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UK Students Build Electric Car With 248-Mile Range 192

Posted by kdawson
from the helmets-and-goggles dept.
da_how writes "A group of students and graduates at Imperial College London have built an electric car with a massive range — 248+ miles on a charge at 'reasonable' highway speeds (60 mph). They did this by filling the car to the absolute max with as many lithium iron phosphate batteries as possible — 56 kWh — and designing a very efficient direct drive powertrain, about 90% batteries-to-wheels at highway speeds. The choice of vehicle is an interesting one: it's a converted Radical SR8 — a track racing car with a speed record on the Nurburgring. Not an obvious contender for an endurance vehicle (no windscreen either!) — but then they claim it's lightweight to start with, being constructed of steel space frame and glass fiber. Also, Radical is based in the UK and provided some help and sponsorship. The students plan to drive their 'SRZero' 15,000 miles down the Pan American Highway, beginning July 8 in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and ending up in Tierra Del Fuego three month later. That's about 60 charges."
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UK Students Build Electric Car With 248-Mile Range

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  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:08AM (#32404240)
    It's positively electrifying!

    Come on, that's puntastic!
  • They made a monster battery to get a large mile range. That to me doesn't seem very functional since its still using the same tech, just a bigger fuel supply.
    • by Sique (173459)

      That's something called "proof of concept".

      • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:27AM (#32404366)

        That's something called "proof of concept".

        What is the 'proof of concept' here? That if you make a bigger fuel tank you'll be able to go further? Sorry, but electric cars have been around for years. You can buy your own from Tesla Motors. [teslamotors.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        We all get the concept. What we are waiting for is a practical solution.

      • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:32AM (#32404402)

        Some things really don't need to be proven. Sometimes, you can just apply a bit of simple logic to determine whether an idea is plausible.

        Though, maybe I should propose to my boss that we experiment with my salary. If he increases it, I think I'll receive more money. But, just to be sure, we should do a proof of concept thing. Say a 50% bump just to try it out and see if it really works. If that works, we can do a 200% bump and let it run for a few years. If I'm still getting more money 5 years from now, we'll have proven the concept.

      • by deniable (76198)
        Bigger battery = go further, a concept proved by submarines in WWI. I'm sure I could also make an iPad reference here.
      • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:50AM (#32404506) Homepage

        So what -does- it prove ? That if you stuff a lightweight car to the top with batteries, then you've got 50Kwh worth of energy, or an amount comparable to the energy in 1.5 gallons of gas. Sure, electric drivetrains are more efficient, so this gives the car the range of perhaps 3 gallons of gas. But at the cost of having no space for storage, and of making the car hundreds of kilos heavier.

        If you stuffed a 18-wheeler with batteries, and drove it at 40mph, it'd go a fair distance too, but it wouldn't be terribly useful, the entire point of 18-wheelers is to have space for CARGO.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TheLink (130905)

          It proves there are lots of people/companies willing to give students money for doing stuff that's rather useless from a scientific and practical viewpoint.

          I'd like to see how they handle practical stuff like "air conditioning". If they think that's not important, then that's yet another reason why their car is not important. A college student might put up with 35C or higher temperatures on that "cool trip", most car buyers won't. A 3-4 kilowatt car air conditioner is going to hurt an EV's range a lot more

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by celtic_hackr (579828)

          One gallon of gasoline has 115000 BTU of usable energy. One KWH has 3413 BTU of usable energy. Thus one gallon of gasoline has 33.69KWH of energy. Therefore the 56KWH battery pack has 1.6 gallons of gasoline and can push the vehicle at 60MPH for 248 miles. That means the two engine EV car gets 155 MPG. Oh damn you're right, who'd ever want to drive something that gets 155 MPG at highway speeds! What a worthless hunk of junk! I'd rather go drive in my gas powered car that gets 150mph on the highway ... oh w

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      Next record, an eighteen wheeler. Or a train, rolling on the highway with truck wheels and six hundred tons of batteries.

      Thinking of electric trains and mileage records. There must be some ideas about charging the electric cars on the highway without having to stop. Something like a third rail.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by KDR_11k (778916)

        In Germany (and probably most of Europe) we use wires hung above the tracks, not a third rail.

        • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

          This is how it's done in the US too (at least in the Philadelphia area). Can't say I've ever seen a 3rd rail used at all.

        • by Cimexus (1355033)

          Ditto in most of Australia (although only in urban areas - longer haul/remote areas will tend to use good old fashioned diesel fuel).

        • by Thanshin (1188877)

          My use of "third rail" (being european myself) comes from the inability to find a better expression that said "power's in the medium rather than in the vehicle".

          "wires hung above the tracks" was longer and less clear.

          Possibly a better grasp of the English language would've given me a nice alternative like... (googling)... Overhead wires.

          (+0: Self-informative)

        • by dave420 (699308)
          Useless trivia: The London Underground uses 4 rails.
        • Generally speaking, light rail transit in the United States uses an overhead catenary similar to that in Europe. Heavy rail, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in the San Francisco area and the New York City subway uses a third rail.

      • by Cylix (55374) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:42AM (#32404460) Homepage Journal

        I'm going to go with the mid flight refueling concept here. However, that is a bit awkward for highway driving and we'll need to stream line the process. Stay with me here....

        Really, there is enough coverage across the body of the car that we can use this as a wide area positive terminal. It's really straight forward and we don't need to mess around with large complicated tubes. (Tubes are what screwed up the internet. I read it on slashdot.)

        We can tie the body directly into a series of high yield capacitors as a quick staging area for the power burst. This array can connect to the charging mechanism that can safely deliver the power to the the lion batteries. (Remember where I said stay with me... keep at it).

        For the final piece of the puzzle to really make it work and give it that McDonalds on the free way touch we'll need a large platform vehicle. All along the bed will be tesla coils ready to charge the next vehicle that pulls in. These charging stations can optionally be installed in toll booth or bridge locations as well.

        With some simple license plate recognize we can easily bill the charge to the motorist at the end of the month.

        Now, we have a practical electrical car design that will also eliminate both the homeless and bug populations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:18AM (#32404314)
    One thing glaringly missing from the article is the cost of the battery pack. On the open market right now, 56kWh of LiFePO4 cells runs a bit over US$120,000.
    • by deniable (76198) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:03AM (#32404574)
      Well, somebody did call it a Monster battery. The price fits.
    • by gilesjuk (604902)

      Getting storage of power to be lighter is the biggest challenge. I think once you achieve that goal the next two are making it affordable, making it environmentally sound (what good is a 'green' car if the batteries aren't) and finally making it safe. Having such a lot of energy in batteries means a lot of danger in the event of a big accident.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by CrazyDuke (529195)

      Really? Because, it looks like anyone in the US could get 195 3.2V 90Ah lithium iron phosphate cells for $35 100 + S&H. That seems to be about 56 kWh.
      http://www.electricmotodepot.com/products/Thunder-Sky-Batteries-3.2V-90Ah.html [electricmotodepot.com]

      They can be had cheaper on online auction sites. But, take that for what it's worth.

      For the pedantic folks out there: I'm well aware it's not as simple to design a pack as to just slap an arbitrary bunch of cells together, thanks. I'm just pointing out the capacity.

    • With the first order of 100,000 cells I'm pretty sure the providers will figure out some way to lower the price to about 10k.

  • All the way down? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:20AM (#32404324)

    15,000 miles down the Pan American Highway

          They should do a little more research, as I wish them luck getting across the Darien Gap. There IS no highway from Panama to Colombia - they'll have to take the ferry like everyone else.

    • Re:All the way down? (Score:4, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:38AM (#32404428) Journal
      Apparently they did a bit of research; from the article:

      UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. Eastern: As to the question some of you have about how the team will navigate the Darien Gap, it plans to ship the car around the gap, and they've met with ambassadors to Panama and Columbia to line up the required visas.

      Seems like they wanted to take a summer trip and figured out a way to get someone else to pay for it. Not a bad deal.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Thanshin (1188877)

        Seems like they wanted to take a summer trip and figured out a way to get someone else to pay for it. Not a bad deal.

        And made the common mistake of ignoring the productivity of their work. Spending as much time in any other job would've paid the trip with less risk involved.

        Yes, I know there are other benefits to their way. At the very least they can automatically beat any "I just came back from Chile" with their "I just came back from a trans-american road trip in an electric car I built with some other cool friends". We all know which one's gonna get the girl. In the pub next to the engineering faculty, of course.

        • by Dunbal (464142) *

          Spending as much time in any other job would've paid the trip with less risk involved.

                Especially if anyone in Central/South America finds out exactly how much all those batteries are worth.

                "What car, gringo? I diden see no car"

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Cimexus (1355033)

        Seems like they wanted to take a summer trip and figured out a way to get someone else to pay for it. Not a bad deal.

        Haha - suckers. Someone forgot to inform them that it is, in fact, winter down here in the southern hemisphere (so only the first half of their trip will be 'summer') ;)

    • by rrhal (88665)
      I'm pretty sure there are places on the Dalton Highway where handy plug-ins might be a little scarcer than they bargained for. Headlights are mandatory 24/7/365 and road surface is quite rough - not going to get 248 miles per charge here. They are starting July 8th so the temperatures will well above zero. Most of the trip should be 60's and 70's (degrees F) - roughly room temp for the Celsius inclined.
    • by TheNarrator (200498) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:06AM (#32404600)

      The Dalton Highway, from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, is unpaved. They might want a little more ground clearance than the car pictured in the article.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chuq (8564)

      Ferry routes which are part of a longer highway route as often referred to as part of the highway - "sea highways" or "virtual highways" are common terms.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:26AM (#32404358) Homepage

    The Tesla Roadster has a 245 mile range. And basic stuff like bumpers.

    The student car looks like it has about a 3 inch ground clearance. If that. That's not going to get very far on anything less than a perfect road. And they want to drive it down from Prudhoe Bay? Right.

    • by deniable (76198)
      Better than ground clearance, how well do batteries do in extreme cold? I remember batteries dying fast in the cold. Could be wrong.
      • The big battery packs on the Tesla need active cooling so they might be okay in the north.

        • by GooberToo (74388)

          The big battery packs on the Tesla need active cooling so they might be okay in the north.

          Until you need to start moving again.

          Most vehicles up north have block heaters which require them to be plugged in when the engine isn't running. It would not be too surprising to find a battery heater is also required.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            It would not be too surprising to find a battery heater is also required.

            If only they had a battery powered heater.
            • by GooberToo (74388)

              If only they had a battery powered heater.

              I can only hope that comment was tongue in cheek. Obviously for short periods this is fine but there are many instances where more is simply required.

          • A charger makes a pretty good heater so if they charge when stopped they should be okay.

            • by GooberToo (74388)

              A charger makes a pretty good heater

              And what happens when the batteries are charged after a few hours and the vehicle remains parked. No bones about it, up north you must have some type of battery heater over and above that provided by the act of charging.

              As someone above pointed out, a battery powered battery heater is obviously an option but even that by itself falls dramatically short in endless scenarios.

          • by kent_eh (543303)

            The big battery packs on the Tesla need active cooling so they might be okay in the north.

            Until you need to start moving again.

            Most vehicles up north have block heaters which require them to be plugged in when the engine isn't running. It would not be too surprising to find a battery heater is also required.

            Ummm, they're doing it in the summer.
            From alaska.com: Fairbanks' average high is 70 degrees in June, 72 degrees in July and 66 degrees in August.

    • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:52AM (#32404522)

      Where are they going to recharge?

      "There are only three towns along the route: Coldfoot (population 13) at Mile 175, Wiseman (population 22) at Mile 188, and Deadhorse (25 permanent residents, 3,500-5,000 or more seasonal residents depending on oil production) at the end of the highway at Mile 414.Gas is available at the Yukon River bridge (Mile 56), as well as Coldfoot and Deadhorse."

      I see a gap of 239 miles and a 4700 foot pass, no way you can get maximum milage on a pass

      • by hackerjoe (159094) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:19AM (#32404688)

        248 miles is measured using the EPA test, which includes a lot of braking. On open highway alone, they'll do better. Besides, they might not get wonderful mileage in a pass, but with regenerative braking on the downhills, they won't be as affected by it as a gas powered car.

        I just drove through the rockies in a second-gen Prius, and the regenerative braking seemed to do a pretty good job of smoothing out the consumption: I'd get worse consumption on the uphill and better on the downhill, and it seemed to average out to just the same as what I got on the flat; within 10% if you believe the meter in the car.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by the_humeister (922869)

          Non-hybrids already do that too. When going uphill, the vehicle will obviously use more fuel. Going downhill, the vehicle will use less fuel due to gravity assist. Also the fuel injectors shut off when the throttle isn't pressed, thus using no fuel.

      • by David Off (101038)

        I see a gap of 239 miles and a 4700 foot pass, no way you can get maximum milage on a pass

        That might be an issue depending on the grade. It has a direct drive powertrain like most electric bike. Electric bikes are generally wound for town cruising speeds (25km) and the motors are prone to overheating and powerloss climbing steeper grades, electric bikes used in the hills are often powered at the crank to use the bike's gears. Sounds like they will have similar problems without a gearbox.

    • If you watched the video in the article, the people already realize the car needs to be lifted to increase the clearance.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Charliemopps (1157495)
      The tesla roadster, when actually tested by someone other than tesla, only had a range of less than 60 miles.
    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:13AM (#32405188)

      With

      NiMH batteries
      Place for 4 occupants & a trunk for luggage
      Crash tested

      in 1996...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solectria_Sunrise [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BikeHelmet (1437881)

      These graphs might interest you: http://www.teslamotors.com/blog4/?p=70 [teslamotors.com]

      In particular, take a look at the range graph.

    • Thanks for posting this. I had a similar thought and "why is this news?"

    • Totally agree. Prudhoe Bay is only half the problem - wait until they get to Colombia and the road turns to shite...
  • pan american highway (Score:3, Informative)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Monday May 31, 2010 @02:34AM (#32404412) Journal

    down the Pan American Highway, beginning July 8 in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and ending up in Tierra Del Fuego three month later. That's about 60 charges

    Heh.....it's also not connected completely (need to take a ferry for part of it), and it is dangerous. For example, on the stretch between Guatemala and El Salvador, you will frequently find highway robbers. And of course, like any highway, there are traffic jams. So....that 60 charges is going to grow. If it can find a place to charge....some of those countries have 110 volt outlets.

    But whatever, don't let all this discourage them. I'd love to read their trip report.

    • So....that 60 charges is going to grow. If it can find a place to charge....some of those countries have 110 volt outlets.

      You mean like the US?

      • by deniable (76198)
        With a car from the UK? 110 Volts may be a problem, but I'd be more worried about the charge time.
        • With a car from the UK? 110 Volts may be a problem, but I'd be more worried about the charge time.

          My shaver seems to cope okay. Say five hours driving per day leaves them 19 hours to charge the car for the next day.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cheater512 (783349)

        Yeah. Odd countries like the US.

  • Thundersky has a pretty horrible reputation in the EV crowd- google "thundersky problems", and read all the sad stories for a few hours.
  • by syousef (465911) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:17AM (#32404682) Journal

    UK Students Build Electric Car With 248-Mile Range
    Related Stories
    Submission: UK students build electric car with 264 mile range by da_how (1822480)

    264 going once, going twice? Do we have 270???

    I guess it doesn't matter, because I bet those girls that would date these students if only they had a car live just one mile further away...

    • You had to go 250 miles from your home to get a date? Man, I knew geeks were hard up but that is extreme.

      Or were you finished before the battery could recharge in 30 minutes and she lived 125 miles away? Try working on your staying power, maybe then you could find a girl in the same country/state.

  • not very impressive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by batistuta (1794636) on Monday May 31, 2010 @03:50AM (#32404834)

    I don't mean to troll, and I'm sure it was a fun and great learning experience for the students. In this regard, it is a big success and kudos for the team. But as far as the technology goes, I'm not very impressed. I mean, they took at very light vehicle, filled it up with standard batteries, and made it go. There is no true innovation here, just putting pieces together. And we should not blame them for this. The breakthrough we are all waiting for is in the batteries. Until this happens, all articles about electric vehicles will be along the same lines

    As for their plan trip, I hope they have a good maintenance team driving next to them. The Panamerican road is by no means a proving ground or race track. In some parts its asphalt is quite damaged. I'm not saying that it can't be driven, but they are not very suitable for such a tuned vehicle with low clearance.

    I wish them best of luck!

    • by gravos (912628)
      I agree. I was glad that at least no one here seems to try to have made a comparison between this vehicle and a vehicle from an automotive manufacturer with far shorter range, which often happens in these sorts of threads. Make that thing street legal with at least a 3-star safety rating and then see how far it will go!
    • impressive enough (Score:3, Informative)

      by amcdiarmid (856796)

      I'm glad you are not impressed, as this car works less well than your homebrew electric car, but it's impressive enough.

      FTA, the engineering was getting a 90% efficiency on the power transfer from battery to wheel on the highway. That it gets almost the range of a commercial effort with cash...

  • I doesn't sound like they have ever driven the Alaska Highway.
    Muddy sections, Gravel sections, Frost Heaves, Mosquitos, Moose.
    A Radical SR8, electric or not is going to have a rough time.
    I look forward to hearing about the effort
    • by vlm (69642)

      I doesn't sound like they have ever driven the Alaska Highway.

      .... Mosquitos ....

      I thought we had a mosquito problem in WI, but apparently in AK they're the size of hungry raptor dinosaurs.

  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:28AM (#32405264)
    One thing that stands out to me is that the rear spoiler and front splitter would make for a lot of aero drag, especially where the rest of the car is rather likely to be quite aerodynamically slippery looking at it's shape. They've also tackled rolling resistance and drive-train efficiency so any gains in aerodynamics would greatly extend range. At 60mph it's the greatest force acting on this car, and with their steps towards efficiency it is even greater. If they would just ditch the big spoiler and the front splitter, they'll watch their range shoot up. 0.50 to 0.30 cd might account for 40% improvement in a vehicle where rolling resistance has been already addresed.

    Don't get me wrong what these guys are doing is great, but ~270 miles range is not terribly impressive considering that's what a stock Tesla has achieved.

    Ditching the wing and splitter could have yielded them 20-40% improved range at open road speed, at the small expense of the race car look. It would take a few minutes with a spanner to remove, and to put back on for parking up for a photo shoot with the local press. I hope this is what they do. Some further work with some duct tape or some more ambitious aero mods with some coroplast http://ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/aerocivic-how-drop-your-cd-0-31-0-a-290.html [ecomodder.com] ecomodder* style and they could have squeezed out more efficiency. The very best road vehicles approach 0.15 Cd, this would have given them a shot at 500 miles range. Lower the speed a little and they may have gone 600mi / 1000km.

    I can't find Radcial SR8's aero stats anywhere but I know such track day specials have a fair bit of down force by design, so a drag coefficient above 0.50 is not uncommon. This is largely the result of the wings, air damn, and underbody design. High down force set up might be over 0.70 or more. To compare, a SUV is about 0.40, a good sedan 0.32, and a Toyota Prius 0.27, Aptera is about 0.17 these vehicles are not even designed not to generate lift let alone downforce.

    * Yes I do lurk there.
  • For sure this is not a great leap forward for science or for mankind. It's just a Big Fucking Adventure along the lines of Peking to Paris in 1907 or the round the world race the following year. You do it for the bravado. Period.

    Pity we can't just say here are some crazy kids who want to travel the length of a continent in a cobbled up electric car. Instead we have to pretend there's a science and/or engineering feat involved. Sigh.

    Couple of lessons they should have learned from racers of a 100+ years ago:

  • That's nothing. I heard about some UK students who built an electric car that could go 400 kM! It has a 2.6 L engine. I haven't found the weight in stone yet.

  • 60MPH is not reasonable for I-294 and Chicago area toll roads. Needs to be about 70 for that.

  • Every single time I see one of these "revolutionary" new "cars", they ALL have the exact same characteristics that look like they were designed by Douglas Adams.

    1. Made from some ultra-light material that has NO crash protection value whatsoever.

    2. NO inside space, whatsoever.

    3. NO practical applications, whatsoever.

    Lemme tell you what I want to see in an electric car?

    1. Must be able to carry 3 screaming kids.
    2. Must be able to carry said screaming kids with 1 weeks worth of groceries in the back, 500

  • by sjames (1099)

    Did everyone here miss the part about them being students? The possibility that just maybe designing, building, and road testing an electric car just MIGHT be relevant to the studies of an engineering student? It sure won't look bad on their CV when the time comes to get a job.

  • I see nothing terribly noteworthy or newsworthy about this. They take a non-street-legal chassis, bolt an electric motor to it, and stuff the rest of the thing with batteries and call it an electric car. Seriously, not trolling here, but it sounds more like a science-fair project to me, not anything so much as a technology demonstration or proof-of-concept.

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