Friday, May 09, 2008

What is a Hypercar?

So yesterday, I had the privilege of lunch and fairly lengthy conversation with one of my elders, betters, and mentors. This gentleman is a civil engineer and the president of a sizeable professional engineering firm with a strong interest in green design. As automated controls have a central role to play in many green schemes, there is a good synergy here and we look forward to a vibrant cross-disciplinary collaboration.

I was telling him about Matt Simmon's less than sanguine prognosis for the ailing oil industry infrastructure. His response caught me by surprise. He stated that in his opinion, the oil industry is just about precisely where the typewriter industry was at the dawn of personal computing. They're either going to take their massive profits and re-invest some of this in alternative energy, or, they're going to decline and fade to black. He then launched into a discussion of hypercars - which up until that moment - I'd never heard of;
A Hypercar® vehicle is designed to capture the synergies of: ultralight construction; low-drag design; hybrid-electric drive; and, efficient accessories to achieve 3 to 5-fold improvement in fuel economy, equal or better performance, safety, amenity and affordability, compared to today's vehicles.

Hypercar ConceptRocky Mountain Institute's research has shown that the best (possibly, the only) way to achieve this is by building an aerodynamic vehicle body using advanced composite materials and powering it with an efficient hybrid-electric drive-train.

Initially, the hybrid-electric drivetrain in Hypercar® vehicles will probably use a specialized version of the internal combustion engine commonly used in today's cars. To reach their full potential, and virtually eliminate automobile pollution, Hypercar® vehicles will be powered by fuel-cells running on tanks of compressed gaseous hydrogen fuel.

Unlike other efficient vehicles, Hypercar® vehicles don't compromise performance, comfort, or safety. Indeed, by offering extra consumer appeal and manufacturing advantages, they stand a better chance of getting on the road — and forcing old, polluting cars off — in sufficient numbers to make a big difference to the environment. Hypercar® vehicles and their kin could profitably reduce carbon-dioxide emissions (the major contributor to climate change) by two-thirds, partly by greatly accelerating the shift to hydrogen fuel cells.

In 1994 we founded the Hypercar Center® to research and promote this concept. Having proved its technical feasibility through rigorous technical modeling, the Center's staff spent the past several years making Hypercar® technology a commercial reality. Their unconventional approach has been to place the concept in the public domain and share it conspicuously with some two dozen major car companies and new market entrants to maximize competition in capturing its market and manufacturing advantages. The result: billions of dollars' private investment, and rapid movement of Hypercar-like concepts toward the marketplace.
I don't know about the fuel-cells, but the overall scheme makes a lot of sense and looks like it has legs in the marketplace. More about those legs in the next post.