Steer­ing ahead with al­ter­na­tive fu­els

The world’s car- mak­ers know where the fu­ture lies — and all have their an­swers to tra­di­tional petrol- driven ve­hi­cles, writes Philip Lord

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Clean Energy -

THE world still awaits the ar­rival of a mass- pro­duced, af­ford­able, al­ter­na­tive- fuel zero- emis­sions car, but at least the fog has lifted on the most vi­able ways to re­duce the car’s car­bon foot­print.

In the short to medium term the so­lu­tion to the car’s fos­sil fuel use and CO emis­sions as

2 it stands to­day rests with clean diesels, hy­brids ( petrol- elec­tric or diesel- elec­tric), hy­dro­gen com­bus­tion and bio­fu­els such as ethanol. In the long term, elec­tric ve­hi­cles — run­ning on mains power, hy­dro­gen fuel cells or a com­bi­na­tion of both — con­tinue to of­fer the most likely so­lu­tions.

The most sig­nif­i­cant break­through so far this year was not a new clean tech­nol­ogy as such but rather the US car man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ac­knowl­edge­ment that heavy in­vest­ment in such tech­nol­ogy is now nec­es­sary.

The North Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show held in Detroit in Jan­uary saw an un­prece­dented num­ber of clean en­ergy con­cepts. While the US car- mak­ers con­tinue to sell large, thirsty SUVs, at least they are work­ing on low- emis­sions al­ter­na­tives.

One such ve­hi­cle is the Cadil­lac Provoq, an SUV con­cept with a de­vel­op­ment of the E- Flex propul­sion plat­form that de­buted in the Chevro­let Volt Con­cept last year. The Provoq’s propul­sion sys­tem uses elec­tric mo­tors pow­ered by lithium- ion bat­ter­ies, which are charged by a hy­dro­gen- fed fuel cell stack.

It has a 70kW elec­tric mo­tor to drive the front wheels and two 40kW hub- mounted elec­tric mo­tors to power the rear wheels. The Provoq’s 0- 100km/ h ac­cel­er­a­tion time is 8.5sec and top speed is 160km/ h.

The twin 6kg hy­dro­gen tanks that feed the fuel cell give a 483km range, while GM says Provoq will travel 32km on its lithium- ion bat­tery power re­serves alone.

The Provoq in­cor­po­rates other en­er­gysav­ing tech­nolo­gies such as so­lar pan­els to feed power to in­te­rior lights and the au­dio sys­tem, which them­selves are low- en­ergy con­sump­tion items.

An­other US car- maker to turn green is Jeep. Its Rene­gade Con­cept, also shown at Detroit, is a roof- less two- seater that is pow­ered by two 200kW elec­tric mo­tors, each pow­er­ing an axle and each fed by a lithium- ion bat­tery pack. On bat­ter­ies alone the Rene­gade is good for a 65km range. A clean 85kW three- cylin­der Bluetec diesel en­gine is in­stalled to boost range to 640km. The Jeep goes a step fur­ther than most with its en­vi­ron­men­tal mes­sage, us­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly body struc­tures and paints.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers of tra­di­tional, large four­wheel drives else­where are ex­am­in­ing their green con­science. While Land Rover has ex­per­i­mented with elec­tric Land Rovers be­fore in en­gi­neer­ing back­rooms, it has just re­cently un­veiled its first hy­brid con­cept ve­hi­cle.

The Land Rover LRX Con­cept has been po­si­tioned as a com­pact lux­ury hy­brid 4X4 and, it is also ex­pected for pro­duc­tion by 2010 — al­though prob­a­bly with a con­ven­tional pow­er­train. Yet with its show­case hy­brid LRX Land Rover says it could achieve an emis­sions level of 120g/ km us­ing the tech­nol­ogy fo­cussed on en­ergy- sav­ing.

The LRX has a rel­a­tively con­ven­tional 2.0- litre turbo- diesel able to run on biodiesel, and op­er­ates in par­al­lel with an elec­tric mo­tor, which Land Rover calls an Elec­tric Rear Axle Drive ( ERAD). The diesel en­gine drives all four wheels, while ERAD drives the rear wheels at speeds up to 32km/ h.

The LRX pow­er­train was de­signed so that it will be able to run the ERAD on a lithium- ion bat­tery pack in traf­fic, with an in­te­grated starter mo­tor and gen­er­a­tor fir­ing up the diesel when the LRX is up to speed. Con­versely, as the ve­hi­cle stops the sys­tem shuts the diesel down.

Land Rover’s pro­pri­etary Ter­rain Re­sponse pro­gram has five modes in the LRX in­clud­ing a new one called Eco mode, which ties in all sys­tems to pro­vide op­ti­mum fuel econ­omy.

To cover the enor­mous costs of de­vel­op­ing new clean tech­nolo­gies, many car man­u­fac­tur­ers are col­lab­o­rat­ing in joint ef­forts with gov­ern­ment and other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

One such com­pany is Volvo, which has en­tered into a $ 2 bil­lion joint re­search ven­ture to de­velop plug- in hy­brid cars with the Gen­eral Mo­tors- owned Saab, Swedish elec­tric­ity provider Vat­ten­fall, the Elec­troTech­no­log­i­cal Cen­tre and the Swedish gov­ern­ment. The joint ven­ture will see 10 plug- in hy­brids field- tested in Swe­den.

Volvo un­veiled a plug- in con­cept car with its se­ries hy­brid, the C30 ReCharge Con­cept, last year. The Volvo ReCharge Con­cept is a se­ries hy­brid with a lithium- poly­mer bat­tery pack in­te­grated into the boot. Four elec­tric mo­tors, one at each wheel, pro­vide propul­sion with a claimed range of 100km and a top speed of 160km/ h. Re- charge time is three hours. The 1.6- litre Flex­i­fuel four- cylin­der en­gine pow­ers a gen­er­a­tor to sup­ply power to the wheel mo­tors when the bat­tery power gets low.

Even though Toy­ota and Honda are al­ready sell­ing their sec­ond- gen­er­a­tion of petrol­elec­tric hy­brids, they can­not run on elec­tric power alone for any mean­ing­ful dis­tance and are not plug- in hy­brids.

How­ever, it won’t be long be­fore other ma­jor car man­u­fac­tur­ers start to de­liver on their prom­ises for a next- gen­er­a­tion clean car.

The first is most likely to be Chevro­let with its Volt, a plug- in hy­brid that is sched­uled for pro­duc­tion by Novem­ber 2010. The Volt is well into its de­vel­op­ment phase, with pre­pro­duc­tion mules al­ready out on the roads test­ing com­po­nents.

The Volt is, strictly speak­ing, a se­ries hy­brid that re­lies on a range ex­ten­der — a 1.0- litre three- cylin­der turbo in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en- gine that runs on E85 bio- ethanol — to charge the bat­ter­ies for dis­tances longer than about 60km. Chevro­let is al­low­ing for fuel cell tech­nol­ogy to be in­cor­po­rated into the Volt, but de­vel­op­ment fo­cus ap­pears to be on get­ting the petrol/ elec­tric hy­brid to mar­ket.

In its lab­o­ra­to­ries, GM is well into dura­bil­ity and life- cy­cle test­ing the Volt’s lithium- ion bat­ter­ies from two bat­tery sup­pli­ers. Be­cause bat­tery per­for­mance de­te­ri­o­rates with age, the Volt en­gi­neers are work­ing to en­sure that the bat­tery pack has a min­i­mum 64km range on its bat­tery pack af­ter 10 years and 240,000km of use.

There is still much work to do to re­fine and im­prove the tech­nol­ogy for mass- pro­duced clean cars, but the au­to­mo­tive world is get­ting very close to de­liv­er­ing on its prom­ises.

Con­cepts: Dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers have dif­fer­ent ideas. Clock­wise from above, Jeep’s two- seater Rene­gade, Land Rover’s LRX, Volvo’s plug- in ReCharge and Cadil­lac’s Provoq

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