Friday, January 30, 2009

Hybrid Formula One Racecars?!?

As we all saw in the last class lecture, efficiency and losses play an intricate role in energy. However, we can all agree that increasing efficiency and limiting energy losses is imperative for energy conservation.

Before hybrid technology, the last drastic change to fuel economy was due to fuel management systems. Fuel injectors increase combustion efficiency by producing smaller droplets for the combustion process. Some of us may remember our parents’ old cars with carburetors and only remember fuel injection systems really making an appearance in the 1980’s. In reality they appeared on the racing scene as early as the 1950’s. In America, we’re fairly limited in our exposure to automotive racing technology and most of us would think it’s just a weekend where some guys get together and drive fast in circles. In reality, racing actually influences the roads on the highway.

Beginning in 2009, Formula One teams are planning to introduce hybrid racecars onto the circuit. Toyota introduced the Prius in Japan in 1997, so what’s so special about these racecars? Well, any amateur racer would tell you that you want the lightest car possible for racing and anybody can tell you batteries are heavy. So the race engineers opted to forgo the batteries for their racecars and store energy mechanically via a flywheel system called the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). These systems are projected to add only 55 pounds of extra weight to the vehicles. By being lightweight, it won’t add too much unnecessary load to the engine of an automobile (therefore not wasting extra fuel indirectly).

For the public market removing the batteries from hybrids is a huge concern. By eliminating the batteries, the environmental concerns with battery disposal are gone. Even if car manufacturers choose to keep the batteries and implement the system on a current regenerative braking vehicle like the Prius, the system would still reduce the act of draining and recharging of the batteries. As we may notice from our day to day activities, battery life of various electronics diminish with constant use.

With or with batteries, this system would be ideal for those drivers with a heavy foot at intersections. Since it’s mechanically based, the system is projected to be able to provide about 80 HP over approximately six seconds so that you can beat that pesky looking Jetta next to you. Unbeknownst to many drivers, it’s not your RPM that influences your fuel consumption the most; it’s the throttle position and the load on the car. One way I can think of implementing the system on automobiles on the road is to activate the KERS from a stop (when the load on the car would be the highest) to reach a coasting speed and then shift the load to the engine when the load would be lower.

Although this would definitely take some time to implement on automobiles, the concept is interesting and may work really well for those that have to floor their cars at every intersection. With the energy dilemma we face today, I personally won’t be surprised if KERS appears on the streets soon.

To learn more about how the Torotrak variator (part of the KERS) works here’s a link to the manufacturer’s description of the system:

The following is a Youtube video of a similar system for those that would like to see the components of the system. Keep in mind that the KERS system implemented by the Formula One teams would be using flywheels for energy storage rather than springs and would be more complex than this system:


justme said...

This new tech looks interesting. I hope that this time the US car manufacturers start early to research the possible use of this technology in a new generation of hybrid cars.

The actual leader in Hybrids cars is Toyota. Toyota was one of the first manufacturers to research and develop a commercially viable Hybrid and has the advantage of the first mover: the expertise on Hybrids.

There have been some attempts by the US federal government to stimulate the production of Hybrid cars in the US. One of these attempts was the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) program proposed by the Clinton administration in 1993. This partnership involved Chrysler, Ford, General Motors in the research to develop Hybrid cars but the result of this partnership was not so successful due the Big three manufacturers focused to produce bigger and heavier cars.

Anonymous said...

This post brings up a lot of great points. There are definitely technological improvements that can be made to existing power-trains to increase performance and reduce fuel consumption without completely redesigning the car. I agree that F-1 gets overlooked a lot, but they are indeed responsible for a lot of improvements in our cars. The paddle shifters, CVTs, and Direct-Shift Gearboxes (DSG) transmissions are all products of F-1.

abhishek gaurav said...

This particular post among all the posts I have read so far is a real eye-opener. I never knew the car manufacturers can learn so much from the F-1 race technology.

koh said...

I forgot to mention that the FIA (which governs F1) is basically forcing the teams to do this. A lot of teams are having a hard time with the system (since they have time and financial constraints). It's actually pretty impressive what some teams have done in such a limited amount of time.