Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Forget oil, here comes electricity

The internal combustion/diesel fans will tell you that electric cars might have been fine around WW I, but they are not powerful enough for today. However, another step towards exploding the perception that electric vehicles will never have the grunt, range or practicality of their oil guzzling, high-emission counterparts has been taken in California with a record charging time demonstrated for the all-electric Phoenix SUT (Sport Utility Truck).

Electric SUV
The milestone demonstration by AeroVironment saw the 35 kWh (kilowatt-hour) battery pack developed for use with the Phoenix fully-charged in less than ten minutes - enough to power the five-seat utility for 100 miles at speeds up to 150 kph.
Phoenix Motorcars recently showcased the zero-emission, 4 door SUT at the Inland Empire Auto Show in Ontario. The SUT can travel at freeway speeds even with five passengers and a full payload. It has a range of up to 200 km and plans are already underway for an expansion pack which will extend this to 300 km. All good stuff, but did they have to copy a Ssanyong for styling?
The Phoenix is powered by a UQM Technologies motor that generates 480 foot-pounds of torque and accelerates from 0 to 100 kph in 10 seconds. The vehicle also exceeds all specifications for a Type III Zero Emission Vehicle - and it even has air-conditioning.
The 35 kWh NanoSafe battery pack developed by Altairnano has a life of approximately 12 years or 400,000 km and in addition to the ten-minute off-board charging capabilities, it can be recharged on-board (though it takes six hours) from a 220V plug-in. Tests conducted by AeroVironment engineers also showed that the battery packs can sustain several cycles per day of ten minute charging and two hour discharging.
With all the problems with fuel oils, cost, availability and pollution, this has in turn helped drive the push towards fully electric vehicles which have the potential to eliminate automobile-based emissions. Given that a visit to the gas station can take longer, the practicality of a ten-minute charge is further evidence that the coming of age for electric transportation is very close.
The Phoenix Motorcar SUT is due for limited release at the end of the year and a mid-Size SUV will also become part of the range. The company estimates 2008 production levels to be in the order of 6,000 vehicles.
I believe that the future is electric, even though the detractors say that to produce the electricity, it requires burning coal, using natural resources and producing pollution as a by-product. As we get closer to every day use electric vehicles, we will also be designing and harnessing other energy sources such as wind, tides and hydro-power.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I brought up the question on headlights which have been the subject of much in the way of government regulations over the years. For example, headlight design was hindered the USA for decades as the regulations did not allow any cover over the headlights for aerodynamics for many years. This meant that early E-type Jaguars did not have the cover over the headlights. However, what I want to know was who was the designer of the first retractable headlights? No clues, sorry, this is easy. It was Gordon Buehrig, the designer of the Cord 810 and 812, who had retractable headlights (cable operated) in 1936.
So to this week. What brand of electric car did Thomas Edison drive?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!

This year’s best motorcycle racing picture?

I was sent this picture and loved it so much I had to use it. I have no details, but it is self explanatory!

Is it all just hot air?
The automotive world is suffering from an overdose of introspection. What with global warming, nuclear proliferation, air pollution and fossil fuel depletion this has been spawning such concepts as hybrids, hydrogen, fuel cells, solar and straight out battery electric vehicles.
Just about all of these have been done before and all we have been doing is looking at them again, in the light of 21st century technology. Fringe (and not so fringe) auto industries are hitching their wagons to one or other of these concepts, hoping to make a killing when the oil runs out. The big question is “When?”

Compressed air car 1928

Now, the compressed air idea has been around for a while too, as you can see from this page of an inventions magazine circa 1928. However, as recently as 2000, CNN reported on a Korean company that had created a car engine that ran on air. The engine, which powers a pneumatic-hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), works alongside an electric motor to create the energy source.
The compressed air drives the pistons, which turn the vehicle’s wheels. The air is compressed using a small motor, powered by a 48 volt battery, which powers both the air compressor and the electric motor. Once compressed, the air is stored in a tank.
The manufacturer also said the compressed air system could reduce the cost of vehicle production by about 20 percent, because there was no need to build a cooling system, fuel tank, spark plugs or silencers.
Round about the same time, a French company (MDI), and called Zero Pollution Motors in South Africa, produced a two cylinder compressed air engine. They called the vehicle they installed it in, the e.Volution, and even showed it at South African Auto show in 2000, and again at the Paris show in 2002. The cars generated much interest at the time, and the Mexican government was purportedly signing a deal to buy 40,000 e.Volutions to replace gasoline and diesel-powered taxis in the heavily polluted Mexico City.
The claims for e.Volution were quite substantial. It would travel for 200 km before needing another charge of compressed air. The e.Volution was powered by a two-cylinder, compressed-air engine. The basic concept behind the engine was unique in that it could run either on compressed air alone or act as an internal combustion engine. Dual fuel capabilities.
The compressed air was stored in carbon or glass fiber tanks at a pressure of 300 bar. This air was fed through an air injector to the engine and flows into a small chamber, which expands the air. The air pushing down on the pistons moves the crankshaft, which gives the vehicle power, very similar to the way burning fuel pushes down on the pistons to move the crankshaft in internal combustion engines.
Air tanks fixed to the underside of the vehicle can hold about 300 litres of air. When your air tank nears empty, you can just pull over and fill the e.Volution up at the nearest air pump. Using a household electrical source, it takes about four hours to refill the compressed air tanks; however, a rapid three-minute recharge is possible, using a high-pressure air pump.
MDI claims it has researched and developed the Air Car over 10 years and the technology is protected by more than 30 international patents and MDI is actively seeking licensees, with, according to the company, 50 factories in Europe, America and Asia signed already. Somehow I doubt that the interest in their engine and vehicles has gone that far, though there has been a very recent and significant development, which involves Asia, through the Indian car manufacturer Tata.
Tata Motors is India’s largest automobile company, with revenues of US$ 5.5 billion in 2005-06. With over 4 million Tata vehicles on Indian roads, it is the leader in commercial vehicles and the second largest in passenger vehicles. It is also the world’s fifth largest medium and heavy truck manufacturer and the second largest heavy bus manufacturer. Make no mistake, Tata is truly a heavyweight. The recent tie-up with Renault to produce the budget priced Logan car in India will probably mean that Tata will take over as the number one car manufacturer in India by this time next year.
What Tata has done is to sign an agreement with MDI for application in India of MDI’s engine technology, and therefore believes the engine is viable - its press statement described it as “efficient, cost-effective, scalable, and capable of other applications such as power generation.”
The agreement between Tata Motors and MDI envisages Tata’s supporting further development and refinement of the technology, and its application and licensing for India. It also appears that Tata is serious in tying up with MDI.
For this project to be viable for Tata, using the engine in one of Tata’s own body shells would make more sense, and producing the engine in India, even more so. The pollution may be less with this engine, but I doubt if that alone would encourage millions of Indians to buy one. The selling point has to be cheap running, with the compressed air engine reputedly costing one tenth of what a gasoline engine does for the same distance.
The concept seems to be right. The technology makes it possible. But does the world have the will? And will the oil cartel lay down without a fight? I doubt it.