Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An interesting new approach to the urban runabout

A British 'company' - it's not so much a company as a co-operative, by the sound of things - has come up with a very interesting idea for personal urban transportation. According to the BBC:

The manufacturer of a hydrogen car unveiled in London on Tuesday will make its designs available online so the cars can be built and improved locally.

The Riversimple car can go 80 km/hr (50 mph) and travels 322 km (200 miles) per re-fuelling, with an efficiency equivalent to 300 miles to the gallon.

The cars will be leased with fuel and repair costs included, at an estimated £200 ($315) per month.

The company hopes to have the vehicles in production by 2013.

Next year, it aims to release 10 prototypes in a UK city which yas yet to be confirmed.

Riversimple has partnered with gas supply company BOC to install hydrogen stations for the cars in the city where the prototypes are launched.

The car itself is an amalgam of high-efficiency approaches in automotive design.

Its four motors are powered by a fuel cell rated at just six kilowatts, in contrast to current designs that are all in excess of 85 kilowatts - required because the acceleration from a standing start requires a great deal of power.

Riversimple's solution is to power the car also from so-called "ultracapacitors", which store large amounts of electric charge and, crucially, can release that charge nearly instantly to provide the power needed to accelerate from rest.

The ultracapacitors are charged as the vehicle brakes to a halt, converting the energy of the moving car into stored energy.

Without a combustion engine, gearbox, or transmission, and with a shell made of carbon fibre composites, it weighs 350kg.

There's more at the link. Here's a video clip of the launch.

What's particularly interesting is Riversimple's approach to manufacturing and development. They specifically don't want to follow the traditional 'sell-a-car' model of traditional manufacturers. By offering the vehicles for lease only, including fuel, they intend to make it possible for local businesses to set up assembly plants, as it will be economically viable to produce only a few thousand units per year.

Plans for the vehicle will be placed in the public domain through the 40 Fires Foundation. Any improvements developed by local producers will be made available in the same way, so that all producers can benefit from the shared experience and expertise of others.

This may sound Utopian, but Heaven knows, we've got into an awful rut with the present model of personal transportation! If Riversimple can 'break the mold' and produce something viable for general use (at least in cities), and make it both cheaper and more environmentally friendly, I'll be the first to cheer them on.



reflectoscope said...

I like the technological advances - ultracaps in particular - but hydrogen is a non-starter. It sounds great on paper but it has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is either catalyzed natural gas or electrolyzed seawater.


Jim March said...

The development model is called "open source" - the entire Linux operating system with most of it's applications is built on this model, summarizable as "if you recieve free, give free".

I'm typing this on a cheap ($500 six months ago) laptop that started life with M$-Windows, but is now fully converted to a particular "distribution" of Linux known as "Ubuntu" - assembled in South Africa.

This ability to take open-source stuff and modify it any way you want (and then re-distribute that) leads to some strange stuff. For example, somebody packaged up Ubuntu with a porn filter and some Bible study tools and called it "Ubuntu Christian Edition". Which caused copycats in short order - Islamic (even stronger porn filter!) and Hindu variants.

Which led inevitably to a parody: Ubuntu Satanic Edition. Google it if you want, be warned the website for same is non-work-safe and the variant itself includes, you guessed it, a porn *index*.

So open-source works, but can get weird.

Expect some damned peculiar variants of this car, eventually.

Tim D said...

Spiffy, it's about time someone modernized the C2V.


Wayne Conrad said...

I hate to rain on someone's symbol...

Hydrogen is not an energy source, it is an energy storage medium. And not a very efficient one. Its energy density is so poor that it can't be trucked or piped any appreciable distance without using more energy than you are moving, meaning that it needs to be produced close to its source.

See: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/4541

Loren said...

Hydrogen is a non-starter. For the range this gets, batteries will work just as well.

Also, leasing is what GM did with the EV-1 , and the business plan was shared by other manufacturers. Unless the local company owns the car, it's far too easy to get them off the road later. I'm not comfortable with that arrangement.

On the other hand, it's very easy these days to do small lot manufacturing, even with things like cars, economically. I hope to eventually build such a plant, to manufacture cars for local consumption. The only real problem is safety testing, the demands of the various governments prevent easy entry into the car market. Hopefully I can bypass some of these with local use only contracts.

Jim March said...

The most efficient setup is to use a small diesel set up purely as an electric generator, power a small battery bank with that, power an electric drive motor with the batteries - also known as a "series hybrid".

The reason you use diesel is simple: a diesel engine has a very narrow powerband and low peak RPM, which is a problem if you try and use it as a primary drive motor. The narrow powerband is why semis have up to 18 gears. But when a diesel is run in it's very narrow "happy place" of RPMs versus power versus efficiency, they're VERY efficient, moreso than gasoline-type motors (which includes natural gas, propane and alky fuels).

So you run a diesel as a generator and keep it 100% of the time in it's "happy place".

The efficiency bonus is the ability to do regenerative braking, pulling power out of the wheels and into the battery pack on braking.

Note that a diesel-cycle engine can run on other fuels - biodiesel, pure veggie oil if pre-heated, kerosene if tuned right, and some other options. The "diesel cycle" is all about blowing up the fuel through very high compression strokes.

Biodiesel via algae sources has huge potential as a renewable fuel source that doesn't conflict with (read: limit or raise prices on) food production the way corn-based fuels do. Diverting food production to fuel is a terrible idea.

Jim March said...

Series-hybrid is how diesel-electric submarines and locomotives work now.