, this is an excellent demonstration of the growing capability of the UK based automotive industry to compete in the markets that low and ultra-low carbon vehicles will represent. 

Last year's event had been quite a success and, although I haven't seen the attendance figures, it felt like there were more exhibits and more people there this year. Indeed, I did quite a bit of "business" whilst just wandering around being impressed with the technology. We used one of the halls to showcase some of the projects we have funded under the Low Carbon Vehicle Innovation Platform - and filled it!

Outside, there was the offer of rides and drives in a range of vehicles from small city cars to large trucks. I got a ride in the tri-fuel Lotus Exige and a drive in the Mini-E.  The first impresses with the ability of a modern car to hold the road at (what for most drivers are) silly speeds and the second gave me an idea of what it might be like to use an electric car on one of the hill circuits.  I drove the Tesla last year but only on the main loop, so I never did get to go around corners in it!! Once you learn that taking your foot off the accelerator in the Mini causes the regenerative braking to slow the car more than usual, it is fun to drive and the hill circuit showed off its real world capabilities.

The "strange event of the day" award goes to a discussion I had late in the day.  Iain and I were sitting in a car with senior technical people from Jaguar and Lotus talking about a project they had started under the competition we ran in September 2007. What made it special was that we were actually sitting in a long wheelbase new XJ which is the demonstrator made under the project, discussing the design parameters for a range extended car like the one we were in. 

As I understand what they told me, the engine in a modern car is essentially sized for the maximum need, which is providing acceleration. Once it is in the cruise, it is 3-4 times overpowered. A series hybrid, like the one we were sitting in, offers the opportunity to decouple these needs. The battery is sized for acceleration and the range-extending engine is sized to provide battery top-up power for the cruise - and is thus quite a bit smaller.  Managing the battery charge levels gives enough "extra" power for acceleration - to overtake for example. 

Also, since the engine is only needed to charge the battery, it can be a lot simpler than a normal engine.  Simplicity makes for light weight (which lowers the need for power to provide the acceleration) and reliability, so everyone wins. This decoupling also brings another opportunity. The algorithm that controls when the engine runs, how fast it runs and so on can be developed to take account of personal driving style, the terrain and a number of other factors.  A luxury car with a top speed well over the legal limit and a 0-60 time of about 7 seconds that produces only120 gms CO2/km is a pretty good achievement already, but they think this performance can be improved.


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:25

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