Tag Archive | "alternative energy"

2015 Toyota May Go Down A Bomb

We hear a lot these days about electric cars and hybrid cars but, coming up on the rails, is the third choice – the hydrogen powered car. On the production front Toyota has indicated that it has cut the cost of the fuel cell system in its next hydrogen-powered car by the equivalent of almost one million dollars. This puts the company on course to launch a mid-sized saloon – which may look something like the experimental vehicle in the image –  in 2015 with a price below £65,000. Whether or not we will see it in the UK remains to be seen as we are way behind on preparing a workable infrastructure for alternative fuels.

The new fuel cell car will first be sold in Japan, the United States and probably Europe, Toyota have said. The news is that the company is set to unveil a concept at the Tokyo auto show in November. This clashes with the Los Angeles Motor Show so maybe it will pop up there too.

The manufacturer says the fuel cell system will cost about 5 million yen (£32,000 approx) compared with prototype costs of more than £650,000. The company’s plans are weighted heavily towards fuel cell cars, which convert hydrogen to electricity, emit only water vapour and have a similar range to conventional cars, as their next-gen alternative fuel vehicle. They have big plans to sell ‘tens of thousands’ fuel cell motors by the 2020’s.

It isn’t widely known but platinum is used in the manufacture of a fuel cell. Toyota have managed to cut the amount needed from an original one hundred grams to as little as thirty grams thus saving even more cash. They believe they can cut it further as the technology is refined. This will bring them in line with the catalytic converters on diesel powered cars which use about twenty grams of the precious metal. Toyota will also use less carbon-fibre in the high-pressure hydrogen tanks and will use cheaper, mass-produced components to cut costs further, they say.

As we are all now well aware, electric cars are range limited and take a long time to refuel. This won’t happen with hydrogen powered vehicles because it takes only minutes to fill the tank and the cars can travel the same sort of distances as cars with combustion engines.

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The Advantages Of Potholes

That’s got you thinking, hasn’t it? What, you might well be asking, is there anything good in any way about potholes? Well, some very clever people have realised that, in a similar way that energy can be reclaimed from vehicle braking, it is possible to recover energy generated when a car goes over any sort of bump.

In a purely non-scientific assumption, it seems reasonable to assume that any action generates energy. In this case apparently, it is possible to convert the energy developed in the suspension dampers into electricity as we know it, which is then fed to the car’s system to help the power drain caused by headlight use and air conditioning systems. We know this sort of thing works.

As you can imagine, should any vehicle manufacturer decide to bring something of this ilk to their future vehicle production then UK drivers would benefit more than most as British roads are increasingly not unlike abandoned goats tracks in Nepal.

It has been estimated that last year the nation’s highways had no fewer than 2.2 million potholes. That’s quite a lot. In fact it is alleged that we have managed to achieve the disgraceful number of six per mile of road on average. Did you know that Honda built an especially rutted test track in Japan to better enable them to test the cars heading for our shores?

Not only would this new regeneration system work with potholes, it would be equally successful with speed humps. This idea is being seriously engineered by an American/German partnership and in testing it does actually work. This is the only single occasion when it is possible to say that bad roads are good. Even on those smooth freshly surfaced EU funded heavenly highways of the Continental mainland even very small ripples would have a regenerative effect. So it’s all good news then.

Or is it? Apparently, UK motorists stump up around a million quid a day to repair wheels, axles and suspension damaged by potholes. Everybody knows how notoriously hard it is to get money out of those responsible for our roads so it’s the good old insurers who are often having to foot the bill with the inevitable subsequent rise in premiums. This is without even thinking about the risk to health caused by accident potential. A car would have to do some really serious energy regeneration to recover those costs for the blighted drivers of Britain.

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Power To The People

Once the potential of oil was fully exploited as a fuel source the world started drilling for the black stuff as if there was an endless supply. Now it looks like there isn’t and whilst we search for an alternative to petrol we are, metaphorically speaking, holding the world like a nearly empty ketchup bottle and shaking it over the plate to eke out the last few drops.

In the meantime, in sheds around the planet, very clever people are reviewing and testing all the other options open to us to keep cars on the road. Electric cars are our first option but range anxiety seems insoluble just now and batteries will eventually fail. Thus hybrids came into being where electricity is assisted by or generated by an regular engine. Better, but still no cigar.

So we look at hydrogen. Fill pressurised bottles with gaseous hydrogen, feed it into a fuel cell and by the miracle that is science it will be converted into electricity that powers the car. Provided the infrastructure can be set up to ensure the gas is available where and when we need it they could well be a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine. Already working examples are appearing on our roads but there is a long way to go.

And it doesn’t stop there. Aston Martin recently successfully raced a Rapide at the Nürburgring 24 Hour event, the engine of which was set up to run directly from hydrogen, augmented by petrol when the gas ran out. In normal use it would be possible to replenish the gas before petrol would be needed.

And, again, it doesn’t stop there. What about liquid nitrogen? Forgotten that hadn’t you? Nitrogen is cooled to minus 196C then heated in the cylinder and fed into a regular engine which forces the piston down and off you go. Or how about compressed air? Tata Motors has built a weird looking vehicle that stores air compressed to 300 bar. As the air is released it powers an hydraulic motor. Clever, but a dubious choice as lots of power is needed to compress the free stuff.

Taking this a step further, a hybrid/air car has been made that recovers energy as it slows down and that energy is used to compress air into a  cylinder. At low speeds the air is released to drive the vehicle. Peugeot/Citroen will sell a version of this from 2016.

So a huge amount of work and effort is being expended in alternative sources of power to replace the petrol/diesel option. Some ideas are feasible, some are doubtful. One thing’s for sure though – one of them has simply got to work and possibly within the next twenty years.

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E-Coli For Your Car

In laboratories across the world scientists are striving to develop new super-fuels that will reduce or replace our reliance on the black gold before the planet deflates like an old football. Electric power is with us and hydrogen is just around the corner, but that doesn’t stop the boffins from seeking The Next Big Thing.

This time it’s bacteria. That’s right – fuel from bugs. Researchers from Exeter University and others have been tinkering with bug DNA to enable the production of diesel from waste materials like plants, sewage and animal excretions. Other bacteria are being developed for petrol production. Apart from the motoring and industry benefits it could also further the reduction of waste.

It’s early days. Right now it takes one hundred litres of bug mix and twenty four hours to make a teaspoon of diesel. The aim is to brew 100L of the former to make 100L of the latter for the science to make economic sense. Apparently these engineered bacteria can double in number in twenty minutes so the whole idea seems feasible. Of course, anyone who watched Tomorrow’s World over the years will know that these inventions can flare up and burn out in fairly short order but the idea of a fuel that is not oil based makes a lot of sense. No doubt there are drawbacks – the amount of waste required would be huge as would the manufacturing plants.

It means we can keep the ever more frugal internal combustion engines and then maybe cars will remain cars and not devices. The mighty Shell organisation are supporting the research and it has been suggested that, as there are no exploration and drilling costs, the price of our fuels could come down. That could well be true except that roughly sixty percent of the fuel price is tax right now and we can’t see any government any time soon not jumping on that passing bandwagon!

Inevitably there are ramifications. What happens to the oil industry? What happens to the economies of the oil producing nations? What, most importantly, happens to any waste from the production process? It would be great to see a new and viable alternative fuel, especially one that runs in our existing technology so let’s hope all the big questions can be answered in the not too distant future.

In the meantime what can we do? Can we save bacteria? Children collect them. Perhaps they could engineer head lice. Schools could raise some useful extra funds. It’s a thought.

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The Alternative To Electric Cars?

On and off over the last one hundred years automobile manufacturers have tried to produce a viable electric car without commercial success. Thanks to the latest technology their attempts in the last few years have been reasonably good but, as far as the majority of the buying public are concerned despite all the hype, not nearly good enough for the reasons we all know. Word is that a couple of Japanese car makers have acknowledged the fact that EV’s are still not truly ready and may never be in the foreseeable future.

In the quest to turn away from fossil fuels attention seems to be turning to what the industry hope may be The Next Big Thing, and that is hydrogen power. Immediately the climate change lobby and other vested interests (in and out of government) have become excited without taking into account the scientific fact that hydrogen is volatile and difficult to store. Imagine trying to establish the infrastructure needed countrywide to fuel all the cars! Rush towards this technology too soon and sales could go through the roof – literally.

The lack of range, the lack of charging points and the time taken to charge an electric vehicle are not lost on the public. So much so that in the USA where they expected a massive take-up, the Obama administration has backed off from its over-ambitious EV targets. For now, it seems likely that the industry will concentrate on the much more sensible alternative of petrol/electric hybrids which overcome the shortcomings of purely electric cars.

Nevertheless companies like Nissan and Toyota are still intending to pursue fuel-cell technology which they hope will become the new green breakthrough. Cars that convert hydrogen to electricity. The stakes are high on this issue. Whomsoever comes up with a viable alternate fuel stand to make a mega-fortune but it has got to be a risky and costly enterprise.

It is not expected – considering the investment – that car companies will abandon electric vehicles altogether as a niche market does exist. It took six years for Toyota’s Prius to really establish itself in the USA but in 2012 they sold well over three hundred thousand hybrids in America and some 1.2 million worldwide.

One thing that is certain is that manufacturers have got to find some answer to the increasingly stringent regulations being set by governments for future years. If not electric cars then maybe fuel-cell vehicles are the alternative. They are certainly being talked up in certain quarters but a realistic car must still be a long way off. Or will it all prove to be a load of hot air?

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What Next For The Motor Industry?

To the casual observer at least, it seems to have gone a bit quiet on the electric car front – no pun intended. Most car makers have at least one on their books or in development, but all the hoo-ha that surrounded their introduction has died down to an almost inaudible hum.

The problem is well known and seemingly insurmountable – at least for now. Range anxiety. Elsewhere on these pages Motor Blogger has discussed the pro’s and con’s of battery vehicles; it’s old news now. However, a recent proposal from the EU (a group of people who call the shots whilst only having a tenuous grasp of the real world) that by the year 2020, new vehicle emissions must be reduced by a further thirty per cent. It remains to be seen if this is actually enforced – no doubt manufacturers will have something to say about it.

Nevertheless, the pressure is on to effectively eliminate the use of fossil fuels in cars as soon as is technically possible before the Earth starts to look like a child’s deflated football that’s been left in the garden during the winter. The snag is that battery technology is still only in its formative years.

Certainly electric cars are fine in the city but out there in the boondocks where the wild things live, petrol is still the king. Despite sterling efforts from car designers around the world the Euro-whingeing continues and meantime boffins are beavering away to solve the battery power issue. It’s not really safe to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel just yet but there may just be a faint glimmer, like a struck match in a thunderstorm.

The American Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other interested parties are working on – oh, how they love their acronyms – CAEBAT, which apparently stands for Computer Aided Engineering For Electric Drive Vehicle Batteries.

This is software that ‘simulates spirally wound lithium-ion batteries battery cells’. It’s an aid to speed up the testing of new technologies. Through this the scientists hope to develop improved battery performance and life whilst making them more cost effective. If you’re thirsty for more of this stuff then it’s locatable on the web.

So where does this leave the manufacturers? Basically, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. To comply with regulation they’ve made some spectacular improvements to internal combustion engine technology for which society should be thankful and yet they are obliged to listen to and obey people who bludgeon them with new demands but have no idea how difficult and costly this cutting edge alternative energy stuff is. Or don’t care. Here’s a thought. We once saw a Brougham carriage being pulled by a couple of llamas. Maybe we’re onto something here…it’s certainly alternative and drivers could put the exhaust on the garden!

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