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Speed and sustainability

Posted 11/09/2013 by sevans

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Indianapolis, US, and home of the Indy 500 race, is Chemistry in Motion. Speed, perhaps not too surprisingly, also features high on the agenda, as does the environment and sustainability. And now, according to scientists speaking at the meeting, it appears that the two no longer have to be mutually exclusive when it comes to racing cars.

Electric cars based on lithium ion battery designs are already setting speed records above 300mph, pointed out EV pioneer John Waters – considerably faster than the humble electric milk float where the technology started out. While converting petrol into motion involves multiple energy consuming steps that transfer motion from pistons to a crankshaft, to a flywheel, before finally reaching the wheels, he explained, in an EV the conversion is more direct, from batteries to an electric motor with negligible friction.

This ‘instant torque’ – the twisting motion that turns wheels – has also enabled electric test cars to zip from 0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds, an experience he says that every Tesla owner will be familiar with. And despite their more limited range, energy storage-to-torque on an EV platform is above 90% efficient, he added – compared with less than 35% for internal combustion engines. 

It will require major advances in battery technology before EVs can catch up with petroleum fuelled counterparts around traditional oval shaped circuits such as Indy 500 or NASCAR, Waters said. However, they already competitive for road car racing that involves real streets and a lot of braking, where regenerative braking, to recover energy to recharge the battery, means they can race from 0 to 150mph for over half an hour, similar to the times for internal combustion engines.

‘With the dawn of new and advanced energy storage, we will soon see supercars – electric race cars with instant torque – that accelerate in a blink of an eye and reach top speeds of 200mph or more,’ he predicts. And all with less noise, heat and emissions, and at lower cost, than today.

Meanwhile, the first Formula E series race event involving electrically powered vehicles will take place in 2014, while later in 2013 the so-named Buckeye Bullet EV will make an attempt at another world speed record – over 400 mph.

Watch this space. EV technology is moving fast. But don’t blink – or you might miss it.

Cath O’Driscoll - Deputy editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    18/09/2013 10:04

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