Energy and Global Warming News for May 19th 2010: Wheel hub motors for electric cars of the future? Drive Concepts for the Cars of the Future

In order to make electric cars a part of everyday life, new vehicle designs and parts are needed. Take wheel hub motors, for instance.  [Click on image to enlarge.] One of the advantages of wheel hub motors is that manufacturers can dispense with the conventional engine bay — the space under the “hood” or “bonnet” — since the motors are attached directly to the wheels of the vehicle. This opens up a wealth of opportunities for car designers when drafting the layout of the vehicle.

Additional advantages: By dispensing with the transmission and differential, the mechanical transmission elements suffer no losses or wear and tear. Moreover, the direct drive on each individual wheel may improve the drive dynamic and drive safety.

Researchers are developing not only individual components, but the total system as well. They assemble the components on their concept car, known as the “Frecc0” or the “Fraunhofer E-Concept Car Type 0” — a scientific test platform. Starting next year, automobile manufacturers and suppliers will also be able to use the “Frecc0” for testing new components. The basis of this demo model is an existing car: The new Artega GT manufactured by Artega Automobil GmbH. The establishment of this platform and the engineering of the wheel hub motor are just two projects among the panoply run by “Fraunhofer System Research for Electromobility.” The research cooperative is focusing on subjects that include vehicle design, energy production, distribution and implementation, energy storage techniques, technical system integration and sociopolitical matters. The federal ministry for education and research BMBF is funding this Fraunhofer initiative with 44 million euro. The goal is to develop prototypes for hybrid and electric vehicles, in order to support the German automotive industry as it makes the crossover to electromobility.

Wheel hub motors were invented back in the 19th century. Ferdinand Porsche used these motors to equip his “Lohner Porsche” at the 1900 World Fair in Paris. Much has been done since then: “We are developing a wheel hub motor that integrates all essential electric and electronic components, especially the power electronics and electronic control systems, into the installation space of the motor. Thus, no external electronics are necessary and the number and scope of the feed lines can be minimized. There is a marked increase in power compared to the wheel hub motors currently available on the market. Moreover, there is an innovative security and redundancy concept, which guarantees drive safety — even if the system breaks down,” explains Professor Matthias Busse, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research IFAM. Beside IFAM, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology IISB, for Mechanics of Materials IWM and for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF are tackling these issues.

Scientists weigh use of bacteria for cleaner fossil fuel production

Much of the world’s oil reserves lies in giant tar sand stretches in places like Alberta and Venezuela. While the oil industry uses an energy-intensive and fairly dirty process to make steam to cook the oil out of the tar sands, underground bacteria simply eat the crude oil and break it down into methane, or natural gas.

In nature, that process takes millions of years. A small group of cross-disciplinary microbiologists with their feet both in the oil industry and academic geochemistry wants to speed up the work. They are trying to get these bugs to break down carbon much faster to produce a steady supply of commercial natural gas, and to enhance the recovery of crude.

Interest in using microbes that grow naturally in oil fields, coal beds and shale deposits is growing, according to a group of industry insiders at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2010 convention last week in Chicago.

“We’ve garnered the attention of large oil and gas producers around the world,” said Mark Finkelstein, vice-president of science at Colorado-based Luca Technologies. “The recent emphasis on climate change and natural gas bodes well for our technology.”

And with the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and subsidies for carbon capture and storage, or CCS, in the recently released “American Power Act,” the focus has turned to increasing production from traditional oil wells, according to John Steelman, program manager at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center.

In a typical oil extracting operation, only about 20 to 50 percent of the petroleum is removed from the ground. When the pressure of oil falls, the oil companies pump in some water to increase pressure. Then, with more than half the oil left underground, the wells get plugged and the company moves off to newer opportunities. Recently, that has meant offshore drilling.

Software prospects fuel manufacturer of high-end electric motorcycles

Entrepreneurs trying to capitalize on growing consumer interest in clean, green transportation typically build cheaper and lighter vehicles to serve as entry points to the new carbon-constrained marketplace.

Not Mission Motors.

The Bay area startup, formed in 2007 by mechanical engineers in a Mission District garage, is placing a big bet on high-end performance. The company’s first-edition prototype electric motorcycle is selling for $68,995, with the first 50 bikes set to be delivered this year.

Bucking a global movement toward cheap, electric Chinese two wheelers, the Mission One is no scooter. The single-speed bike has been clocked at more than 160 miles an hour and tops out at a relatively stable 6,500 rpm. And it is powered by a lithium-ion battery that recharges in a 220-volt outlet in less than two hours.

Mission’s business model is a virtual photocopy of Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley-based carmaker looking to sell high-end electric sports cars to wealthy auto enthusiasts worried about their carbon footprints. Like Tesla, Mission intends to roll out at top speed, at the upper end of the market.

The goal, Mission executives say, is to reinvent the modern sports bike without alienating riders used to tailpipe rumbling and speed. The Mission One is less eco-toy than a new way to appeal to adrenaline junkies who demand acceleration to 100 mph in less than five seconds.

So says Mission CEO Jit Bhattacharya, whose top-line Google search result is still his profile on the Stanford University Ultimate Frisbee team. Yet Bhattacharya, 31, who recently took the company’s handlebars from Mission founder Forrest North, said the company is not in business for fun and games.

“We wanted to build a vehicle that is going to sell, that is going to get riders excited, and not just because it’s green,” Bhattacharya said. “You get a riding experience that is unlike anything you can possibly get on a gasoline motorcycle.”

US Commerce Secretary leads trade mission to China

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is leading an American trade mission to China, aiming to boost clean energy technology sales as one industry leader announced a fresh contract to supply components for Chinese wind turbines.

The visit, one of several by U.S. Cabinet officials, preceeds annual talks called the Strategic Economic Dialogue, a top-level venue for thrashing out grievances on trade, currency and other policy issues.

Locke, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will attend those talks, which begin Monday in Beijing. They come as the two countries are mending ties after a bout of friction over various issues, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

The Commerce Department’s trade mission intends to help deliver on President Barack Obama’s pledge to double U.S. exports over the next five years and create 2 million jobs.

“Promoting American exports, particularly here in Asia, will create more jobs in America while improving the lives of people around the world and introducing new products and services to local communities,” Locke said before leaving Hong Kong for Shanghai.

In Hong Kong, the U.S. and local governments signed an agreement on promoting American wines. In the Chinese mainland, Locke’s delegation will be promoting technologies related to clean energy, energy efficiency, and electric energy storage, transmission and distribution in Asia.

On Tuesday, American Superconductor Corp. announced a new electrical components order from Sinovel Wind, China’s largest wind turbine maker. Beijing-based Sinovel, ranked the world’s third-largest wind turbine maker worldwide, has so far ordered US$1 billion from AMSC.

China’s potential market for renewable energy is huge: Total investment by the government and private sector last year was $34.6 billion, nearly double U.S. spending of $18.6 billion, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Turning to Water Conservation to Save Energy

In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit conference last year, water researchers and advocates held a special meeting to address the fact that water issues were absent from the draft negotiating text. This was a major oversight, given the amount of energy that is used to collect, treat, distribute and use water and wastewater.

Just how much energy is consumed has not been measured in most places, but a 2005 energy policy report published by the state of California found that annual water-related energy consumption in the state accounted for 19 percent of electricity consumption, 32 percent natural gas consumption, and 88 million gallons, or 333 million liters, of diesel fuel. River Network, an organization that advocates water conservation, has extrapolated that data nationally. In a report last year it calculated that Americans use 520 megawatt-hours, or 13 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, on water.

This level of consumption offers an opportunity, said Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel, a project coordinator with the network. “Reducing your water use not only saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s also a key way to adapt to climate change because most effects of global warming will be manifest through our water resources,” he said.

The relationship between power and water utilities is lopsided. While electric utilities pay little or nothing for their water, the largest operating cost for water utilities is often their electricity bill.

Santa Clara Valley Water District has drawn a lesson from that. Serving 1.8 million residents in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley, it has had a water conservation program since the early 1990s. In 2007, it released a report analyzing its success in terms of energy conservation, emissions mitigation and cost. From 1993 to 2006, the report said, the district saved approximately 1.42 billion kilowatt-hours of energy, equivalent to the annual power used by 207,000 households, through financial incentives, advisory programs and infrastructure investments that cut water consumption.

That translated into a financial saving of about $183 million and an avoidance of 335,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

California is not the only U.S. state with water supply issues. By 2013, at least 36 states expect shortages, according to a 2003 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Last year, driven by climate change concerns, the U.S. government drafted several policy proposals, mostly focused on water conservation “” with indirect energy efficiency benefits “” but a few directly addressing the connection between water and energy.

20 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 19th 2010: Wheel hub motors for electric cars of the future?

  1. Bob Wallace says:

    Michelin has had a hub motor unit for a few years. The bolt-on hub unit includes drive motor and active shock motor.

    Here’s test car video from 2008…

  2. Jay Turner says:

    It’s not just cutting total water use that can save energy, but using local resources like rainwater and greywater more effectively can provide energy savings by reducing the amount of fresh water that has to be transported and purified for potable uses and by reducing the amount of waste water that has to be treated at the back end.

  3. BB says:

    Could you imagine the increase in repair costs if the motor is near the wheel well? Careful hopping those curbs!

  4. Mark Heyer says:

    When I looked at the Fraunhofer illustration of their hub motor (without brakes), I knew immediately that these were not car guys. Watching the Michelin videos (they ARE car guys, but no less devious) confirmed my suspicion.

    The problem with hub motors is the vastly increased unsprung weight of adding a motor to the wheel/brake assembly, which is a pendulum controlled by the springs and shocks. The holy grail of car suspension design is reducing unsprung weight to the absolute minimum (witness Formula One cars, with inboard shocks, carbon brake disks, etc.). Building a car with conventional springs/shocks and hub motors would result in an unbearably stiff ride up to the top speed of, oh maybe 60mph, at which the suspension would max out.

    Michelin solved the problem by putting TWO motors in each wheel – one for drive, one to control the suspension and provide more damping than conventional springs and shocks could. However, the power required to run the suspension motor will increase geometrically with speed, thus using more energy and negating the original concept of eliminating power losses through driveshafts, etc.

    The telling comment is that a) it has never been put into production even though the concept has been around forever, and b) They show the prototype car running around in tight circles in a warehouse, showing off the suspension “tipping” capability, also not new. They do NOT show the car proceeding down an undulating highway at high speed, probably because at any high speed there simply isn’t enough power available to run the suspension for any distance on the batteries and they would have to revert to a 600bhp Viper engine or some such.

    Sometimes things are so obvious that we can’t imagine why they haven’t been done. They we find out that the devil is always in the details, just like climate modeling and prediction.

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    BB – I can’t.

    In 54 years of driving (I started at 12) I’ve ruined exactly one tire by hitting a hole in the road. I’ve never damaged a hub or axle. Nor do I know anyone who has.

    Now, can you imagine how much easier it will be to have repairs made on your EV if all that is required is to unbolt/unplug the wheel hub and bolt on a new/rebuilt unit? It would be a shade tree mechanic’s dream….

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    “However, the power required to run the suspension motor will increase geometrically with speed, thus using more energy and negating the original concept of eliminating power losses through driveshafts, etc. ”

    Regenerative braking and regenerative suspension. Motors run backwards are generators.

  7. GFW says:

    I’m with Bob on the hub damage issue. I know people who’ve popped the tire-to-rim seal by hitting/scraping a curb, particularly in cold weather, but never any damage to the hub or axle.

    The unsprung weight issue is interesting. How heavy are these motors? They don’t look very big.

    Come to think of it, I don’t know how ordinary drive trains cross the suspension – that is, if the wheels move relative to the engine & transmission, the axle must connect in a way that permits that. I guess the range of motion is pretty limited, so it’s not rocket science.

  8. Berbalang says:

    Bob Wallace @ 5

    I cracked an axle which broke a few days later by accidently hitting a large skunk. It can happen, no matter how hard you try and avoid it.

  9. Doug says:

    There’s also the sheer endurance issue for hub motors — unlike a motor mounted on the main body, which benefits from the cushioning supplied by the shocks just as much as the passengers are, hub motors are subjected to the full force of every bump in the road. I’d think that the expected lifespan of a hub motor would be a bit shorter, at least.

    The unsprung weight issue itself could be lessened if the main battery pack was heavy enough by comparison.

  10. Alain Miville de Chêne says:

    Surprisingly, the electric drive in the wheel is an 1898 product by Porsche.

  11. Martin says:

    The unsprung weight issue is a real one – easily solved by mounting the motor(s) inboard on a central frame and delivering the torque to the wheel(s) through a short telescoping shaft with a cvjoint at each end.

  12. vfx says:

    Solutions are rarely universal. Having the weight out in the wheel might be horrible for passenger cars but might be good for specialized lower speed transport vehicles like at airports, industrial facilities and shipping ports. More space to fit in cargo and not as much concern for handling. Of course electric drive is great for interior applications.

    This also may translate to other conventional trucks as the technology gets refined.

  13. Mark Shapiro says:

    Also, whether the electric motor is hub mounted or inboard, electric drive is certainly the way to go.

    The pesky question remains how to get electricity to the car. Thinking outside the box of hybrids, batteries, (and fuel cells), you could have overhead wires, electromagnetic induction, or even EM radiation.

    So what is the best way to get juice from the electric wires that run along every highway the last few feet into your car?

  14. Bob Wallace says:

    Mark, I’d say ‘none of the above’.

    GM and Toyota did a study and found that something like 80% of daily driving is under 40 miles. If we have EVs like the Leaf that will go 100 miles per charge then that percentage is likely higher than 90%.

    Nissan is building ‘rapid charge routes’ between some cities as they release the Leaf. They are installing rapid charge stations (IIRC) every 35 miles along the ‘long distance corridor’.

    This is a pure guess, but I would guess that well under 10% of US drivers routinely drive over 100 miles several days a week. Those are the only people who would benefit from pulling power from the grid as they drive. That’s not going to be enough use to justify the infrastructure cost.

    People who are routine long distance drivers would be better served by PHEVs. And those who take the occasional long trip can take public transportation, rent a PHEV, or stop every couple of hours for a rapid charge.

    There’s even the possibility that one might rent a small battery/genset trailer to tow behind your EV for a very long trip.

  15. paulm says:

    MSM waking up…shortly so will lots of others.

    Playing with nature

    the most famously rich man in the world is putting billions behind geo-engineering — the attempt to engineer our way out of climate change has brought the controversial concept to the mainstream.

    Risky oilsands practices worry investors

    growing concern from investors that the development trajectory in Canada’s oilsands region is tremendously risky for companies, investors and the environment.

    “Investors are concerned that many oilsands companies seem to be barrelling ahead without well-developed plans to manage the very significant risks they face related to carbon emissions, water scarcity and other key issues,”

  16. prokaryote says:

    Neven suggested the documentation “Blind Spot”. Thank you neven for sharing this movie. It gives a very good summary of our today’s energy/economic/environment situation. If you not saw “Blind Spot”, you can watch it here.

    Blind Spot is a documentary film that illustrates the current oil and energy crisis that our world is facing. Whatever measures of ignorance, greed, wishful thinking, we have put ourselves at a crossroad, which offers two paths with dire consequences. If we continue to burn fossil fuels we will choke the life out of the planet and if we don’t our way of life will collapse.

  17. paulm says:

    NASA scientist urges Norway to pull out of Alberta’s ‘destructive’ oilsands

    James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has written an open letter in a Norwegian newspaper asking the government to vote in favour of a motion at Statoil’s annual general meeting Wednesday to end the company’s oilsands project.

    “I am disappointed to learn that Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil company, has taken such backward strides through its strategic decision to invest in Canada’s destructive tarsands industry,” Hansen writes to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Aftenposten, one of Norway’s leading papers.

    “In your capacity as owner of more than two-thirds of the shares in Statoil, I urge you to end Norway’s involvement in this dangerous, dirty and destructive project.”

  18. paulm says:

    Greenland rising as ice melt goes on

    “What’s surprising, and a bit worrisome, is the ice is melting so fast that we can actually see the land uplift in response. Even more surprising, the rise seems to be accelerating, implying melting is accelerating.”

  19. prokaryote says:

    “Greenland rising as ice melt goes on”

    Seismic activity will rise aswell.

    Global warming may trigger more volcanoes

    As the land ”rebounds” back up once the weight of the ice has been removed – which could be by as much as a kilometre in places such as Greenland and Antarctica – then if, in the worst case scenario, all the ice were to melt – it could trigger earthquakes.

    The increase in seismic activity could, in turn, cause underwater landslides that spark tsunamis.

    A potential additional risk is from ”ice-quakes” generated when the ice sheets break up, causing tsunamis which could threaten places such as New Zealand, Newfoundland in Canada and Chile.

    The reduction in the ice could also stimulate volcanic eruptions, according to the research.

    Greenland has it’s past.

    However, substantial volcanism had been active in East Greenland