Rover JET1 turbine-powered car conceptEnlarge Photo
Bladon Jets micro turbineEnlarge Photo
Getting sufficient range out of electric vehicles is proving to be a tough nut to crack for major OEMs and start-ups alike, as battery technology just isn't up to the task for anything larger than a sub-compact or two-seat sports car. Jaguar-Land Rover and a consortium of U.K. technology companies may have a solution, however, in the form of a new turbine-powered range extender.
The turbine-based range extender uses a small jet turbine capable of burning a wide range of fuels to generate electricity to extend the range of electric vehicles (EVs). Together with Bladon Jets and SR Drives, Jaguar-Land Rover won about $1.8 million in funding this week from the U.K.'s Technology Strategy Board to develop the technology.
Advantages of the axial-flow micro turbine technology include compact size, light weight, and low cost. While turbines have proven unrealistic for primary drive systems in personal vehicles due to a lack of low-end torque, noise, expense, and high fuel consumption, using a tiny unit to provide on-board recharging of electric batteries appears to be a legitimate solution.
Jaguar-Land Rover predecessor Rover Company dabbled in jet-powered cars in the 1950s, including the JET1, the first ever jet-powered passenger car, pictured above. The car was capable of 88 mph at 50,000 rpm, and could run on gasoline, kerosene, and diesel. The JET1 concept spawned a race car developed with BRM Formula One that race legend Graham Hill co-drove at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, averaging almost 108 mph and topping out at 142 mph. The technology proved too inefficient and expensive for production-car use, however.
The consortium of companies behind the micro-turbine tech says it can save up to 220 pounds over a gasoline-powered range-extending piston engine, at the same time cutting CO2 emissions slightly. Bladon Jets, developer of the micro turbine, says the engine is just 5 percent of the size, weight and parts count of a typical piston engine.
There's still a lot of research and development to be done, however--the tech isn't expected to make it into road-going cars for another 5 to 15 years. Range-extenders like the 1.4-liter engine in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, on the other hand, are here now.
For a glimpse at what a present-day bio-diesel jet-powered car looks like, check out Jay Leno and GM's EcoJet 650 concept (pictured above) in the video below, or read about the CMT380 jet-turbine hybrid here.