It's An ENIGMA - Part 4
By Josh Landess
EVW: Approximately how much did you spend total so far?
JB: Well the actual cash money that we had to spend was $286,000. [Dr. Burns later related that he'd recently been told by a Detroit Auto maker that to do what his team had done would take 2.5 million dollars.]
EVW: And a lot added to that has been people donating their time?
JB: Yes. Norm Lamarr, my chief designer, essentially worked for free for eight months, didn't have a job. Terry worked for a couple of months here and then we found him a job here as a technician. But I believe in it and the people around me believe that I believe. That kind of inspiration is required to get people to do great things.
The only thing we've tried to do is to stay true to our principles that we would try to make the best car we could and we wouldn't compromise and obviously other people could do it better. Yes, it does need anti-lock breaks and air bags and what's the crash worthiness - we don't know - ...but still to have people say okay "Well, it's just a student project" and "Who are you?"
It bothers me that it isn't about trying to make the world better in the best way you can. We were given free reign with a big chunk of money and we didn't waste it. And I get really ruffled by individuals who don't seem to get it, that there are so many people that do squander opportunities, that when you see an effort that is really a monument of achievement in the environment we have.
EVW: I take it the funding for a Gen 2 car for you is a little up in the air?
JB: [W]e already have some preliminary Pro/E work on Generation Two. It's going to be a four-seat car. We're on the way. As far as design tools are going, it's a matter of paying for the time that my students invest now, especially Norm Lamar, my chief designer, because, we've worked for many years for nothing. It's time to make a little bit of money, at least to defray our own investment here.
And secondly, it will take serious investment again to buy the components, the near state-of-the-art kind of things that are coming out now, and use them in the best way possible. It is a composite vehicle; it will use a different mix of technologies than the one that we have now.
Ultracap Pros and Cons, Gen 2 Discussion
JB: Every battery has its weak points here. The Hawkers, we've blown two of them up.
EVW: How much might you be able to improve mileage if you're able to remove a small part of the lead-acids and replace that with ultracapacitors to supplement the lead-acids?
JB: You know, it's interesting, you should bring this up at this point because the role of battery ultracapacitor, the mix, the fraction of each one, is kind of an open question right now with when one asks what level of power you want from your propulsion pack. Lead acid and ultra caps in a specific ratio: I think that's been thought out for higher power applications, in the range that we're going here now with 250 horsepower, roughly 200 kilowatts of power. That range has been thought about, but we're talking about solving a different problem if we're talking about an ultra high mileage four-passenger sedan.
We don't need 250 horsepower. If it's light enough and you've done your homework, you may not need more than 120 horsepower to really do this or, many people would say a lot less, but I'm thinking to make it perform and not be a compromise to the general public, you may need that level of power.
Now, engine technology of the previous combustion ilk tended to be efficient if asked to hit those peak demand loads, that's what hybridization does, it allows you to not deal with sizing your engine to the maximum or peak load, but to some other lower load, almost the average load, is what you can satisfy.
There are other devices to do that, fuel cells and so forth, but it's a different problem and I don't think anybody really has a firm grasp on what the best mix of technology is for a 100 horsepower four-door sedan with very slippery aerodynamics, with the right tires on it, and so forth. All I know is I've seen a lot of mistakes made. I've seen really no systemic design taking into account all these things when the decisions were made. Okay, we built a great body, but we don't really know if an engine is going to come up and be available to us because we didn't design both the engine technology mix and the body at the same time.
If you do those things, then you have some chance of integrating a vehicle that can be driven down the road. And on one end you get compromises where people don't think it through and they have something that is less than desirable, and on the other end, if they're risk averse, they simply never get a vehicle together. We have both here.
What will the next super car look like? Well if it's designed and integrated in the same manner that we propose to use, I think you have a good chance of hitting your 120 miles per gallon passenger car standard. I'm not saying 80; I'm saying 120 on the highway. That's my goal.
EVW: In four door or two door?
JB: A lightweight all-composite four-door sedan, ultra slippery. With the right mix of propulsion technologies, I believe we can hit 120 miles per gallon. And there are people that want to claim 150 or Lovins' 200. Now that we're hitting 80 in this range here with this vehicle, I think 120 is a very feasible option.
EVW: So let's say you sacrifice about half your horsepower...
JB: ...and the associated weight from trying to do that as well...
EVW: That's getting rid of part of the batteries, or part of the engine, or both?
JB: All the systems can shrink and since they take up less volume, and they weigh less, the vehicle platform gets lighter and less complicated and easier to make. It's called "decompounding", that's Lovins' term for it. In his defense all the ideas are there, but in his worrying about his execution here, I don't know that the group started with the premise that they were going to solve both the propulsion and the structural problem at the same time.
EVW: It's an awful lot to solve.
JB: It is, and then there aren't an awful lot of people in the world that would take on that integrated design task as individuals or groups of one or two as we have. They're going to do it in groups of 10 or 20 and it hasn't worked up to this point. The design tools themselves don't really facilitate that kind of integrated effort.
EVW: Don't ultracaps help with battery life?
JB: [I]f you look at what Andy Frank and UC Davis' has been saying about plug-in hybrids and the interesting extension in battery life you get over pure electrics, ultracaps help that, of course, in buffering the cycle and taking the peaks out and so forth. But even so, a grid powered electric hybrid, you don't have to worry if your total electric range drops from 20 to 15, or 30 to 20, in that range, because as a drivability test, you still have the ability to onboard- recharge. So unlike a pure electric vehicle, the battery life is greatly extended by both ultracaps, in terms of taking the wear and tear out of the system, and by having onboard recharging capabilities.
Now, what we have with ultracaps though, you have to have a need to worry about the wear and tear on your system and for an ultra light four seat, lower powered vehicle like the one we're talking about for next generation, there may not be that strong need for saving the wear and tear on the system.
Ovonic NiMH Batteries
EVW: You left the door open for some day possibly looking at using Ovonic's product. And I wondered where that stood, especially now that Chevron and Texaco has made some very optimistic sounding releases about working to produce more of those, and they have been saying they'd like some coverage of their environmentally-minded efforts. Are you still looking at that?
JB: Let me answer that and then we'll go back to the ultracaps as well because they're related issues at this point. The Ovonic Generation Two batteries, we hear great things about them. I think there are some pre-released in some special circumstances. We've been in negotiations with Ovonic twice in the past, and we're very hopeful of trying their newest pack in our car.
Like any other activity that you might do at a University that no one's ever heard of, it's really hard for anyone to imagine that they would benefit from a partnership with us. We're not named or known, we don't seem to get around as much.
At this point we've heard some potential promises from Texaco-Ovonic and we heard some potential promises from our close neighbors here, Maxwell Technologies, in terms of ultracaps. We're not asking for massive donations of money and technical help, we'd just like to see their product in our lab.
We think that the original premise of our vehicle, that it was a "Modular Hybrid Test Bed" -- that's actually the paraphrase of the title of the proposal for this vehicle -- is apt now, because it is a system that is very high powered, it has enough volume and lots of different things in there in different locations, and really tests various ideas out in a way that most other test beds couldn't try out because they couldn't fit some of the systems, they couldn't carry the extra weight, they wouldn't have enough power dissipating ability to really recycle them well. We have that.
We have a fully functional production level prototype that uses low-risk technology, and we're willing to step up and give people feedback on whether their more high-risk technologies and more expensive technologies have any hope in this application, and we're uniquely qualified to do so.
With advanced batteries and ultracaps, we would be up in the 30-mile range. If you look at Andy Frank's calculations, I think you're seeing an extremely much larger than 50% fraction of all-electric-drive possible with that level of onboard charge.
EVW: A 30-mile range?
JB: We're certainly over 30 miles if we have the better batteries and ultracaps in there. As soon as we get an ultracap maker that will work with us. Even if we have to go to Russia to get good ultracaps, ...
EVW: How long have you been looking into Nickel Metal Hydride?
JB: Not that long actually.
As to ultracaps, I don't know if it's a corporate ideology that keeps them from wanting to invest in the genius of many people trying and learning as much as we can, or what the story is, but we still have no ultracaps in our facility.
As to batteries, we have no batteries, but I have faith after talking directly with Mr. Stemple himself who is heading the East Coast Activities in Texaco-Ovonic and he heard it was a rechargeable, high power, parallel hybrid and he was excited and he asked for our literature and he asked intelligent questions.
He spent his time and that's an amazing thing for someone who's experienced in the auto business to really dig in, and he asked one of his colleagues, "find out how many batteries they need." This is important to us. To me it is like you are at the batting cages and Babe Ruth walks up and says, "hey buddy, nice swing". That feels good, that makes me know we're doing something right because we're actually presenting them with an option to market that their technology is effective and it is sexy because it is in the coolest application they have, the world's first hybrid electric sports car.
Where my credibility gap reduction has always been: If you don't believe we can do it, come and ride in our car. We have a car. It's something that you've never seen before. And if you think we're going to waste it after you ride in it, then I can understand that position. I'll have to work at impressing you more.
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