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April 8, 2005

More Energy Efficient Alternative Technologies

-- by Thomas Leavitt

[These eco-geek items don't really fit the "News" category, but I can't think of where else to put them. Serendipitously discovered this item in the course of researching a comment for the last one. Again, mega-cool - this system has the potential to increase applied energy efficiency in wheeled transportation by at least 50%. Their site suggests that fuel efficiency could be as much as 3x a conventionally geared bus once you factor in their use of regenerative breaking! Basically, what this does is eliminate the drivetrain used in a conventional vehicle to transfer energy from the motor to the wheels (and the associated efficiency loss). -Thomas]

I did a bit of background research to assure myself this wasn't "crank" science... nope: turns out the New York Times has covered it, as well as other media outlets, and a prototype is being tested in a Dutch town.

News article on e-Traction bus from Dutch science site: The Whispering Wheel

A new Dutch invention can make cars, busses and other vehicles no less than 50 percent more efficient and thus more environmentally friendly. Better still, the technology is already available; it all comes down to a smart combination of existing systems.

This winter, in the city of Apeldoorn, a city bus will be used to prove that the claims about the new invention are true. These are quite bold. E-traction, the company that developed the bus, boasts fuel savings of up to 60 per cent, with emissions down to only a fraction of the soot and carbon dioxide an ordinary bus would blow out of its tailpipe.

In addition, the test bus requires no adaptation, its drivers need no extra training and there'll be no discomfort for passengers. It will simply run on diesel, just like all the other buses, and it should be just as reliable. One thing however will be very different; the Apeldoorn bus hardly makes a sound, hence its nickname "the whisperer".

This could make the air-powered vehicle mentioned in my previous post even more efficient. As the e-Traction web site points out, up to 50% of the energy used to drive the wheels is lost due to friction, etc. in the drivetrain between the motor and the wheels. Plus, as a bonus, this system uses regenerative breaking to recover even more efficiency... and electric batteries last longer when used in less taxing ways!

Not to mention the reduction in noise pollution, particulate exhaust, and that they have exactly one moving part, and thus are extremely low maintenance.

All in all, mega cool. Maybe there is hope for our society. Note that these innovations are being driven by small companies, and often at least partially funded or validated by public institutions, acting as early adopters (such as in this case).

Why aren't the big car companies all over this?

--Thomas Leavitt

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at April 8, 2005 10:23 PM

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Comments

I think we can guess why the big car companies aren't all over this. Vested interests, and they're betting that this will never catch on. But remember how competition from the Japanese nearly put them out of business? Maybe all this new innovation can finish what the Japanese started.

Posted by: MJ at April 9, 2005 5:42 AM

Thomas, the article was very interesting. So, why doesn't the media have stories every 20 seconds on this???

Posted by: Nancy at April 9, 2005 6:18 AM

Interesting piece of technology. The combination of diesel and electric is much like what has been used for many years on railroad locomotives - a diesel engine runs generators, while the actual motive power comes from electric motors attached to the drive wheels. (Locomotives don't use regenerative braking, though.) There, as with these buses, the setup eliminates the need for a transmission. This was really essential on locomotives, as the massive forces involved in pulling rolling stock make a transmission impractical.

Posted by: jimBOB at April 9, 2005 7:48 AM

Posted by: Nancy at April 9, 2005 9:19 AM

Ron Paul's comment deserves a posting all of it's own. He's just the only Republican with any integrity left in the House... and that's because he's not really a Republican, he's a Libertarian. I campaigned for him when I was in high school in 1988 and he ran for President on the Libertarian ticket (there was no Green candidate at that point).

Even where I disagree with them, I respect libertarians, because the good ones are honest and consisten in thier philosophy. It is damned hard to find an honest "conservative" these days. They've all been corrupted by the Limbaugh principle: the truth is irrelevant when a lie or distortion will give you a political advantage.

Posted by: Thoams Leavitt at April 9, 2005 11:03 AM

The reason this isn't getting looked at is that it is 100 year-old technology. Westinghouse and GE were both doing this in electric locomotives before WW1. Regen braking is not new, either- you can buy diesel locos with it installed as a factory option- and usage of the electricity generated by *electric loco* regen braking was used in the US on the Bitter Root grades (and I think, but am not sure, on some PRR districts also)- locos braking on the downhill side of the range wuld feed electricity into the overhead, which would be used by locos on the uphill grade. It was and is good efficient practice. See the book "Electrification by GE" for the nitty-gritty.

Putting the electric motor in the wheel is old hat, too. Making the wheel *part* of the motor is interesting, and saves weight, but I wonder about longevity as wheels get the crap beaten out of them.

These buses do save fuel, though, and the 1st reason is that they are used primarily in stop-and-go fashion so that braking (producing electricity) is on a percentage basis a significant part of the operation. The second is that a diesel engine operating at a constant load is much more efficient than one that is being accelerated and decelerated. So using the batteries as the working energy source, and using the diesel at a constant load, works out to be more efficient than normal diesel bus practice.

It shoud be plain that this sort of system woud not provide any real advantage on vehicles *not* in stop-and-go operation; in fact there are some significant losses, as charging batteries is not particularly efficient, and in constant-speed travel with few energy-producing braking periods, the diesel will end up doing al the work anyway.

So this is a good application for what it is being used for, and should be looked into by other bus networks, but it is of limited application outside of that.

Posted by: JohnDL at April 9, 2005 12:21 PM

jimBob beat me to the punch on Diesel locomotives; the technology has been around for a very long time.

A Locomotive-head friend of mine tells me that they do have regenerative braking on these things, but only to assist the mechanical brakes. The energy isn't reclaimed. Instead, massive resistors and heat sinks are mounted on top of the trains to dissipate the energy. They glow red under continuous use.

Posted by: Michael Miller at April 11, 2005 8:19 AM

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