For those who are still not clear about what a hybrid vehicle is, the simple explanation is that its powertrain has both a conventional internal combustion engine (the type of engine which has been in use for over 100 years) and an electric motor. The basic idea is that the electric motor can provide supplementary power and torque so there are less demands on the engine to move the car, allowing it to be smaller – while achieving good performance.
By having an engine with smaller displacement, less fuel is consumed and that will help extend the reserves of fossil fuel supplies in the ground which are constantly diminishing. Exhaust pollution will also be lowered as the amount of exhaust gases produced are less though today’s engines, with catalytic converters, are already pretty clean.
It’s a simple concept which has been effectively commercialised by Toyota and Honda since the late 1990s but other manufacturers also offer some hybrid variants. Even Proton is said to be on the verge of delivering its first hybrid model (using the Exora platform) in 2011.
So far, if you have wanted to own a hybrid vehicle, it has meant that you have to buy one at a rather high cost (notwithstanding the fact that during 2011, Malaysians will be able to buy hybrid models duty-free from authorised distributors). Because of the complexity of the powertrain, it’s not something you can ‘bolt on’ like a turbocharger. In fact, the programming to make the synchronise the operation of the electric motor and the petrol engine was so difficult that it took Toyota engineers a long time to overcome the challenge and make it a smooth.
But if you own a car like the smart fortwo, that little car which can park in half a parking bay, you could turn it into a hybrid vehicle with Easybrid, an innovative solution soon to be offered by Sportservice Lorinser. The system was revealed at the Essen Motor Show 2010 in Germany and involves fitting an electric hub motor on the car’s rear wheels which will provide an extra 30 kW of power.
“The modification is now possible and can also be performed in an easy and therefore economic way,” declared project manager Martin Oberdoerfer-Schmidt of Sportservice Lorinser, a company better known for its ‘enhanced’ Mercedes-Benz models.
The preconditions are that the cars to be retrofitted must have drum brakes on the rear axle which is quite common with small and compact cars. Stators are fitted to the brake armature discs. These are accumulated electric coils which are supplied with directed power via control electronics which magnetise them and therefore turn the rotor on the wheel hub equipped with permanent magnets in rolling direction.
Therefore, any kind of engine, differential or driving shaft becomes unnecessary as the motor directly drives and accelerates the individual wheel. As a consequence, the nominal capacity of the electronic motor is transferred to the road almost without any frictional loss. With the help of a control unit, the power of the hub motors is added to the initial power of the combustion engine. This modification is usually added to the rear axle and therefore many of the vehicles that can be retrofitted can gain 4-wheel drive cars with added traction advantages as well.
Easybrid supports existing petrol or diesel engines and the extra power output will provide improved acceleration and a higher maximum speed. At the same time, because electric power supplements engine power, the actual amount of fuel needed to achieve a desired speed should be less, thereby reducing fuel consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide.
As electric engines are very powerful, their maximum torque is reached after only one revolution. It is therefore possible to move solely on an electric basis but present battery capacities and technology limits the range to 30 kms. The company claims that use of the hybrid mode can give a range of over 500 kms and that’s with a petrol engine; a turbodiesel engine could go even further.
In order to recharge the lithium-ion batteries that power the electric engine (which, for space-saving measures, are either stored in the spare wheel bay or under the vehicle), the car can either be connected to a normal electrical power point or energy can be recovered during braking and driving downhill.
|Battery gauge (left) keeps the driver informed of remaining capacity
|| The Easybrid will run on lithium-ion batteries
Lorinser’s first driveable prototype uses a Smart Fortwo and other possible models would be the Volkswagen Polo, the Renault Twingo and the Fiat 500. The company is also looking at older models as well. Prototypes have actually been running since May 2009 and the test period is expected to end by mid-2011, after which Easybrid will be offered for sale.
Modification for compact cars only makes sense if it does not exceed the value of the automobile. Therefore, Sportservice Lorinser has revised the overall project and added an innovative idea. Following the idea of mobilephone companies, contracts could be introduced which bind a customer to an energy provider who owns the car batteries on a long-term basis. The energy provider could therefore use its own battery as energy storage for vehicle-to-grid concepts and the car driver would pay for the batteries with an increased energy cost. In this scenario, Lorinser accepts the fact that mobility will not become cheaper in the future but battery prices – a crucial factor in alternative fuel vehicles – will significantly drop as fuel prices are certain to increase.
With such a battery financing concept between supplier and consumer, the modification of a compact car could be reduced to around 5,000 euros. Subsidies by a government which favour cars with lower CO2 emissions could help make Easybrid more affordable.
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