Archive for Green Tech

VW XL1 – Official production version

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Desirable machines, Upcoming cars with tags , , , , on 21/02/2013 by Alexander

vw1Volkswagen have released pictures and specifications of the production version of their already-ageing fuel-sipping XL1. I say ageing because the third version of the car was shown two years ago, and what they’re flouting here is what will be available to the public during this year. The figures are still 314mpg (UK) (0.89l/100km), or around 140mpg (UK) (2.0l/100km) for diesel-only driving. The car is incredibly light at just 795kg, and now has a side-by-side seating arrangement as opposed to the tandem occupation of earlier concepts. vw_xl1_in_11_03The aerodynamics are also a big part of the car, perhaps best exemplified by the absence of wing-mirrors. Instead, exterior cameras feed an image to screens on the door, as can be glimpsed in the accompanying image here. Goodness knows how many mpg’s that adds to the consumption figure, but it’s one way that shows how hard VW must have worked on this, if two years between the final concept car and the production version weren’t enough to prove this.

But it’s not all roses. VW say production will be limited, so we won’t be seeing this as a common sight on your street, especially if you live in a backward country like I do where limited production cars are hardly ever seen let alone sold. And I suspect the price will be pretty whopping too, what with carbon-fibre-reinforced plastics included and expensive gadgetry such as the diesel-electric drivetrain. Who will this appeal to? Rich actors who usually go round in Lambos but buy this car to appease their guilty conscience? Not a big market. As I’ve written before, I personally would absolutely love to have one of these. I’d be able to visit my family in France on little more than what the 10-litre tank theoretically has to offer

Cyclone engine

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 16/01/2012 by Alexander

I’ve covered gas-turbine engines before, and they still live on in my mind as one of the best alternatives to ICE’s. Not as a direct substitute, mind you, but as a compliment to EVs as range extending technology. It’s a rather elegant solution, since it allows for regular, fossil-fuel consuming folk to adjust more easily due to the fact that they still have to pump in fuel, while at the same time it’s a cleaner, more eco-friendly electric vehicle. Everyone’s happy.

Perhaps their greatest advantage is that they can run on nearly anything that burns. Petrol, diesel, kerosene, whiskey, perfume, basically anything that’s liquid and combustible. And that includes all sorts of lovely biofuels that hopefully will be produced just as cleanly as they burn. However, this application of gas turbines to automotive propulsion is only being pursued by a consortium (that includes Jaguar), apparently.

It even crossed my mind to do something I’ve dreamt about for years: to get myself an old car, rip out the engine and turn it into an alternatively propelled vehicle (just as these guys turned a classic Toyota 2000GT into a solar-powered EV). In this case, a gas turbine electric hybrid. And I thought to myself, how hard can it be?! You just remove the ICE and strap in a gas turbine, batteries and some electric motors behind each wheel hub. But I’m absolutely certain that in reality things would be much more complicated than it sounds. The most elementary components that have a clear place in a conventionally-powered vehicle could become a nightmare. How many gears would it have, if it even had gears at all? What would power the brake servo, the air-con, or the rest of the HVAC system? Would it be the turbine or the batteries? How would someone who wasn’t a very clever engineer even begin to rig the readouts as to how much juice you have left on the batteries, what shuts down or comes to life when the turbine kicks in, etc., etc.? That’s complicated s**t.

I’m still curious as to how gas turbines compare with regular engines. I can’t seem to find any sort of specifications as to what mileage you could get from a gas turbine electric hybrid car or what’s their emission-per-km figure. After all, it’s a very nice technology in principle, but not really worth it if takes a gallon of fuel to keep the car fully operational for a mile. The Jaguar C-X75 concept has “an estimated fuel economy of 41.1 mpg, 778 horsepower, 0 to 62mph in 3.4 seconds, and a top speed of 205 mph”, which is very nice for a concept car, but that doesn’t mean it can to it in the real world. While trying to find some proper numbers, I stumbled across yet another type of engine I wasn’t aware of, called the Cyclone Engine. Its working principle is (if I’m not very much mistaken) a modern take on the steam engine, and has many real world applications, not just powering cars. And like the gas turbine idea (and unlike the split cycle engine and, from what I can tell, the shockwave motion generator), it can burn virtually anything in order to function. The website boasts a lot of advantages over conventional internal combustion engines, just like the split cycle and shockwave engines, from efficiency to number of components, which makes me wonder why these sorts of things aren’t being pursued more aggressively by more mainstream car manufacturers. If any one of these technologies (or hopefully, all of them) take hold, they’ll be tripping over themselves to play catch-up.

Gas-turbine engines

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Green Tech with tags , , , on 07/07/2011 by Alexander

Jaguar’s scrumptious recent concept, the C-X75, was a celebration of its 75th anniversary, and apart from being rather pleasing to the two forward-facing orbs in our heads, what made it move was also rather cool: four electric engines that could be charged by gas turbines, which in turn can basically run on anything flammable. These sorts of engines are nothing new, and are basically what power jet aircraft through the sky, and their application to cars is older than strapping turbos onto them.

Like GM and the electric car, Chrysler was the company responsible for squandering the opportunity to make something worthwhile regarding gas turbine engines. After development during the 50’s and 60’s, with continual improvements, Chrysler launched 50 prototypes on a 3-year experimental program, which sought to evaluate all the pros and cons of this proposed means of propulsion.

One out of four drivers complained about gas guzzling (they must have been out of peanut oil), and one out of three groused about throttle lag. But there was also plenty of praise, especially about the vibration-free operation and snazzy styling.

Though Chrysler never released one to a journalist, writer John Lawlor managed to drive a Turbine Car toward the end of the consumer test. He, too, was impressed by its smoothness, but annoyed at the relative lack of engine braking — and at the throttle lag, which he reported as the claimed 1.0-1.5 seconds.

His mileage also disappointed — just 11.5 mpg — though he usually ran on cheap kerosene. Lawlor did laud acceleration, which at under 10 seconds to 60 mph was sparkling, especially for a 4,100-pound car. So much for rumors that turbines couldn’t be quick.

Unfortunately, car companies love to trash experimental vehicles en masse when they’re done with them (see GM EV1), with very few surviving examples (one of which now owned by Jay Leno). Development continued into the 70’s and early 80’s, until cuts in federal funding (the Department of Energy was providing Chrysler the lolly to develop the engines) and emissions standards (there was trouble keeping nitrous oxide emissions low) and the ominous spectre of bankruptcy for Chrysler looming on the horizon (that sounds familiar) killed hopes for a production model.

It’s unfortunate things ended when they did. According to one project official, left stillborn was an eighth-generation turbine designed, ironically enough, for Chrysler’s all-important new front-drive K-car compacts and their future derivatives. With a single turbine shaft (versus two), electronic fuel delivery, and a projected 85 horsepower, it would have been the simplest turbine yet, and likely the cheapest to build in quantity.

There were also hopes that a new variable-geometry burner would be the long-sought answer to NOx. But time and money had run out, so this engine went no further than blueprints and a foam mockup.

And since then, the technology has advanced even further. So this begs the question: why is no-one placing their bets on the gas-turbine horse? I suppose it would help to list the various advantages/disadvantages to help the layman (such as myself) see what’s involved:

Advantages of gas turbine engines

  • Very high power-to-weight ratio, compared to reciprocating engines;
  • Smaller than most reciprocating engines of the same power rating.
  • Moves in one direction only, with far less vibration than a reciprocating engine.
  • Fewer moving parts than reciprocating engines.
  • Low operating pressures.
  • High operation speeds.
  • Low lubricating oil cost and consumption.
  • Can run on a wide variety of fuels.

I believe the advantages speak for themselves, so let’s scrutinise the disadvantages and see how could they be overcome:

Disadvantages of gas turbine engines

  • Cost – Nothing mass production wouldn’t take care of. Besides, Mercedes and BMW’s are expensive, and people still buy them.
  • Less efficient than reciprocating engines at idle – Solve it the Jag way, i.e., use it to power electric motors, so instead of having it functioning when stopped at a traffic light, use the electric motors for starting up, and allow the turbine only to kick in while in motion.
  • Longer startup than reciprocating engines – See above.
  • Less responsive to changes in power demand compared to reciprocating engines – Again, use the electric motors for the immediate response.

(taken from here)

There. Problems solved.

No, seriously. There might be some pretty big flaws in my proposed solutions, but I’m convinced these things can be overcome (or could already be solved, had the gas-turbine engine been continually developed). Another serious impediment is that all the copyrights and patents are probably sitting in a Chrysler vault gathering dust somewhere. And I doubt other car manufacturers are willing to spend wads of cash licensing the tech when they already spend zillions in developing their own conventional ICE’s.

BMW benchmark

Posted in Car conception, Green Tech, Upcoming cars with tags , , , on 04/07/2011 by Alexander

I’m mostly writing this because I’m sick of having to look at Roger Moore every time I open this page: The BMW 5-series is considered by most moto-journoes the standard by which all other 4-door saloons must be measured. I don’t know if it’s in terms of sales or build quality, but I suspect it’s all about that sporty handling-shite that has no place in the real world.

But hark! The Bavarians have unveiled a new-engined 520d, that delivers a whopping 4.5l/100km consumption figure (around 63 mpg in the UK)! Phwoar! BMW are no strangers to making powerful, well-performing cars, but this is a production model, and not some unobtainable concept car. This is iron-clad proof that all those emission targets set by governments aren’t fanciful thinking, and that other manufacturers really have to get their s**t together and play catch-up. Fast.

On a related note, I’m not a conspiracy maniac, but I find it hard to believe that Big Oil idly sits around on its arse and watches as green tech develops without a lot of lobbying and behind-the-scenes bastard tactics. But if a company with the huge weight of BMW basically shows that it won’t dance to OPEC’s tune unless they feel like it, maybe more auto-makers will find their spines and stop dragging their feet implementing cleaner, more efficient technology.

Renault Twizy – another wasted chance?

Posted in Car conception, Green Tech, Upcoming cars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 26/04/2011 by Alexander

Electric cars aren’t a novelty. In the late to nineteenth and early twentieth century, they battled it out with internal combustion engines as the solution to powering the horseless carriage, and even though they were smoother and more efficient than early petrol-drinkers, they eventually lost to ICEs due to the longer range and easiness of refuelling with petrol, as well as the eventual drop in price of a new gasoline-powered car because of mass production. Until the 21st century, it was downhill from then on, with no convincing solution for electric propulsion amid many tries, some more infamous than others. Everyone knows what a stupid blunder General Motors committed with their EV1, and it’s been an example of how not to go about things. Had GM stuck with the electric vehicle concept, they might have developed better related technology and become the role model for the surge in interest in EVs that’s been witnessed during the past few years, thanks to the realisation that oil is expensive, polluting and is running out. Instead GM decided to moronically destroy all their EV1s, and become known as the “Company that Killed the Electric Car”. With that kind of vision, small wonder they nearly went bankrupt! But I digress.

The problem is that it would seem car manufacturers aren’t exactly hell-bent on repeating and/or avoiding previous mistakes. And where should I start? Perhaps at the beginning, years ago, when auto-makers started making a big hullabaloo about upcoming electric vehicles: the Chevy Volt/Opel Ampera and the Nissan Leaf, to name a couple. The hype gave way to an expectation-killing wait, and the announcement of prices that would make even the most die-hard electric vehicle fan baulk.

Renault has proverbially jumped on the bandwagon with their Zero-Emissions concepts, utilising their partnership with Nissan for the underlying technology. And the first model to roll off the production line is the Twizy, a two-seater quadricycle that Renault says will revolutionise the market. And forgive me for sounding pedantic, but if that’s not completely over-hyped bollocks, then I don’t know what is. If there was a revolution to be had, then the G-Wiz would’ve got there first. And that’s really all this Twizy is, really. A more stylish G-Wiz with no doors and a lower price tag. But of course that may be they key to the thing, what with other electric vehicles costing staggering amounts of money. The Twizy will cost (here in Portugal) €7000, which is nice, but then Renault slap an extra €45-per-month charge to rent the battery, for a 3-year period and for no more than 7500km a year. And that’s not counting the cost of the electricity needed to recharge it (probably every day, given its crappy range). So if you do exactly 7500km in a year (goodness knows what Renault will charge you if you go over this), that works out at €0.072 per kilometre, which sounds great. But a diesel car that does 5 litres per 100km on average will cost (at current fuel prices) €0.075 per km. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive, but only slightly more, and with considerable advantages. You aren’t limited to only 20.5km per day (7500km max limit divided by 365 days), you can go on a motorway, you can refill quickly and easily and you have doors on the sides of your car, meaning you won’t have to smell and hear everything around you, and can use your car in the rain and cold.

So let’s be honest, what sort of person will this Twizy appeal to? First off said person has to have their own garage, since they can’t park it outside (it has no doors and needs to be plugged in safely). They can live no further than 10km from their workplace and must have an enclosed parking spot there (because it HAS NO F**KING DOORS, and stray dogs can get in and have a snooze, not counting all sorts of unsavoury humans who won’t think twice to vandalise/burglarise/mistreat the innards of your car). Doesn’t sound like much of a market.

Anyway, like most electric cars, it’s been announced with a lot of fanfare, and tested by moto-journos, even though it’s only available next year. Nothing like a good, long, stupid wait to wane desires for a car that, conceptually speaking, won’t work.


Posted in Alt-Fuel, Desirable machines, Green Tech, News, Upcoming cars with tags , on 26/01/2011 by Alexander

VW have revealed their third version of their fuel-sipping, diesel-electric, 1l-per-100km car. The XL1 surpasses the original goal by doing a remarkable 0.9l/100km average. That means 1000km on around a €12 budget. I want one.

Split cycle is back and could be here to stay

Posted in Green Tech with tags , , , on 24/01/2011 by Alexander

Split cycle engines are a bit different from our beloved, everyday, four-cylinder ICEs (in my case, beloved five-cylinders). Instead of having all the cylinders working in tandem, there’s two cylinders on either side, a bit like a V4 were there such a thing, but were the “suck-squeeze-bang-blow” four-step cycle is repeated by each pair of cylinders. The Scuderi engine was unveiled nearly two years ago, and was little more than a promise back then, with some haughty claims with nothing but Scuderi’s word to back it up.

But these crafty guys at Massachusetts-based Scuderi Group haven’t been sitting on their backsides all this time. They’ve been testing their engine in some American car, and have backed up their original claims, such as getting 135bhp from a single litre of displacement, high fuel mileage and drastically lower emissions.

This technology has been explored before without any meaningful success.

Other split cycle engines were hampered by low volumetric and thermal efficiencies that made them inferior to conventional engines. This new engine has pneumatic valves that open outward, pushing 100 percent of the compressed air out of the cylinder. This rectifies the problems of previous designs.

What does this mean for efficiency? Scuderi tested the engine in a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier and claims the engine reduces NOx emissions by up to 80 percent and CO2 emissions by up to 50 percent. It also claims an increase in fuel efficiency of up to 36 percent over the Cavalier’s standard engine. (According to the feds, a 2004 Cavalier with a 2.2-liter four-banger and a slushbox was good for 21 mpg city, 31 highway.) You may be skeptical, and you may wonder how real this is. Scuderi says it had the Southwest Research Institute verify its findings.

The fuel economy is brilliant but what’s superb are the figures for the emissions. I imagine that as soon as they start mucking around with bigger engines, these could be an even more exciting figures!

Scuderi says the engine is built from conventional engine components and automakers could easily adopt it to suit their vehicles. It claims it could have the technology licensed and on the road within three years if all goes well.

How more fantastic could this news be? No big industrial shift, since current manufacturing processes and equipment can be used, no long wait… I can just imagine the future: driving along in a split-cycle, petrol-hybrid car, sipping tiny amounts of algae-derived fuel… aaah….