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Automotive Engineers: What's Next for Energy Storage?

April 14, 2010 | Chad Hall | 222900768
Automotive Engineers: What's Next for Energy Storage? Chad Hall, COO of Ioxus, Inc., outlines the role ultracapacitors can play in energy harvesting within automotive systems.
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The internal combustion engine has remained dominant in the automotive industry because it has very high energy density (petrol) and very high power density controlled by the rate of fuel ignition. This combination of energy and power density does not exist for batteries or fuel cells and alternative power sources have been largely ignored due to their expense. Yet, numerous alternative power sources, including ultracapacitors exist changing the way automotive engineers interface with power sources.

One of the more obvious alternative power sources is the battery, but the size and weight of batteries required for an all-electric car were not available, and this remains basically true at the present time. The next best approach was a hybrid power plant, a power plant that uses a small internal combustion engine (ICE) in concert with a battery pack. It is fair to say that hybrid power plants have come a long way in the last five years, however they still leave a great deal to be desired.

Early efforts to better energy efficiency in automotive design have proven valuable but are just the beginning. Automotive engineers began by reducing the gross weight of an automobile by replacing metal trim molding with lighter composite materials and by using lighter metals when possible, such as replacing copper core radiators with aluminum core radiators to utilize energy as efficiently as possible. As computer control mechanisms and sensors became more sophisticated, fuel injected systems were developed that increased engine performance and fuel efficiency. The early efforts to make more fuel efficient automobiles focused on how to squeeze more useful energy out of the internal combustion engine.

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