Mind: Boggled | 8 Amazing Green Vehicle Technologies from Recent Years

Written By: Andrew H. 

If present trends continue, the number of automobiles on Earth – now at one billion – will double by 2030. The earth will be overrun by an alien species with toxic breath, all the machinery of artificial intelligence with none of the latter. Unless the automobile adapts, it will become a parasite.

The evolution of the species is in the hands of engineers, God help us. Some plump the secrets of thermodynamics in pursuit of smaller, more efficient engines; others ruthlessly cull weight and size from passenger cars. Here are eight of their ideas, an octet of ingenuity ranging from nanotechnology to artificial plant insemination.

Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Plastic | BMW

Before the BMW i3, the auto world had never seen such extensive use of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). It weighs 50 % less than traditional steel and 30 % less than aluminum. 

In Leipzig, Germany, Bavarisch Motor Werks (BMW) is attempting alchemy. Robotic arms attach 45 pieces of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) to the BMW i3 all-electric hatchback. Hereto, CFRP was only seen on exotic sports cars. The ultra-lightweight material boasts 10 times the tensile strength of mild steel and is spun from microscopic graphite fibers.

The recipe begins an ocean away at SGL Group’s manufacturing facility at Moses Lake. The plant churns out reels of the raw material, which is processed at the Wackersdorf facility, molded at the Landshut plant, and assembled into the final product in Leipzig. Not since Henry Ford invented the automobile assembly line has anything been tried so daring. For its ingenuity and bravery, BMW was nominated a top contender for the 2014 Green Car Technology Award.

And CFRP is only one arrow in the BMW i3’s arsenal. The leather seats are tanned using olive leaf extract. The ignition key is molded from castor oil. One quarter of the interior and exterior plastics, including the CFRP body panels and passenger cell, are recyclable, renewable, or reusable.

Piezoelectric Charging | Jung-Hoon Kim

Piezoelectricity is a phenomenon best described with colored pictures and hands in the hair, but here is the definition all the same: an electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials in response to applied mechanical stress. It is the linear electromechanical interaction between the mechanical and the electrical state in crystalline materials with no inversion symmetry.

Jung-Hoon Kim, an industrial designer in South Korea, made sense of that gobbledygook and created the all-electric P-Eco concept car. Multiple chords begin to vibrate when the car is started. These chords generate electricity and feed the juice into the battery. The chords cannot power the stingray-shaped concept car all by their lonesome, but they increase energy efficiency by a fair margin.

Capacitor-Based Regenerative Braking | Mazda

(click to Expand) Mazda e-loop Regenerative breaking technology 
Photo CREDIT - mazda Motor Corp

Sans one, every passenger car regenerative braking system uses an alternator or electric motor to capture the energy otherwise lost to heat when braking. The lone wolf is Mazda’s award-winning i-ELOOP regenerative braking system.

The i-ELOOP system uses a cylindrical supercapacitor that can store up to 25,000 joules in 8-10 seconds. A DC-to-DC converter drops the voltage from 25 to 12 before delivering the current to the vehicle’s electronic devices. The supercapacitor can also charge the battery when necessary.

The i-ELOOP system is simple genius. The entire system weighs just 20 pounds but improves fuel efficiency by 10 percent in stop-and-go traffic. Almost any car could accept the system with basic OEM modifications. In the future, stronger supercapacitors could supplant friction brakes or replace lead-acid 12-volt batteries entirely.

Multi-Voltaic Paint | Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes Benz G-Code Concept

To celebrate the opening of its Product Engineering Center in Beijing, China, Mercedes drew the wraps off its Vision G-Code Sport Utility Coupe (SUC). The concept car uses a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine, but all the headlines talk about something else: its paint. Dubbed “multi-voltaic paint,” the silver shade harvests photovoltaic power from the sunlight and electrostatic energy from the wind. The sunlight feeds the batteries; the wind fuels hydrogen electrolysis. So long as it is enjoying the great outdoors, the G-Code is making renewable power.

Now, who wants to imagine the cost of repairing a paint scratch?

Tiny Big Engines | Ford

Ford 1.0L EcoBoost Engine. Available on CERTAIN Sedan and Hatch Ford Fiesta models
1.6L EcoBoost is now also available on high end models - 197 HOrsepower and 202 lb of torque

Ford did the most un-American thing it could do. It built a 1.0-liter, turbocharged, three-cylinder gasoline-powered engine and placed it in the Fiesta hatchback. Yet that Lilliputian engine, small enough to qualify as an airline carry-on bag, has won more than 13 international awards since 2011. Its clever design includes a turbocharger that spins at 248,000 rpm, an offset crankshaft, a split-cooling system, an integrated exhaust manifold, twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-CVT), and more. 

In recent times, achieving 100 horsepower per liter was considered the equivalent of the 4-minute mile or breaking the sound barrier. Ford's tiny engine whips up 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, enabling the Fiesta to achieve 37 combined mpg and 0-60 mph in 8.3 seconds.

Synthetic Carbon Anodes | EnerG2

The atomic world is one of Lewis stickmen structures and three-dimensional lattices, where everything loses color and scent and electromagnetism reigns king. Scientists foraging through this world have rearranged carbon atoms into graphene, zircon, synthetic coal, and now, “hard carbon.”

EnerG2 runs a $28.5 million factory in Seattle, Washington. The company has developed a synthetic carbon anode in which the constituent carbon atoms are frozen in a chaotic, amorphous hodgepodge. With this anode, the overall storage capacity of modern lithium-ion batteries jumps by 30 percent. The anode can store 50 percent more energy by surface area than a typical graphite anode, but it only costs 20 percent extra. Most lithium-ion batteries require little or no modification to accept the replacement.

The company received a $23 million U.S. Department of Energy stimulus grant to develop its 72,000-square-foot facility in Albany, Oregon, which now churns out the hard carbon anodes by the thousands.

Flow Cell Batteries | nanoFLOWCELL

QUANT e-Sportlimousine by Nanoflowcell - presented at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show

Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the world, but “though she is small, she is mighty.” Planted in the heart of the country is nanoFLOWCELL, an ambitious startup with a stunning debut at the Geneva Motor Show: the nanoFLOWCELL QUANT e-Sportlimousine.

Even by conventional standards, the Quant e-Sportslimousine boggles the mind: gullwing doors, acceleration to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, and – get this – a whopping 2,139 pound-feet of torque per wheel. Given the right tow hitch, it could out-pull the F-350 Super Duty.

NanoFLOWCELL has a trick up its sleeve. It stole a battery from heaven. Boasting five times the energy density of a lithium-ion battery, its flow cell battery can undergo 10,000 charges without any memory effect or self-discharging. The reason, says nanoFLOWCELL, is its super-advanced electrolytic fluids, comprised of highly concentrated metallic salts. So equipped, the electric supercar has a normal driving range of 250-373 miles.

Left to Right: Quant E, QUANTiNO, Quant F (All based on the same nanoFLOWCELL technology)

Bio-Based Automobiles | Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes Biome Fantasy Concept (click to Enlarge). Revealed in 2010

Envisioned by Mercedes-Benz for the Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge, the BIOME is a fantasy concept car. Mercedes cobbled together a sexy dummy model, but the in-the-flesh BIOME automobile has never been made.

Reminiscent of The Matrix, where Morpheus speaks of “entire fields where humans are no longer born, but grown,” the BIOME is an “ultralight vehicle at one with nature.” Mercedes designers imagined that the car would be grown from DNA-modified seeds in a proprietary nursery. There would be six seeds total: one for each wheel, one for the interior and one for the exterior. Of course, each seed, which grows BioFibre instead of say, cotton, would be embossed with the Mercedes-Benz star emblem. No fossil fuels would be used. Rather, the automobile is to be powered from BioNectar 4534, stored in the BioFibre body panels of the vehicle, which is replenished through photosynthesis and emits only oxygen.


In other news, Mercedes-Benz has plans to grow money on trees.