Atomic Batteries to Power, Turbines to Speed

Who needs Bruce Wayne when you can just build your own?
Who needs Bruce Wayne when you can just build your own?
When we were kids we all dreamed of atomic cars and jet powered bicycles. Well, the boys did. Oh, okay, that’s a rude stereotype, let’s just say all the boys I grew up with, except one who went on to be a successful shoe designer, did. And even he thought about nuclear shoes. No, I never really pursued that thought so I can’t tell you any more. But, guys like me exist. Most of us are smart enough to know that our fantasies are just that, fantasies.

We would never try to do something so incredibly stupid that it would become a famous movie scene and earn a Darwin Award. But for every rule there’s an exception. Harvey Whetstone strapped a JATO rocket engine to his purple sports cruiser and ended up hitting a mountain while arcing over 300 feet in the air and traveling at speeds over 400 mph. No, he didn’t survive.

Even so, I just heard 30 guys go … “Dude, that is so coooooool.”

And some of those guys work for Jaguar. Now, here’s an interesting note; Jaguar, the car, is pronounced with 3 syllables to differentiate it from the jungle cat. I’m wondering, was this a problem? Were people coming home with man-eating predators when they’d been sent out to buy a car? And, if so, why are they allowed to walk among us?

Anyway, back to the nice engineers at Jaguar. Eric Bland at Discovery News Online tells us that the whimsical pixes in Jaguar’s engineering department have come up with a feasible way to insert two rocket engines into a car.

Jaguar, working with Bladon Jets, recently unveiled a hybrid concept car, the C-X75, that can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in a blistering 3.4 seconds.

The car gets its power from two new micro-sized gas turbine engines that are slightly larger and longer than a human forearm. The jet-like engines feed four electric motors, which give the car a range of 560 miles.

“It has long been a dream to get gas turbines into a car; the automotive industry has been trying for 50-plus years,” said Gary Lamb, Director at Bladon Jets. “It is only now that we have a viable proposition.”

To most people a gas turbine engine is the huge cylinder bolted beneath the wing of a commercial airliner, although they are also widely used in stationary power plants.

Moving or stationary, a gas turbine works the same way. The blades rotate, sucking in air and compressing it. Inject and ignite the fuel and the resulting blast of hot gas can propel a plane forward or generate electricity for a power grid.

Whatever the application, turbines are most efficient at turning fuel into power when they run at high speed, high pressure and high temperature, said Fredic Ehrich, a turbine expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s one reason why gas turbines work so well in aircraft; other than taxing, landing, or taking off, the engine runs at high pressure, high power and high temperature.

Cars, however, don’t run continuously. They start, they stop. They creep along in miles long traffic jams on the interstate. A car equipped with a turbine engine that had to power up and power down each time a driver pushed or released the gas pedal would destroy the fuel efficiency, said Ehrich.

So how did they create a gas turbine engine that is fuel efficient yet can go from zero to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds?

Whether sitting at a stop sign or peeling away from it, the Bladon engine rotates constantly at an astonishing 80,000 revolutions per minute. A normal car, by contrast, can only achieve several thousand rpms.

But unlike a jet engine, in which exhaust fumes physically push the aircraft, the hot gasses expelled out of the Bladon engine don’t push the car forward. Instead the exhaust fumes from those 80,000 rpms are tapped to generate electricity, which is stored in a lithium-ion battery.

That electricity then flows into four electric motors, one on each wheel, which propels the car forward for 100 miles on an electric charge alone, or up to 560 miles with the turbines engaged. The turbines can burn a variety of fuels as well.

Jaguar isn’t the only company out there looking to commercialize gas turbine engines in automobiles, said Giorgio Rizzoni, Director of the Center for Automotive Research at The Ohio State University. Capstone Turbine Corporation of California is placing their micro turbine engines inside buses and cars.

Turbines generally don’t scale down very well, said Rizzoni, another reason why they haven’t caught on in cars, but if Capstone and Bladon have figured out a way to do that it could power a new generation of micro turbine-equipped electric hybrid vehicles.

“They would need to be low cost, high reliability, and reproducible,” said Rizzoni. “But if they can do that with micro turbines, then they would have a contender for the automobile market.”

What’s not mentioned in the article is that this sucker, with turbines engaged, can hit around 250 kph (about 155 mph). Yes, guys, quit bouncing up and down in your high chairs, of course I have video of that. What, did you think I was evil or something?

Let’s be honest, if Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor actually existed, he’d be test driving this monster on his show.

Now, for the shoe designers who may be reading, it uses less fuel than a VW.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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