The Jewish Chronicle - - Motoring -

TURN YOUR mind from cars to ships. T h e g r e a t n e w cruise liner Queen Vic­to­ria, weigh­ing over 90,000 tons, is elec­tri­cally pro­pelled. And, no, she doesn’t have a long wire, plugged into the har­bour. Nor are there bat­tery-charg­ing points at fre­quent in­ter­vals out in the ocean. The power comes from en­gines burn­ing diesel or heavy oil — and what en­gines! There are four V16s, each with ca­pac­ity of 1,125 litres. Each en­gine de­vel­ops 15,500 bhp while cruis­ing at a leisurely 514 rpm — this is roughly the tick­over speed for most car en­gines. But the fact that this form of power can drive this great ship shows the ver­sa­til­ity of elec­tric­ity.

The twin 17ft-di­am­e­ter pro­pel­lors are each mounted on a huge pod, which takes the in­com­ing 11,000-volt sup­ply and re­duces it to 2,000 volts. The pro­pel­lors are mounted ahead of the pods, so they are run­ning in rel­a­tively undis­turbed wa­ter and the pods can be re­volved through 360 de­grees. This elim­i­nates heavy pro­pel­lor shafts, as well as the need for a rud­der with its in­evitable drag. Steer­age is by turn­ing the pods and by con­trol of pro­pel­lor speed and the pitch of the blades.

Fur­ther ad­van­tages of elec­tric­ity are quiet­ness, lack of vi­bra­tion and high torque at low revs, as well as ef­fi­ciency — all of which are also needed for cars.

At the Paris Show ear­lier this month, Miche­lin launched the “ac­tive wheel”. I thought April Fool’s Day had come early when I read that the ac­tive wheel would do away with gear­box, trans­mis­sion and sus­pen­sion; but then I learned that elec­tric motors, springs and brakes would all be in­cor­po­rated in the wheel. There could be four motors, one in each wheel, giv­ing four­wheel drive, or two motors for a car with front-wheel drive. I don’t think we will see this in pro­duc­tion for a while, but again it shows the ver­sa­til­ity of elec­tric power.

Also re­vealed at Paris was Audi’s con­cept study for a Sport­back five-door ca­pa­ble of CO out­put as low as 92 g/km. This would be off the gov­ern­ment’s scale, mean­ing no an­nual car tax to be paid, even up to 2011. It would have a 1.4-litre petrol en­gine driv­ing the front wheels and de­vel­op­ing 150 bhp, backed up by a 27 bhp elec­tric mo­tor adding sub­stan­tial torque to the wheels when ac­cel­er­at­ing.

The car would also have au­to­matic stop/start to save fuel at halts and re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing, which would put charge back into the lithium-ion bat­ter­ies on slow­ing down or brak­ing. Audi doesn’t tell us when such a car might go into pro­duc­tion, but it all helps demon­strate the pos­si­bil­i­ties of elec­tric­ity.

Like the Queen Vic­to­ria, hy­brid cars need a source of power to pro­duce the elec­tric­ity, which will usu­ally mean a diesel- or petrol-burn­ing en­gine, as in the Lexus and the Honda Civic hy­brids. But Gen­eral Motors plans to bring into pro­duc­tion, pos­si­bly next year, its all-elec­tric car, the Volt. It is claimed to of­fer a top speed of 100 mph, but the range lim­i­ta­tion of 40 miles is the big prob­lem. And how the Volt will be heated in win­ter. Will it have an oil- or petrol-burn­ing heater?

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers are re­search­ing the use of hy­dro­gen for cars, but the draw­backs are the need for stor­age un­der pres­sure at ul­tra-low tem­per­a­tures and the con­sump­tion of elec­tric­ity to pro­duce the hy­dro­gen in the first place. Th­ese are all ques­tions on which size­able funds are be­ing ex­pended.

Great de­vel­op­ments are on the way and the only cer­tainty is that elec­tric­ity will play an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant part in the car of the fu­ture. How un­for­tu­nate that we are now be­ing told elec­tric­ity may also be in short sup­ply, even for do­mes­tic and in­dus­trial use, without the added bur­den of pow­er­ing trans­port.

Miche­lin’s ‘ac­tive wheel’

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