bMW’s elec­tric charge

BMW is not left be­hind in the race to de­velop an elec­tric car for the masses.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL CHEANG

WITH a lit­tle whir, the lit­tle model leapt for­ward like a race car the in­stant I floored the ac­cel­er­a­tor. The sud­den burst of speed from the pow­er­ful torque nearly wrenched the steer­ing wheel out of my grasp, caus­ing the ve­hi­cle to swerve dan­ger­ously to­wards the op­po­site lane, and forc­ing me to grip the wheel tighter to bring it un­der con­trol.

For­tu­nately, that was the only scare I had while test­ing the Mini E in Mu­nich, Ger­many. Suf­fice it to say, I learnt my les­son af­ter that – don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the power of an elec­tric car.

The Mini E is an elec­tric car with no en­gine or gas tank. It runs solely on an elec­tric pow­er­train and a bat­tery. Fully charged, it can go up to 156km and achieve a top speed of 154km/h.

The Mini E is BMW Group’s first step to­wards their vi­sion of pro­duc­ing a fully elec­tric Megac­ity Ve­hi­cle by the year 2013. The megac­ity ve­hi­cle is BMW’s vi­sion for the fu­ture – a fu­ture where most of the world’s pop­u­la­tion would be liv­ing in megac­i­ties and where au­to­mo­biles run on elec­tric­ity and have zero car­bon emis­sions. It is a fu­ture where eco-friendly mo­bil­ity so­lu­tions are im­per­a­tive if we are to pre­vent the planet from de­te­ri­o­rat­ing fur­ther, even if this means a whole­sale reap­praisal of au­to­mo­bile de­sign as we know it.

Dur­ing the BMW In­no­va­tion Days: Mo­bil­ity Of The Fu­ture work­shop in June at BMW Group’s head­quar­ters in Mu­nich, jour­nal­ists were taken through a se­ries of pre­sen­ta­tions that de­tailed ex­actly how BMW planned to go about rein­vent­ing the au­to­mo­bile.

In late 2007, the Ger­man au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­turer launched Project I, an ini­tia­tive to drive the com­pany for­ward via fresh ideas and projects that achieve sus­tain­abil­ity from the very first sup­plier, at the be­gin­ning of the pro­duc­tion process, through to the re­cy­cling of com­po­nents at the end of the ve­hi­cle’s life cy­cle.

Spear­headed by Project I head of devel­op­ment Peter Ratz, a think tank con­sist­ing of ex­perts and “out­side-the-box” thinkers from through­out the com­pany was cre­ated, and they were al­lowed and en­cour­aged to work along un­con­ven­tional lines, tran­scend­ing the com­pany’s ex­ist­ing struc­tures.

I, Elec­trify

Project I’s ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive is to cre­ate the megac­ity ve­hi­cle, an au­to­mo­bile that com­bines eco-friend­li­ness (such as ze­roe­mis­sion op­er­a­tion) with mod­ern ur­ban mo­bil­ity re­quire­ments.

“Half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion al­ready lives in cities and the num­bers are ris­ing daily,” said Ratz. “There­fore, mo­bil­ity for the fu­ture re­quires a new bal­ance be­tween global re­quire­ments and in­di­vid­ual needs and above all, sus­tain­able mo­bil­ity in ur­ban ar­eas.”

From the out­set, it was ob­vi­ous that the megac­ity ve­hi­cle should be pow­ered by elec­tric­ity. Af­ter all, the ben­e­fit­sof an e-ve­hi­cle are nu­mer­ous, be­gin­ning from the elim­i­na­tion of fos­sil fu­els to zero cli­mate-harm­ing emis­sions dur­ing the jour­ney.

Un­for­tu­nately, there is one prob­lem: an elec­tric car needs to be pow­ered by a bat­tery and that bat­tery has to be re­ally big if it is to match the range of a con­ven­tional com­bus­tion en­gine.

Up to now, a bat­tery is able to store only a limited amount of en­ergy, re­sult­ing in a limited driv­ing range. BMW reck­ons that re­search ef­forts over the next few years will im­prove the technology of bat­ter­ies and en­able greater ranges. How­ever, rather than mak­ing the bat­tery for its e-ve­hi­cle big­ger and heav­ier to ac­com­mo­date bet­ter range, BMW de­cided to ex­tend the range through other mea­sures, in­clud­ing rad­i­cally al­ter­ing the ar­chi­tec­ture of the car.

One of these in­no­va­tions is the light­weight de­sign of the ve­hi­cle’s main ar­chi­tec­ture. Called the LifeDrive con­cept, this new ap­proach acom­bines the re­quire­ments of elec­tri­cal mo­bil­ity into an im­pact-re­sis­tant struc­ture. LifeDrive con­sists of two in­de­pen­dent mod­ules. The Drive mod­ule – the chas­sis – forms the solid foun­da­tion of the ve­hi­cle and in­te­grates the bat­tery, drive sys­tem and struc­tural and ba­sic crash func­tions into a sin­gle con­struc­tion. For in­stance, the bat­tery is mounted in the un­der-body sec­tion of the car to give it the best pos­si­ble pro­tec­tion since this is the area that suf­fers the least de­for­ma­tion in the event of a crash.

The Life mod­ule is a high-strength and ex­tremely light­weight pas­sen­ger cell made from car­bon fi­bre-re­in­forced plas­tic (CFRP) which is a unique com­pos­ite ma­te­rial that con­sists of a car­bon fi­bre that is embed­ded in a plas­tic ma­trix (resin). Fore­casted to re­place the steel used in to­day’s cars, the use of CFRP on such a scale is un­prece­dented.

At first, it was hard to be­lieve that the thread-like fi­bre we were shown could be moulded into a car frame strong enough to with­stand a head-on col­li­sion but it all be­came clear when we learnt how this is ac­com­plished. First, the fi­bre is man­u­fac­tured into tex­tiles which are then im­preg­nated with resin and moulded into shape. With the fi­bre as the load car­rier, and the resin sup­port­ing the ma­trix, the re­sul­tant struc­ture is high­strength and light­weight at the same time. It is also 50% lighter than steel and is re­sis­tant to rust and fa­tigue.

The Mini E, BMW Group’s first ever 100% elec­tric ve­hi­cle; 600 of these were pro­duced and field tested by con­sumers all over the world to col­lect feed­back on the re­quire­ments of a fu­ture Megac­ity Ve­hi­cle. A piece of tex­tile made from car­bon fi­bre, and ready to be made into car­bon fi­bre-re­in­forced plas­tic (CFRP) that can be moulded into a car frame strong enough to with­stand a head-on col­li­sion.

The ma­te­rial is safe too. While metal ve­hi­cle frames re­quire large crum­ple zones, spe­cial de­for­ma­tion el­e­ments in the CFRP struc­ture al­low a max­i­mum amount of en­ergy to be ab­sorbed within a min­i­mum space, keep­ing it away from the pas­sen­ger.

For fur­ther proof of the safe and light prop­er­ties of CFRP, look no fur­ther than For­mula One race cars, which use it for their racer cock­pits. It is also be­ing used in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try and has been in­cor­po­rated into BMW ve­hi­cles. An­other ad­van­tage of CFRP is that it can be tai­lored for dif­fer­ent uses; this is more ef­fi­cient than shap­ing an un­formed ma­te­rial like steel. Cut-offs and left­overs are chipped and turned into fi­bre that can be re­fleeced into the tex­tile again.

CFRP is not with­out dis­ad­van­tages though. “The cost (of man­u­fac­tur­ing) is one, as is the cur­rent com­plex­ity of the process. Also, we have yet to know ex­actly what kinds of loads it can with­stand,” said Ratz.

Mo­bile and fun

With these ba­sic con­cepts and pro­cesses in En­gi­neers at BMW work­ing on the LifeDrive con­cept pas­sen­ger cell, which is made out of CFRP.

place, BMW re­vealed the Mini E as Project I’s first e-mo­bil­ity-en­abling project in 2008. Six hun­dred units of the car have been test­driven since mid-2009 in the United States, Bri­tain and Ger­many. The lit­tle car has not only set new tech­ni­cal stan­dards with an av­er­age driv­ing range of 150km in ev­ery­day op­er­a­tion and max­i­mum power of 204hp, but is also seen as a valu­able first step to­wards emis­sion-free au­to­mo­biles.

The ini­tial re­sults of the tri­als have been en­cour­ag­ing. More than 90% of par­tic­i­pants reck­oned that the av­er­age 150km driv­ing range did not re­strict their rou­tine mo­bil­ity and they had no prob­lems with the con­stant charg­ing of the ve­hi­cle.

The data did show, how­ever, that a suc­cess­ful megac­ity ve­hi­cle would need a slightly longer driv­ing range and more space. This led to BMW pro­duc­ing its first all-elec­tric ve­hi­cle in late 2009, the BMW Ac­tiveE con­cept car.

Re­ly­ing on feed­back from the Mini E tri­als, it de­vel­oped a new elec­tric mo­tor sup­ported by a new lithium-ion bat­tery which gives a

Mighty mini:

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