Product offensives, plug-in car forecasts and forthcoming tech

October 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

innoventum giraffeQuick round-up of upcoming electrified vehicles, confirmed, rumoured and otherwise: Porsche – to answer the Tesla Model S challenge, reports Autocar, with an all-electric ‘liftback’ five-door on the Panamera platform; likewise to take on Tesla, a low-roofed crossover-style all-electric Range Rover. Oh, and there are pictures of this Lotus-alike Detroit Electric coupe (£100,500. Forgive me if I don’t get too excited about its significance for electromobility). More significantly, Volkswagen is to launch over 20 EVs and PHEVs in China by 2018, reports Reuters (via Automotive News) – good news for Europe too, what with economies of scale and all that, and getting Beijing to beta-test the tech. These models will encompass everything from small cars to big SUVs. Mercedes-Benz is testing a plug-in hybrid M-Class – spy photos here. And Kia is developing a Prius-rivalling hybrid hatch, the ‘DE’.

  • Frost & Sullivan reckons London could become a leading market for car-sharing and car clubs; membership could rise to 351,000-plus by the end of the decade, a 2.5x rise on current numbers, with both one-way and round-trip services popular, according to its Vision 2020 report (commissioned by Zipcar).
  • And speaking of London… Swedish solar/wind-charger-maker InnoVentum is talking with the Mayoral office over bringing its wooden-structure Giraffe chargers (pictured) to London, reports The Engineer (via Zap-Map). Good idea, obviously, to get the city’s EVs charging off renewables, but… aren’t they a bit big? Especially for on-street use? The Giraffe’s an interesting product, anyway – it’s also developed with a view to getting renewable energy to offgrid areas, including those in developing regions, and towers have already been installed in the Philippines.
  • And you can now get hydrogen in Hendon, at the Sainsbury’s fuel station. The west London store is taking part in the London Hydrogen Network Expansion trial; more here.
  • A count-up of global plug-in car sales from HybridCars: they’ve reckoned up nearly 604,000 in the Top 10 OECD countries, comprising 356,000-plus battery-electric and nearly 248,000 PHEVs, most arriving on the road since 2010 and with a 20% growth in the last four months alone.
  • And the latest forecast from Navigant Research: plug-in vehicles to take 2.4% of the global car market by 2023, about 2.5million vehicles a year, with 50% of these sales to luxury brands, but this growth is contingent upon the launch of products in different sectors, including the SUV and (pick-up) truck sectors. Sales of all electrified light-duty vehicles (including non-plug-in hybrids) are expected to reach 5.8million a year, up from 2014’s 2.7million-odd. Handy rundown at Green Car Congress.
  • Students at Istanbul University have built an EV capable of 500km on a four-hour charge; the T-1 has won a 30-university competition in Turkey and is now touring the country. It weighs 500kg, can do 120kmph and carries four people plus luggage; more here (via Autoblog Green).
  • The UK’s National Grid is confident that EV drivers won’t be causing any brown-outs this winter and that it has sufficient capacity to support plug-in vehicles, reports Transport Evolved. The demands of plug-in vehicles are now built into its forecasting and its Winter Outlook Report.
  • TomTom – a leading data provider as well as sat nav-maker – is incorporating weather condition info into its route calculations. This enables route guidance and arrival time estimation taking into account delays and hold-ups caused by heavy rain, snow, etc; useful for EV route optimisation too, I reckon.
  • On that note, a team at North Carolina State University have developed an algorithm for more accurate range prediction – plugging in data on weather, traffic conditions, gradient and upcoming road type, as well as vehicle-specific data on state of charge and performance characteristics. They’re claiming 95% accuracy, and hope it can help alleviate range anxiety. More, including presentation abstract and academic references, here.
  • The City of Indianapolis is set to have the largest municipal fleet of electrified vehicles in the US by 2016, reports Green Car Congress. 425 of its non-pursuit police vehicles will be replaced by EVs and PHEVs, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Ford Focus Energi.

Paris Auto Salon preview: Renault EOLAB

September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

renault eolabRenault’s EOLAB concept previews nearly 100 different technologies destined for production-fitment within the decade – including a hybrid powertrain. It also showcases Renault’s thinking for an affordable B-sector (supermini) car for “within 10 years”, i.e. a future-generation Clio, and has been developed with mass production in mind. It’s capable of 1 litre/100km (282mpg) fuel economy plus 22g/km CO2 emissions, aided by a 400kg weight reduction from the current Clio (to just 955kg) and a 30% reduction in aerodynamic drag. Features include a magnesium roof (just 4.5kg) and a steel, aluminium and composite bodyshell; the brakes are lighter and smaller, as is the centre-exit exhaust system, ‘tall and narrow’ tyres lessen rolling resistance, lighter window glass, thinner and lighter-weight seats, cabin fittings and trim, and variable ride height further aids aerodynamics.

Renault says that the hybrid powertrain will complement the EVs in its range, and that the EOLAB has an all-electric range of up to 60km at up to 120kph; the three-cylinder, 999cc (75bhp) SCe petrol engine works with a compact 40kW/200Nm axial flux motor, 400V 6.7kWhr lithium-ion battery and a clutchless three-speed transmission (first two gears for electric drive, the third engaged with the engine, giving a combination of nine gears in different modes). It foresees a ‘weekday’ (all-electric) mode for everyday commuting and errands, and ‘weekend’ combining petrol and electric power for longer-distance travel. No more details on charging as yet, but a key feature will include a driver interface specifically designed to engage drivers with their energy consumption and to encourage them to drive more efficiently. And the asymmetric 3-door layout with two rear-hinged doors on the right? To aid safety of passengers getting in on the kerbside, apparently (LHD).

  • Another Paris preview: Peugeot Quartz, a crossover concept with plug-in hybrid drivetrain. This comprises the PSA 1.6-litre THP turbo engine (270bhp, 330Nm), six-speed auto transmission, an 85kW e-motor driving the front axle and a further 85kW motor to the rear; there are three driving modes, Road (engine plus front motor for maximum battery-charging during deceleration), Race (engine plus both motors), plus the all-electric mode with a range of up to 31 miles.
  • Citroen, meanwhile, is to show a C4 Cactus concept called Airflow 2L – said to achieve fuel economy of over 2l/100km (141mpg). This prototype is 100kg lighter than the standard model, shows a 20% improvement in aerodynamics (thanks to side deflectors, active wheel shutters and auto-adjustable front bumper air intakes, modified wheel arches, spoilers and rear-view cameras in place of door mirrors), and has PSA’s Hybrid Air tech to reduce fuel consumption by 30%. Further details include lower rolling-resistance tyres, a smoother floor (featuring lighter-weight composite materials), carbon-based composite and aluminium structural elements and components, a polycarbonate sunroof, and LED light modules in place of the standard headlights. The drivetrain has the three-cylinder petrol engine plus two compressed-air energy storage tanks, which drive a hydraulic pump/motor unit to give an ‘air power’ zero-emissions mode in addition to air-assisted progress and petrol-only. It’s ‘medium-term’ with respect to the production-readiness of its technologies, apparently.
  • A concept of a different kind: Stella, by students at TU Eindhoven, is a solar-powered four-seater capable of capturing more energy (to sell back to the grid) each year than it actually uses. An entrant in last year’s World Solar Challenge, it’s out and about in the SF area right now for the USA’s National Drive Electric Week, reports Autoweek.
  • A lightweight micro-EV last seen at the Geneva Auto Salon, the Eon Weez, is ready for production, reports Automobile Challenges. Under the French quadricycle legislation, it can be driven licence-free. Interesting thing about it is its central driving position – like the McLaren F1, they report, though it’s rather more a la the ill-fated mia electric

First look at latest JRC report on future fuels/powertrains

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Pic: Ecotricity

Pic: Ecotricity

The European Joint Research Centre and JEC Consortium have updated the authoritative Well-to-Wheels Analysis of Future Automotive Fuels and Powertrains in the European Context report; it has been extended to cover 2020 and beyond from a base year of 2010, with an update on analysis of natural gas impacts in particular (given the recent push towards fracking for shale gas in Europe), a reassessment of biofuel pathways, and updates on plug-in and fuel cell vehicles including analysis of the EU electricity mix for charging vehicles. Some take-outs:

  • Shifting to renewable or lower-carbon solutions may offer GHG reductions, but total energy use may rise, depending on the specific pathway. Large-scale production of synfuels or hydrogen from coal or gas is only beneficial if CO2 can be captured and stored.
  • Ongoing improvements to petrol/diesel fuels and technologies, including hybridisation, continue to be important.
  • Methane (natural gas) currently has well-to-wheel GHG emissions between those of petrol and diesel, but beyond 2020, will near those of diesel; however, energy use remains more than that of petrol. However, it’s down to supply pathway – biogas, from waste, has lower impact; synthetic gases or e-gases are low-emissions but energy-intensive.
  • For conventionally-produced biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol), GHG and fossil energy savings depend on the manufacturing processes and fate of co-products; the report considers the variable impacts of nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and land use changes, and points out that  “the fossil energy savings discussed above should not lead to the conclusion that these pathways are energy-efficient. Taking into account the energy contained in the biomass resource, the total energy involved is two to three times higher than the energy involved in making conventional fuels. These pathways are therefore fundamentally inefficient in the way they use biomass, a limited resource.”
  • However, there is potential for cellulose-based fuels from straw or ‘woody biomass’, which “have an attractive fossil energy and GHG footprint”.
  • GHG emissions from GTL (natural gas-liquid biodiesel) and CTL (coal-to-liquid) are higher than from conventional diesel, especially for CTL. Synthetic diesel from biomass has lower GHG – much lower than current biofuel options – but energy use is still high.
  • DME (dimethyl ether) can be produced from biomass or natural gas with lower energy use and GHG emissions than other GTL or BTL fuels, but would demand diesel engine and infrastructure modifications.
  • Overall energy use and GHG from electric/plug-in hybrid/range-extended vehicles depends on the source of the electricity, but if this is low-GHG, electrified vehicles beat ICE. If higher-GHG, plug-in hybrids are best option.
  • Fuel cell vehicles will become more efficient from 2020-onwards. But – and this is a big but – although hydrogen produced from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle from 2020 gives half the GHG of a petrol vehicle, and “hydrogen from non-fossil sources (biomass, wind, nuclear) offers low overall GHG emissions”, at the moment, “electrolysis using EU-mix electricity or electricity from NG results in GHG emissions two times higher than producing hydrogen directly from NG and gives no benefit compared with a gasoline vehicle”.

And from the 2020+ horizon:

  •  “CNG as transportation fuel only provides small savings because its global GHG balance is close to that of the gasoline and diesel fuels it would replace” – implying that CNG has only short-to-medium term advantages.
  • “With the improvements expected in fuel cell vehicle efficiency, production of hydrogen from NG by reforming and use in a FC vehicle has the potential to save as much GHG emission as substituting coal by NG in power generation” – no advantage for fuel cell/hydrogen cars over EVs using gas-derived electricity, though both bring benefits.
  • “Using farmed wood to produce hydrogen by reforming saves as much GHG emission per hectare of land as using the wood to produce electricity in place of coal and saves more GHG emissions per hectare than producing conventional or advanced biofuels” – wood biomass good for both hydrogen and electricity production, lower-emissions than producing feedstock for biofuels.
  • “When sourcing wind electricity for transport fuels, hydrogen production and use in FCEV is more efficient than the application of synthetic diesel or methane in ICE-based vehicles” – making hydrogen using wind energy is more efficient than making syn-diesel or e-gas.
  • “Using wind electricity to produce hydrogen and using it in FCEV saves slightly less GHG emissions than substituting NG CCGT electricity” – CCGT (combined cycle gas turbine) electricity using natural gas is slightly lower-emissions than wind-electricity for making hydrogen.
  • “Using wind electricity as a substitute for coal electricity is the most efficient option for GHG savings”  – indeed.

Anyway, read the whole thing here, and consider all the well-to-wheel, full-lifecycle and production pathway implications. Just shows that there’s no simple solution to finding the ‘fuel of the future’.

And in other news this week…

  • On the subject of energy, a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) mentioning BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage) is about to come out, reports Reuters, with high hopes for the process.
  • Honda’s Smart Home US showcase, on the campus at UC Davis, opened this week; this is claimed to “enable zero net energy living and transportation… producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually, including enough energy to power a Honda Fit EV for daily commuting”. It’s all about smart home energy management (the HEMS system), renewable energy generation (solar), energy-efficient design and materials plus home-to-grid connectivity, energy storage and grid-buffering potential. Full low-down here.
  • Volvo is testing the Torotrak-developed Flybrid KERS tech in Sweden and the UK. This is said to cut fuel consumption by up to 25%, whilst adding an 80hp performance boost; a kinetic energy recovery system, it’s mounted on the rear axle in the test S60 T5s, spinning a carbonfibre flywheel to drive the rear wheels. The front-driven engine turns off under braking – and potentially up to 50% of the driving time – with the biggest potential fuel savings in stop-start traffic and ‘during active driving’ (repeated accelerator-brake action, presumably). The system’s said to be very close to market. More details here
  • Volkswagen “expects new digitalisation era in automobile industry” – details from a recent speech by chairman Dr Martin Winterkorn are here. “The two ground-breaking inventions, the automobile and the computer, are moving closer together. We need to shape the mobility of the future in an even more intelligent, more networked way,” he said, talking about a new initiative called Future Tracks and making good points about Big Data and privacy.
  • And on that note… PSA Peugeot-Citroen is working with IBM “to integrate the massive amounts of data from cars, phones, traffic signals, lights and other sources and analyze it in real-time for delivery”. with a view to offering a range of connected services, reports Green Car Congress.

Midweek newsbriefs

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

More information on the 1088bhp Rimac Automobili Concept One, an electric supercar to be revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show; teaser shots have been released. Designed by Adriano Mudri, interior styling by an ex-Pininfarina team, two have been ordered already by members of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, reports Autoblog Green. Fully-homologated road cars come in 2013, a production run of 10-15 a year and a total of 88 is planned, priced a little lower than exotics from the likes of Koenigsegg and Pagani.

  • At the other end of the automotive scale: the new-gen Fiat Panda, also set for launch in Frankfurt, gets stop-start with the latest TwinAir two-cylinder engines (85bhp with turbo, 65bhp without). The 69bhp 1.2 four-cyl is revised, and there’s a new 75bhp 1.3 Multijet diesel, also with stop-start. No mpg/CO2 figures as yet.
  • Ah, the Detroit News’ most conservative columnist thinks that all the carmakers showing EVs at Frankfurt are wasting their time. Mind you, I do agree with Neil Winton (a Brit) on one thing: I wouldn’t rent my car to my neighbours in a car-share scheme either.
  • More than five million EVs and plug-in hybrids will be sold in the next six years, according to Pike Research. The US will become the world’s biggest buyers of plug-in vehicles, ahead of Japan, and China the largest producer. Small numbers in the great scheme of things, and figures down from previous predictions due to production delays, but growing to become a significant number nonetheless. Further to the above, so ner.
  • But more EV-hating: it’s ‘time to kill the electric car, put a stake through its heart and burn its corpse’, according to an analysis by John Petersen, an advisor to the World Energy Council – who happens to have worked for the one company he describes as ‘the surprise winner’ in the battery market. Vested interests, perhaps? (Via Autoblog Green).
  • Let’s take to the water for a moment: the University of Birmingham has converted a canal boat to run on a hybrid hydrogen fuel cell/battery-electric powertrain, augmented by solar power. This system would only demand hydrogen refuelling one a month if travelling 650km a year through Britain’s canals, and could have a 100-year lifecycle. Bring back the barges! (Alpha Galileo).
  • Volvo is teaming up with Siemens to develop power electronics, control systems and charging tech for the C30 Electric, reports Business Green. A test fleet gets underway by the end of the year, with a further 200 cars going to Siemens next year for real-life evaluation. BG’s also reporting today that two EV charging points have been installed at the Silverstone racetrack for use by race-goers.

Historic hybrid, Thursday newsbriefs

August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Never mind Driving to the Future, let’s look back at the past for a minute: a 111-year old hybrid, said to be the world’s first, is to take part in the London-Brighton Veteran Car Run in November. The Lohner-Porsche ‘Mixte’ combined the wheel-hub electric-drive system of the even earlier Lohner-Porsche Electric Voiturette with a four-cylinder engine, which acted as a generator – like today’s extended-range EVs. Around 300 Lohner-Porsches were built; they were very expensive for their time, but they were quick; there were even four-wheel drive racing versions with a motor at each wheel. Just 11 Mixtes were made, though; more on this model here.

Ferdinand Porsche (pictured, splendidly moustachioed, at the wheel of a 1903 Mixte) worked for the Viennese coachbuilder Jacob Lohner before going to Daimler-Benz and, ultimately, forming his own company. Lohner is reported to have said, upon Porsche’s departure, that “he is very young, but is a man with a big career before him. You will hear of him again.” No kidding. Anyway, the Lohner-Porsche will be driven on the Run by Ernst Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson, and Jacob’s descendant Andreas Lohner.

In other news today:

  • A Scottish whiskey distillery has turned self-sufficient: the owner’s Nissan Leaf is powered by electricity produced from biogas, a waste product of the distillation process. All done in an anaerobic digester (you know, the things they keep talking about in The Archers). Bruichladdish, on the Isle of Islay, is making a special ‘Leaf’ edition run of its organic single-malt to celebrate. Cheers! Full story, press release and video at Autoblog Green.
  • Ford has teamed up with SunPower Corp. to offer Focus Electric buyers an approved solar charging system. The SunPower set-up includes 2.5kW-worth of high-efficiency rooftop solar panels, said to be capable of generating enough electricity for 1000 miles a month.
  • Opel/Vauxhall is adding new EcoFlex efficiency-optimised models to its range for the 2012 model-year. These include versions of the Astra 1.7 CDTI equipped with stop-start which emit just 99g/km of carbon dioxide and returns from 76.3mpg; Corsa 1.2 and 1.4 petrol models now with stop-start; Meriva 1.3 CDTi with stop-start; improved Agila 1.0 models; and an Insignia with a new 1.4 turbo engine giving a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions. Full low-down at Green Car Congress; more here when UK-specific details are confirmed.

Monday newsbriefs

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

OK, I’m playing catch-up here with this one; it’s been well-covered already, so for the full low-down on the BMW i3 and i8, I’d suggest going to source. However, the most interesting nugget of info yet that I can pick out from the blurb is about these cars’ LifeDrive architecture: it’s a body-on-frame structure. This construction method harks back to the earliest days of car-making, when cars were often sold as basic rolling chassis for the coachbuilders to then bolt on a bespoke body. In recent years, it’s survived only in a handful of very old-school 4x4s and pick-ups (even the Range Rover’s ‘monococque’ or ‘unibody’ these days), or in heavy-duty vans and lorries, as though body-on-frame is generally simple and robust, on-road refinement can be a problem.

The i3 and i8 feature an aluminium chassis with CFRP (carbonfibre reinforced plastic) bodies, allowing for a tough passenger cell (‘Life Module’) and easy modification (different bodystyles) around the basic chassis structure. The different electric powertrains are then slotted in. BMW’s saying that this is a ground-up, purpose-built approach to making alt-powertrain vehicles, rather than simply converting existing cars, and that modern techniques and weight-saving materials allow for both energy-saving and good crash safety. Guess we can take road manners and refinement as a given, too. Body-on-frame: rebranded as ‘modular’ and born again in EVs. What next, the revival of the rotary engine? Oh, wait…

Besides the i3 (a four-seat, all-electric city car; 170hp, 0-62mph in under eight seconds) and i8 (big 2+2 coupe, i3’s electric powertrain plus a three-cylinder petrol engine acting as a range-extender; 220hp, 0-62mph in under five seconds, a combined 94mpg and 20 miles in all-electric mode) there’ll be other models to follow in the iRange (as BMW is probably not calling it; Apple, and perhaps Land Rover, might have something to say about that). Autocar’s suggesting an ‘i5’ five-door hatchback and Chevy Volt rival, for a start.

In other news:

  • Fuel cells “probably won’t be practical” till at least 2020, says GM CEO (Detroit News). Still, Pike Research is predicting 5,200 hydrogen fuel stations operational worldwide by 2020 (Autoblog Green) – though many of these will be powering forklift trucks and power machinery, not cars.
  • However, GM has just invested $7.5million into solar tech firm Sunlogic, and is to install solar canopies at its US plants and at Chevy dealerships, to promote the Volt (Edmunds AutoObserver).
  • A start-up called Emerald Automotive intends to start building range-extended electric vans in Hazlewood, Missouri. Lightweight compact delivery vans with a Lotus-supplied aluminium chassis and diesel range-extender engine giving a 475-mile range, apparently (Autoblog Green).
  • The super-sized Ford F-Series Super Duty pick-up truck will be available in the US from 2013 with an aftermarket plug-in hybrid conversion from Azure Dynamics (press release posted at Autoblog Green).
  • Good fun all round, it seems, at the 2011 Bridgestone Eco-Rally. Participants in the jollities included HRH Prince Charles, whose wine-powered Aston made an appearance. Pictures & stories should appear at the Eco-Rally blog (not much up there yet apart from a pic of ol’ Charlie on an electric bike).

Friday newbriefs #1

July 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

A quick rundown of the end-of-week news, in no particular order. First up, the very cool-looking Venturi Volage: going into production next year, claims This all-electric coupe, designed by Sasha Lakic, features Michelin-developed ‘active wheels’ with in-wheel motors and suspension. Production, such  as it is, will be in very limited numbers, no doubt, but development work on the car is now complete, and it’s a good showcase for the tech.

  • The Greater Manchester area is to get 300 EV charging points, including fast-chargers, and six larger ‘pod centres’ in a programme to be rolled out by Manchester Electric Car Company this autumn. The pod centres will include sales facilities for electric vehicles (including vans, bikes and scooters), charging points and their sale, EV rental and car club facilities and aftersales services; they will be located in the city centre, Manchester Airport, the Trafford Centre, Stockport, Oldham and MediaCityUK at first, with a network of 25 intended in the medium term. Private company MECC’s investment is matched by £3.6million from the government’s Plugged In Placed fund.
  • Gordon Murray is teaming up with ACAL Energy to develop “an affordable” fuel cell vehicle. This will be based on Murray’s iStream chassis concept with ACAL’s platimum-free fuel cell tech. A 12-month project is supported by the Technology Strategy Board.
  • CEME, the Ford-run public-private Centre of Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence in Rainham, Essex, has gained a 45-panel solar-assisted EV charging point. It’ll be used by the Ford Transit Connect Electric demo fleet and other EVs visiting CEME, which is a training facility.
  • Axeon has received funding from the Technology Strategy Board to study recycling and reuse of hybrid and electric vehicle batteries. The battery-maker will work with the Sustainable Vehicle Engineering Centre at Oxford Brookes University.
  • Subaru has confirmed the launch of its first hybrid in 2013. This could be based on the Hybrid Tourer concept seen last year.
  • McDonalds is to use its own waste oil from its burger-frying to power its delivery trucks in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai-based Neutral Fuels (is that not a contradiction in terms?) is to convert 1million litres of the waste cooking oil into usable biodiesel.

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