How To Create A Cheap(er) Urban Electric Car
Carnegie Mellon University professors Illah Nourbakhsh and his co-principle investigator, Greg Podnar are exploring, through their ChargeCar project, an interesting avenue for reducing the cost of electric cars. Instead of engineering the car to replace the IC engine vehicle, they believe it makes far more sense to design the car around actual driver usage patterns, which turns out to be relatively short commutes, easily achievable using fewer low cost batteries in combination with an appropriate number of ultracapacitors optimized to handle the bulk of the car's acceleration and regenerative braking. The concept of mating ultracaps with lead-acid batteries isn't new, but the idea of scaling the car's energy storage system to specific commuting regimes is.
Nourbakhsh, Podnar and their students at CMU's CREATE Lab have taken a standard model Toyota Scion Xb and with the assistance of a local "chop shop" in Pittsburgh, gutted it of its IC engine components and replaced them with four electric motorcycle motors, a hand-built controller, 48 volts of lead acid batteries and Maxwell super-capacitors. While the car is admittedly under-powered for both student safety and budgetary reasons, it is designed as a proof of concept vehicle that is part of a three-legged initiative that includes active collaboration with computer "hacker" community, data collection from a national network of iPhone-linked commuters, and active participation with independent garage mechanics who would do the actual conversions.
Professor Nourbakhsh discusses the program in detail in this CMU-produced video that is just over 61-minutes in length. The video is a great introduction of electric cars, in general, and the ChargeCar project in particular. You can also download ChargeCar's "Evaluating the Urban Electric Vehicle" white paper.
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