|Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro leading Toyota TS030 at Le Mans test day. NY Times|
Saturday, June 16, 2012
For this post, I thought we'd take a bit of a departure from our usual energy topics -- sort of. This weekend will be the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans -- one of the world's most grueling auto races. So, how does this fit in with our theme of emerging technologies? Simple... the race track has long been where new technologies are developed and refined long before they make it to the consumer showroom. Check out the pic below from the NY Times for two of the most high tech vehicles ever built.
One of the things that makes Le Mans so intriguing is the LMP1 class which stands for Le Mans Prototype 1. This is the class where the latest technologies are put to the test. For instance, both of the vehicles in the picture above employ Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS). "What is that?" you ask. Think of it as a super regenerative breaking system that is common on current electric vehicles and hybrids. While the regenerative breaking system on your Nissan Leaf, for instance, simply helps recharge the battery, in a KERS the energy recovered on braking going into a turn is then immediately used to provide a horsepower boost coming out of the turn. The two vehicles above do this differently. The Audi R18 E-Tron (a diesel vehicle by the way) employs a rapid response flywheel while the Toyota utilizes a capacitor to store the energy. Very cool stuff.
And, in case you're wondering how a diesel could possibly win an auto race, the Audi shown above is no ordinary diesel -- it has won this race 10 of the last 12 years. Le Mans will also feature hybrid vehicles and for 2013 there is also talk of a completely fossil free hydrogen-electric hybrid. If you want to learn more about this years race, check out a recent article in the NY Times or go to the Le Mans website to learn about the different classes of vehicles.
The race wraps up at 7:00am Sunday, 17 June (MDT). If you can't find it on your TV, check out the live webcast here.