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Honda Insight Research and development of hybrid cars and other efficient automotive technology is moving forward at a rapid pace.

Technologies in development - a look at which future technologies are being developed for fuel-efficient vehicles
Reader comments on future developments - technical experts offer their comments on future developments.
 

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  The Road Ahead: Future Technologies

Which automotive technology will prevail in the future? The likely answer is a mix of technologies.

Gas - continued improvements in fuel economy and reduced emissions are likely to keep the gas engine in the running for many years to come.

Diesel - Green Diesels - Ultra-clean burning diesels have been on European highways for years. The Lupo, produced by Volkswagon, gets 90 mpg. Diesel powered cars represent 25% of the European car market. (There has been very little press coverage on this technology in North America.) Improvements in 'green' diesel cars are expected: Volkswagon has announced that they expect to produce a four-passenger diesel powered car which can get 190 mpg. Scheduled for release in late 2004, the Jeep Liberty is the first clean-diesel in DaimlerChrysler's US lineup.

Biodiesel - a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics. Supply sources are now available across North America; a current list is available at www.biodiesel.org or by calling (800) 841-5849.

Electric - small, battery-powered, zero-emission vehicles are expected to become a popular alternative commuter vehicle, especially in congested urban areas.

Hybrid - may well become the dominant technology for all-purpose road cars, having an advantage over the electrics for driving longer distances.

Plug-in hybrids - able to be plugged in when not in use, this design adds greater effeciency to the hybrid-electric models. Plug-in hybrids are now available on the market and are likely to be a long-time leader in new technologies.


Plug-in electrics - General Motors hopes to have its plug-in Chevrolet Volt on the market by 2010. The Volt concept car that GM has shown at auto shows around the world can travel up to 40 miles on electricity from its rechargeable battery, but also has a three-cylinder gasoline engine to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack that would extend its range.

Hydraulic Hybrid - Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. EPA are working together to develop a unique hybrid, high-efficiency vehicle that uses hydraulic fluid to store and provide energy to power the car. The technology could be used to dramatically improve the fuel economy of sport utility vehicles and light trucks. The hybrid system uses hydraulic pumps and hydraulic storage tanks to store energy in the place of electric motors and batteries used in electric hybrid vehicles. This hydraulic power system could have cost and power advantages over electric hybrid systems, the developers believe.


Fuel cell
- promising long-term outlook, but some obstacles yet to overcome, such as cost, improved performance, reducing the size and weight of the fuel cell systems and setting up a hydrogen fuel supply infrastructure. The current refining process for hydrogen fuel is a dirty process, and will need improvement. DaimlerChrysler has invested US$1 billion in fuel cell research and has built ten fuel cell vehicles either as concept cars or test vehicles, each one powered by Ballard fuel cells. Honda's fuel-cell car, the FCX, is currently being road tested.
Chevy has launched a test fleet of hydrogen-powered fuel cell Equinox SUVs.

Hydrogen hybrids - combine the high fuel economy attributes of today's gasoline- electric hybrids with the near-zero emissions of internal combustion engines running on hydrogen. The result is an extremely clean-running vehicle, using the same environmentally positive fuel as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but at a lower cost. A recently developed solid storage medium for hydrogen vehicles is key to this promising technology. Still, there’s a lot of work ahead to make this vision workable – costs must come down, fuel cell durability must improve, and challenges that go beyond the vehicles themselves must be met. Creating hydrogen economically is one of them, as is developing a widespread refueling infrastructure.


Reader Comments:

Feedback on the technical aspects of hybrid cars and future technologies
.

"It's clear fuel cells have much more promise than any other propulsion option, especially if renewable energy is used in the production of hydrogen as a suitable infrastructure becomes available. That is why we intend to do everything we can to produce a fuel cell car that is both affordable for the customer and economically viable for us by the end of this decade." - GM Vice President Larry Burns, responsible for research and development and planning.

"I note the importance of the emergence of fuel cells for car propulsion as pointed out by Larry Burns. However, my understanding is that fuel cell technology and the fueling systems are still several years away and we can not wait for it to arrive before reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

I believe that Toyota have already combined their technology for hybrids and fuel cells in a research vehicle. My point is that the some of these technologies would lead to a better solution than having them competing.

The great steps forward in internal engine combustion must be applauded as methods to reduce the impact of motor vehicles in the final years of this technology.

There has been a great step forward in PV cell manufacturing that should lead to much cheaper PV cell production in future. The technology is called Sliver and is produced by Ergon Energy in Australia. The cells use a fraction of the high cost pure silicon of current PV cells, it is bi-directional and can be incorporated into vehicle glass as the tinting media (in future). It is so thin that it can be produced in very thin strips and have colour show through it.

Like fuel cells, this is still currently too expensive for mass use and the production capacity does not exist yet, but working towards such solutions must surely be what we need to be doing."
-
Garry Henderson, Manager Process Technology, JWP

"It strikes me that significant gains could be made by combining the latest technology on fuel efficiency. I don't think you can get away from the obvious efficiency gains by recovering the kinetic energy lost during braking, whether as hydraulic or electrical energy. If this technology is then combined with advances in conventional propulsion such as advanced diesels or FSI petrol / gasoline engines, surely we will have far better vehicles and a lower reliance on fossil fuels.

I note from the advances in electric hybrid vehicles that it is now sensible to consider solar cells in composite materials in the bonnet and boot lids as well as the roof to supplement the electrical power production and help minimise the use of the petrol / gasoline engine. This would allow charging
of the battery or allow continuous use of air-conditioning when stuck in heavy traffic during the day time or when the vehicle is parked in the sun during the day.

This all adds to extra cost of course, initially. But we all know the power of mass production. As the existing hybrids gain in popularity and components become common to several manufacturers (similar to braking systems and fuel systems), the costs of production will continue to fall,
allowing the addition of such refinements as PV solar cells in the panels."
- Garry Henderson,
Principal Process Engineer, Earth Tech Engineering

Diesels in the USA. Europe and the rest of the world are Green by burning less. We in the US are regulated by the EPA which is driven by California's unique problem of smog. A huge effort is directed to get low Parts Per Million exhaust at the expense of efficiency. The cleanup of the exhaust has come at a decrease in mileage. Diesels are penalized in the US even more than gas because of their production of N0x and its effects of smog. World cars at 60mpg are not certifiable in the US.

A gallon of diesel has a higher specific heat content than gas. (More energy per gallon). Diesel is also burned at a higher peak temperature producing even more output per gallon. Also, diesels have no throttle plate for partial load operation thus have little pumping loss compared to the gas engine. Lastly, combustion products of the diesel are lubricants whereas particulate of gas combustion are very abrasive and accelerate engine wear.

Conventional techniques exist to extract far more miles out of a gallon. Continuous Variable transmissions, regenerative breaking and Valve controlled cylinder shutdown would work wonders. Operate an engine on just enough cylinders to produce situational power at the most efficient throttle
setting, vary the transmission to keep the engine at a minimum RPM and computer control all systems to produce a seamless orchestration of all of the variables. Add regenerative breaking for energy recovery.

Work on the accessories. Electrically powered or variable displacement hydraulic steering could save wasted horsepower. Variable displacement continuous operation AC compressors could have a lower overall system power drain. LED lighting could save 30A of battery drain for headlamps alone. Energy used on accessories does not go to movement. Regards, Wayne Baldridge

Good article. I am a typical power hungry male. I buy big powerful cars. I commute in a Ford SHO. It does great on gas. It is approaching 250,000 miles and I am looking for another car. The hybrids are neat, but are too small. I have owned 3 small cars and never was comfortable in one in close traffic. One crunch and I am gone. I am interested in the hydraulic hybrid. A hybrid accumulator could provide huge amounts of power for getting going. They never wear out. A diesel engine would only need enough power for maximum speed. A truck manufacturer years ago had a rig with two engines. When they got up to speed one engine would shut off. The same system would work here. Maybe
two small turbo diesels. Food for thought. I am building a hybrid prototype yard tractor to test some ideas. I plan to use a 5 horse gas engine and a 5 gallon accumulator . The engine will be started with fluid from the accumulator. It can go short distances without the engine running. Keep up the interesting articles.
Gary Peck

I like these debates. In my opinion the hybrid will fight very soon to survive with (or against) BEV's (battery electric vehicles). The only reason why we are talking about thermic engines is because we still are deeply tight to the classical already (obsolete) working systems, which for me seems normal, but let's go a little further. The future in transportation for me is the BEV and this could happen in few years from now, based on few facts also, like:
- the battery capacities improvements, based on the innovative conceptions and different by the classical already known approaches;
- the electric motors performances drastic improvements, as the power ratio over (own electric motor's) weight, from where a 350 HP/24 Kg pancake DC-AC electric motor-generator is not anymore a dream for the car manufacturers if they are looking for something like this ( just ask
me how);
- to feed with electricity the car's battery system from a wireless external power plant also could be taken in account; and many other innovative crazy solutions, etc..
Sincerely,
Dumitru - VP - R&D Manager

I thought I’d give you some feedback on the Hydrogen solution. I’ve been looking at hydrogen fuel cells to be used on motorized industrial equipment (forklifts and tow motors used to pull wheeled containers) for the US Postal Service. We also have a hydrogen delivery vehicle, but I am not involved. The hydrogen technology in my perspective is a dead end. There are too many technical and economic issues. Hydrogen while the most abundant element in the Universe is not found in a pure form on Earth and therefore must be generated, this requires a lot of energy making hydrogen expensive. It must be contained and transported under great pressures, 2,000 to 3,000 psig. These kinds of pressures make storage and transport dangerous and maintenance intensive since pressure vessels need to be hydrostatic tested every 5-years. I think a better technology, spelled out in the book “Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy” by George A. Olah, Alain Goeppert and G.K. Surya Prakash is the way to go.
Program Manager, USPS Engineering Material Handling Deployment



 


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