Autoview Motorsport & Motoring

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Watt's our driving future?

The Nissan Leaf - all electric

I know you don't want to hear this, but the oil is being used up fairly rapidly, and depending on who you listen to, will affect your view of how long it will last. argue, curse me, whatever - it isn't going to last forever. 

So, we're going to have to face it sooner or later, we need a new way to power our personal transportation systems (or CARS, as they are known here) - internal combustion of fossil fuels is going to have to start tapering off, the price of it has become ridiculous anyway, so let's explore this brave new world.

Our options currently seem to centre around: 
  1. 100% electric power
  2.  Hybrid Petrol/Diesel PLUS Electric
  3.  Hydrogen/Electric 
  4. Compressed Air
There are rumours of various other work-in-progress power sources, but things like mini-nuclear and hydrogen from water seem a bit sci-fi at the moment (if you can tell me differently, be glad to hear from you!). 

Right then, lets start with Leccy (Electric to you Sir!) 

The Nissan Leaf is one of many 100% electric zero emissions cars, on sale or due to be on-sale this year, and as electric cars go, it looks kinda like, well .... a car, which is a good start!  The perennial problem with electric cars has always been their range, (ask your milkman!) combined with a long wait for re-charging. Nissan is putting rapid charging stations at all their dealers to help overcome this problem. The rapid chargers will take just 30 minutes to bring the batteries back to 80% of their maximum charge. The home charger (16 amps) will take 8 hours, and the street charger (10amps) 12 hours. However the Leaf costs a massive £30,000 in the UK ($33,000 in the US), with a £5,000 government incentive bringing the price you pay to £25,000. Nissan claim a range of 109 miles and a top speed of 90mph. Cold weather has an effect on the distance you are going to be able to travel, and of course you might just want the heater on too, but this is going to impact the leaf's range (maybe by as much as 25 miles!), and if that cold weather journey needs to be at night then you might just want to have the lights on perhaps?...........hmmm. A new phrase is rapidly entering the english language - 'Range anxiety' - the feeling that your charge is going to be spent before you reach your destination. Premature capitulation anyone?  

The Stunning Lightning GT

But all is not doom and gloom, enter the Lightning GT, depending on your perspective it's stunning, a piece of automotive art. And the technology is clever too, Lithium Titanate batteries (a relatively new development  allowing ultra-rapid battery charging) cleverly integrated into the chassis, a 400BHP equivalent dual rear drive motor system, with 60MPH being achieved in sub 5 seconds. The makers, The Lightning Car Company, claim a 150 mile range, but as we've already seen, the cold, driving with the lights, heater on etc will surely limit the range (If the good people from Lightning want to prove me wrong, with a loan car, that's really fine!) Those Lithium Titanate batteries are key to the Lightning's effectiveness as a distance swallower, with a claimed re-charge in only 10 minutes! If that's the case, this car really is a game-changer. Imagine a business trip from Newcastle to London, stop half way for a cup of coffee, steak and balsamic shallot sandwich, and a battery re-charge - (that'll be a fiver Sir) then waft silently into London ignoring the congestion charge (FREE for zero emission cars) and park free for four hours! Tempted? Then get your cheque book ready, it's due this year and was reported to be around the £120,000 mark.

Hybrid/Range extended vehicles

The Hybrid has been around for quite some time now, the Toyota Prius celebrating  a remarkable 10 years on the road, and from owner accounts they are proving lovable and reliable, and Toyota claim over 70MPG for the latest version, although in the real world this seems to translate to around the 50-55MPG mark, similar to a current generation Diesel car. The Fisker Karma (above) is on stream and has the rear wheels powered by dual electric motors AND a 2 litre turbo petrol engine, giving this car a 6.3 second 0-60MPH time and a limited top speed of 125MPH. The Karma has an all electric range of 50 miles, thanks to it's Lithium-Ion batteries, a full solar roof, gives a total range of 300 miles. Fuel consumption is over 60mpg equivalent in all electric mode, with the petrol only figure at a fairly poor 24 MPG. So, Hybrid's have a place but they need to do much more to be a real alternative and at best can surely only be seen as a stop-gap.


Honda FCX Clarity

A real breakthrough when it was made available to lease in the Unites States, Honda's Hydrogen car, sounds like the answer to all our problems. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and Honda have very cleverly managed to produce a car with a fuel stack which converts Hydrogen into electricity to power the FCX Clarity's electric motor. It was highly thought of when James May tested the car for the BBC's Top Gear programme. Now here comes the BUT, and it's a very big capital BUT, there is currently no Network of Hydrogen filling stations and naturally enough, that's a problem. Producing sufficient quantities of Hydrogen takes a lot of energy and that has to come from somewhere! So maybe this particular solution is still a long way off, but hopefully somebody is working on the problems with this idea.

Compressed Air

I've covered compressed air power in an article posted earlier on this site about the MDI Air pod, an interesting proposition that shows ingenuity and a lot of merit.

The conclusion then is that we still have some way to go, before we find a true replacement for our much loved and loathed Internal (Infernal!) combustion engine, not forgetting that the combustion engine has had over 100 years of development thus far, another 20? 30? years of Hybrid or Electric should see us a long way down the road towards Oil freedom.  Let's just hope the stories of peak oil and energy shortage aren't quite as dire as some commentators would have us believe.

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