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Cars of Tomorrow
Automotive Engineers Team Up to Improve Energy-Saving Technology

October 1, 2006 — Mechanical and electrical engineers at DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and BMW have jointly developed a hybrid-vehicle technology that shuts the internal combustion engine off when the vehicle stops. Meanwhile, engineers are working to replace the platinum in fuel cells with cheaper materials, which could lead to viable hydrogen cars.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The high cost of hybrids has kept many people from going green, and a new study shows that with the cost of gas -- combined with tax credits -- it only takes about three years to break even.

Now a new breed of hybrid is going to lessen that time even more. It's the brainchild of not one car company but DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and BMW! They are all working together to create the car of tomorrow.

As gas prices go up, the pressure is on to create cars that use less.

"The hybrid system that we're developing, we can apply to any vehicle that we have," Glenn Denomme, a chief engineer of Hybrid Powertrain Programs at DaimlerChrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan, tells DBIS.

It allows for increased performance compared to a conventional SUV and improves fuel economy by up to 25 percent. Denomme says, "You can still haul your cargo, but you can still be environmentally sound too."

Today's hybrid works best in stop-and-go traffic -- tomorrow's hybrid will give you better fuel economy, not only in the city, but on the highway. When the new hybrid is stopped, the advanced system shuts the internal combustion engine off, conserving fuel. When the car starts to move, electric power is used to conserve fuel, adding power from the engine as needed.

Speeding up even more, power from both the engine and electric motors are routed to the wheels for greater acceleration.

The new technology doesn't stop there! A fuel cell car is 100-percent electric.

"It takes hydrogen and oxygen, combines it to form water, and at the same time produces electricity," says Doanh Tran, an advanced vehicle engineer with DaimlerChrysler’s Fuel Cell Vehicles & Technologies.

Hydrogen can be produced from just about anything that has a hydrogen molecule, and the car has no emission out of the tailpipe except water vapor.

Right now, platinum is used for the fuel cell’s parts and is expensive, but materials engineers are working to find new metals. And as for mileage, it gets 56 miles per gallon, so a little can go a long way.

The fuel cell car won't be for sale until around 2012. The new DaimlerChrysler hybrid will hit the market in 2008. It will cost more than a conventional car, but the price hasn't been set yet.

BACKGROUND: The German-American consortium of BMW, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors are developing a new type of two-mode hybrid system for a wide range of cars, trucks and SUVs, starting with the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe available in fall 2007. Current hybrids perform well in stop-and-go city driving, but don't get as good mileage on the highway. The new hybrid version will get 25 percent better mileage in combined city and highway driving.

ADVANTAGES: Current hybrid engine systems have a single mode of operation, using a single gear set to split the engine's power into two systems -- routing it to drive the wheels or charge the battery -- for both city and highway driving. Like other hybrids, the two-mode combines the power of a gasoline engine with that of electric motors, capturing energy from braking that would otherwise be lost and shutting off the engine at a stop. The battery alone can power the vehicle at low speeds. The new technology can operate much more efficiently at highway speeds with a greater boost from the electric motors, shutting down half the cylinders when not needed, thereby improving gas mileage. The components of the new two-mode system are also lighter and more compact, making them especially useful for reducing overall fuel consumption.

BATTERY BASICS: Whenever one type of matter converts into another, as in a chemical reaction, one form of energy also changes into another. A battery has two ends, called terminals, one with a negative charge, and one with a positive charge. Electrons congregate on the negative terminal. Connect a wire between the two terminals, and the electrons will flow from the negative to the positive end as quickly as they can. Connecting the battery starts the flow of electrons, jumpstarting a series of chemical reactions inside the battery to create even more electrons.

HOW FUEL CELLS WORK: Just like batteries, a fuel cell is a device that uses chemical reactions to convert hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity in the process. A battery eventually goes dead when all the chemicals are used up, but in a fuel cell, there is a constant flow of chemicals into the cell. The voltage produced by fuel cells can be used to power lights, electrical appliances, and laptops, as well as cars and trucks. Fuel cells are light, more efficient than internal combustion engines, and don't produce damaging emissions. They are currently expensive to manufacture, however.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Note: This story and accompanying video were originally produced for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and are protected by copyright law. All rights reserved.

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