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Things You Need To Know About Hydrogen As A Fuel

In the quest to achieve more sustainable motoring, there are three main players: biofuels (i.e. producing petrol and diesel that will run in conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels), electric vehicles (we’ve heard heaps about these) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV).  Electrical vehicles seem to be the hottest of the hot at the moment and they grab quite a lot of the attention from the media and from the government.  To take one hot off the press example, they’ve just given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this year to the guys who invented the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, even though this tech has been around for a fair few years now and first got onto the market in 1991.

However, let’s not completely overlook the other two members of the sustainability team. If you asked me to take my pick of the three, I’d go for HFCVs. This is because it gives the best of both worlds: the zero-exhaust factor of EVs and the ease of refuelling of ICE vehicles.

Hydrogen is the lightest element on the periodic table and it’s one of the most common elements on earth – actually, make that THE most abundant element in the universe.   As we all learned in school, good old water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. In fact, you could say that all energy is, technically speaking, hydrogen powered.  Our sun is one great big ball of hydrogen undergoing a massive nuclear reaction (fusion rather than fission), and it’s the energy given off by this that is ultimately the source of all energy on Earth – even the fossil fuels, which are ancient forests that once trapped sunlight through photosynthesis.

If we could somehow replicate this process on Earth at a smaller scale, most of the world’s energy problems would be solved and it would generate all the electricity to meet our needs and more. However, the problem would be to stop it getting out of hand or an H-bomb would be the result. Cold fusion is the dream of many a scientist…

The first thing you need to understand about HFCVs is that when you put hydrogen fuel into the vehicle, the fuel isn’t burned the way that the fuel in an ICE burns. NASA uses this tech in rockets but it’s far, far too explosive for more down to earth uses. Instead, the hydrogen is used to generate electricity, which is released when hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce (you guessed it) water. This takes place in fuel cells, which do the job of converting good old oxygen and hydrogen to water.

Quite a lot of vehicles around the world use hydrogen fuel cell tech already. These are mostly forklifts and buses; however, cars are coming onto the scene and they’re beginning to get a fair bit of interest.

The big question about any sustainable energy source is to ask where it comes from and how one gets it – a question that people aren’t quite asking enough in the case of EVs, if you ask me.  In the case of hydrogen, there are two main sources. One is from electrolysis of water and the other is from steam reformation of methane. Of the two methods, electrolysis of water (where the water molecule is split into H2 and O by a current of electricity) is the cleaner of the two – as long as the electricity used comes from a sustainable source, such as wind, solar or hydro (using hydro to produce hydrogen seems appropriate). The other method uses methane – thus busting up and reducing something that is both a waste product and a greenhouse gas – but it also produces a bit of carbon monoxide during the production stage.  There are quite a few other methods out there but these are the most common.

Hydrogen is produced for commercial use already on quite a large scale. It’s used quite extensively in, of all things, the petrochemical industry during the process of refining petrol. You could therefore think of a switch to hydrogen fuel cell tech as cutting out the middleman.  The other major commercial use of hydrogen gas is in electrical power stations, where it acts as a coolant.

The biggest issue with hydrogen fuel is storage and transport, as hydrogen is a slippery customer that can explode and burn with the ferocity of rocket fuel simply because it is rocket fuel. On the other hand, liquid hydrogen is super-cold (even colder than the liquid nitrogen the doctor uses to remove warts and low-grade skin cancers) and needs to be kept that way. It’s the storage and transport issue that our very own CSIRO is working on.  Nevertheless, the potential is out there and is being used in many parts of the world. In the US, for example, there are already 40 retail outlets for refuelling hydrogen cars just in a single state (California), with more in other states and more to come.

Over here, we’ve already got one public hydrogen fuel station in Canberra, with more being planned. As renewable hydrogen is a hot topic (or maybe a cool topic, given that liquid hydrogen has a temperature of about –250°C), there are a ton of hydrogen projects going on at the moment, and there are hopes that renewable hydrogen fuel will become one of Australia’s biggest exports.  Just a couple of days ago, there was news out that Siemens was launching a big plant in Western Australia to produce hydrogen fuel, and that’s just the latest one. We’re going to be producing it ourselves, so it makes sense that we should put it on our cars as well.

Will Driving Faster Really Get You There Quicker?

(Warning – contains maths!)

It seems ingrained in our human mentality.  If you go faster, you get there more quickly, right? After all, we’ve all seen this in childhood.  When you walked to school, let’s say it usually took you 15 minutes. I am possibly showing my age here with the assumption that you walked 15 minutes to school – although a 15-minute walk is pretty reasonable and there’s no reason why kids these days (that’s really showing my age) can’t do it as well.  Anyway, back to the topic.  When you were a kid walking to school, if you realized that you’d forgotten your homework and had to double back for it, you pretty soon found out that if you jogged or ran, you’d still make it to the school gate before the bell rang.

When we grew up and got cars, we applied the same logic. If we overslept the alarm or had some sort of household emergency before setting off to work, we believe that if we step on the accelerator a little bit harder, we’ll make up for lost time.  Or will we?

We’ll leave aside the issue that speeding is illegal and that you will get pinged for it if you get caught.  Yes, that means you, even if you’re going only a teeny weeny 10 km/h over the legal limit.  Let’s do the maths instead.

Let’s say your commute takes about 30 minutes and you usually drive at 50 km/h, which is the signed speed limit on the road you take.  This means that, at least on paper, you’re covering about 25 km.  The equation is Distance (in km) ÷ Your Speed (in km/h) = Travel Time (in hours).  What happens if we plug your sneaky wee attempt at speeding into this equation, with the assumption that you’re going to try driving to work at 60 km/h to make up the time spent cleaning up after the cat had vomited in the middle of the living room?  We’ve got 25 ÷ 60 = 0.416667.  To turn 0.416667 hours into the equivalent in minutes, multiply it by 60 and you get (drum roll; the smart cookies reading this will have already clicked) 25 minutes.  So what you’ve saved – in theory – by speeding 10 km/h faster is 5 minutes.  Which isn’t much.

Of course, your average travel speed probably never was your target speed, whether that was 50 km/h or 60 km/h.  We all know that in peak travel hours, you have to slow down at intersections, wait at Give Way signs, wait at pedestrian crossings for the kids who are walking to school and wait at traffic lights. This means that the amount of your journey spent actually going faster will only be a few minutes out of your commute, so you won’t actually be saving 5 minutes at all. You’ll be saving more like 1 or 2 minutes and you will end up being late for work – and you’ll probably try blaming it on the traffic rather than that cat.

However, while you’ve been pressing down the accelerator in that attempt to get to work on time, you’ve been revving your engine that little bit harder, and you’ve probably had to brake harder.  That extra bit of accelerator means more fuel consumption – or more drain on the battery, so those of you with EVs can wipe that smug smile off your faces because this applies across the board.  That extra stress on the brake also means more wear and tear, so in the long run, although you may have saved a couple of minutes on your commute, you’ll have put a bit more on your fuel bill and/or your maintenance bill.  You have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

So why did travelling faster work so well when you were a kid running to school instead of walking after forgetting your homework?  And is there ever a time when going faster will actually get you there quicker.

Let’s start with that first question.  When you were a kid walking to school, you probably went there more or less non-stop, with maybe the odd pause if you had to cross the road.  Walking speed varies by age and sex, but let’s say that you could walk at about 3 km/h.  A child’s maximum running speed at the age of 2 is about 9 km/h but you were older than that if you were walking to school and you probably weren’t running at your maximum, so we’ll say that your running to school speed was about 6 km/h.  This is double your walking speed (a 100% increase), whereas increasing your driving speed from 50 km/h to 60 km/h is a 20% increase.

Lastly, is there ever a time when going faster helps you make up lost time? The answer is probably yes, but only if (a) you’re covering a long distance so small changes add up and (b) your route is free-flowing without need to stop or slow down for significant portions of the time.  Think rural roads and well-designed motorways.  Even then, your gain in time won’t be all that much.  Perhaps, on a rural road, you might be able to shave 5 minutes off what would have been a 20-min trip by travelling at an average speed of 100 km/h rather than the average of 80 km/h.  Longer trips will get more savings in time but this may be off-set by increased fuel consumption – and it’s up to you if you think this is worth it!

Hybrid News From The Three Pointed Star.

Luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz has provided details of their new hybrid C-Class. There is also a potentially hybrid and/or electric S-Class on its way sometime inside the next decade. The C 300 e Sedan has a motor that can deliver 90 kilowatts of power and 440Nm of torque. Without utilising the petrol engine, there is up to 52 kilometres of electrical driving. Pair in the petrol driven 2.0L four, with a handy 350Nm of torque and 155kW of power, driving the rear wheels via a nine speed auto, peak power is rated as 235kW and torque as 700Nm. M-B says that combined fuel economy can reach as low as 2.1L per 100 kilometres. 0 – 100kmh is 5.4 seconds, the same as the Standard Plus Tesla Model 3.

The standard C-Class has a 2.0L with slightly lesser power and torque at 150kW and 300Nm of twist. 0 – 100kmh is 7.1 seconds.

The battery pack is able to hold 13.5kWh. It can be recharged to full from empty in around two hours using a Type 2 charger, or seven hours on a home circuit. It’s a smart capable battery, which allows both the heater element and cooling system to pre-climatise the interior. Other electronic goodness comes from Live Traffic Updates as standard, the Driver Assistance Package which bundles the Mercedes-Benz Distronic automated cruise control in with a predictive speed adjustment system. This covers off bends, junctions, and roundabouts.

Overall, the range has 19 different variants. There’s petrol power, diesel oomph, hybrid drivelines, and four body shapes. Buyers can choose from Sedan, Estate (wagon), Coupe, and Cabrio. Mercedes also have a limited edition Sport Edition package that buyers can specify as an option for the Sedan, Estate and Coupe. Add it to the Sedan and Estate and that’s $7,700. It’s $7,200 for the Coupe. The range starts at $64,500 and the Sport Edition has driveaway prices starting at $69,900.

When it comes to the S-Class, M-B have previewed a possible version with the unveiling of the EQS concept. EQ is a separate division, a sub-brand, that Mercedes-Benz have created to have an electric car division. By selling the S-Class, which is slated to be available early in 2020, and the EQS a year or so after, M-B then allows their customers to choose which they feel best represents a top level vehicle.

One of the aims of the concept is to assist in getting Level 3 Autonomous Driving classification. The chassis itself will become a modular platform, and will form the basis for a range of vehicles the M-B say will be released in the early 2020s. However, the S-Class, at this stage, is looking to stay as a petrol or hybrid rand range, leaving the EQS series as the separate and complementary arm using electric power. There will be a highly intensive LED look too, for the EQS, to help differentiate visually.

Peugeot Loads Up With 508 and 308GT

Peugeot’s  all-new 508 has hit Australian shores and has a raft of class-leading technology and drivetrains. It also features the best of the brand’s design and engineering prowess, and will have them packaged in two stunning body styles. The All-new 508 will be available in Fastback and Sportswagon body styles. Dollar wise it starts at $53,990 and $55,990 respectively, with exterior colour choice ($590 for metallic and $1,050 for pearlescent) and an opening panoramic sunroof ($2,500) the only options. It’s an award winner too, with the “2018 Most Beautiful Car of the Year Award”.GT spec will be the only model trim level. Power will be from an all-new, high-output version of Peugeot’s proven 1.6L, turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine developing 165 kilowatts of power and 300 Newton metres of torque. Transmission is from Aisin and is all new. Eight will be the cog count.

The engine and transmission combination will deliver impressive performance.  Combined with the vehicle’s light overall weight, the sprint to 100kmh will take just 8.1 seconds for the Fastback, and 8.2 seconds for the wagon. Consumption is rated as 6.3L per 100km. It’s a complete redesign with the 508 shorter, lighter, and more low slung than the previous model. Better packaging means a bigger interior.Ben Farlow, Managing Director of Peugeot Australia, said that while the term “all-new” is one that tends to get over-used in modern times, in the case of the Peugeot 508 the vehicle is all-new not just in design but also in its thinking, engineering and intent. “The Peugeot 508 arrives at a time when the sedan segment is ripe for a shake-up. Not only is the 508 outstanding value, it’s great to look at, great to drive and it stands out in its class.”

All-new Peugeot 508 comes with Peugeot’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, five-year roadside assistance and five-year Service Price Promise program.They’ve also released a new, special edition 308 GT model. There is bespoke visual and dynamic upgrades will pack the same engine bar a little less torque (285Nm at 1,750rpm to move the 1,204kg dry weight) as found in the 508. Only 140 will be made available. There is lower ride height with 7mm front and 10mm rear compared to other 308 models. The suspension has been fettled, with spring and damper rates stiffened by between 10 and 20 per cent. The steering has been upgraded as has the engine’s throttle mapping.Outside will be six exterior colours; Hurricane Grey (standard) and optional Magnetic Blue, Pearl White, Ultimate Red, Nera Black and Platinum Grey. There is bespoke interior trim, the exhaust note is fed through the audio system and there is visual appeal too. Select Sport mode and the dash glows a fiery red. Naturally there is information for the driver’s display including power and torque delivery, turbo boost pressure and both longitudinal & transverse acceleration.Head to the Peugeot website or your nearest dealer.

Renault and INFINITI Unveil Project Black.

INFINITI and the Renault F1 Team have completed the track-focused development of an unique high-performance, dual-hybrid powertrain. It’s been especially created for the INFINITI Project Black S prototype. The development work was signed off at Salzburgring in Austria by Renault F1 Team star Nico Hülkenberg, where two prototypes were put through their paces. A decision on the potential of the system for consumer use will be made by the end of this year.

The Project Black S prototype is part of an evolving collaboration between INFINITI and Renault F1 Team. It’s served as a test-bed for development of the new Formula 1 inspired powertrain technology. The latest version of the Project Black S was revealed in Paris in fall 2018. Since then, powertrain engineers from Renault F1 Team and INFINITI have developed the unique technology further, exploring whether it could be deployed in a high-performance road car. Furthermore, the program has provided an insight into how INFINITI can work hand-in-hand with partners on developing new projects and technologies.Mike Colleran, Deputy Chairman, INFINITI Motor Company, comments: “The work that has gone into Project Black S represents a milestone in INFINITI’s road to electrification. This test-bed for new ideas, and rapid development, represents everything INFINITI hopes to achieve with its electrified cars in future, such as smart energy management from advanced high-performance powertrains, a thrilling drive, and a performance aesthetic.”

Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director of Renault F1 Team, said “A technical partner to the Renault F1 team, INFINITI’s experience of working with homologated hybrid powertrain technology was instrumental in the co-development of our dual-hybrid system. The Black S project now gives us a rare opportunity for the direct transfer of genuine F1-honed technology back into a road car. Making this leap, from circuit to road, is something we are incredibly excited to be involved in”.

A key aim of the Project Black S program was to explore the potential for new motorsport-inspired electrification technologies and development processes. Project Black S fuses expertise from road and race track, with its dual-hybrid powertrain, all-new, purpose built brakes, and optimized suspensions, all complemented by the use of advanced lightweight materials throughout the purposeful new bodywork and a motorsport-inspired interior.

INFINITI’s Mike Colleran comments: “Working with Renault F1 Team has opened our eyes to new ways of working. Outside of the traditional process in which we engineer cars and technologies, this collaboration has shown us what can be achieved with a small, dedicated team. We will learn from this to enhance the way we create other cars in future.”

The Project Black S dual-hybrid powertrain technology is derived from Formula One and engineered specifically for road use. A focused, agile team of designers and engineers from the two technology partners has enabled the rapid development of testing prototypes. A test-bed based on the INFINITI Q60 sports coupe and its 400 hp VR30 twin-turbo V6 engine, the dual-hybrid system combines supercar performance with smart energy management.

The VR30 engine has been transformed with the creation of two heat-energy harvesting systems with Formula 1 relationships. There is the MGU-H or motor generator unit – heat, which develops electricity under acceleration. Paired with a kinetic harvesting system or MGU-K: motor generator unit – kinetic, that generates electricity under braking and an all-new energy management system, Project Black S is a unique and exciting electrified performance hybrid prototype.In a similar manner to Renault F1 Team’s R.S.19 racecar, the Project Black S’ smart powertrain stores this energy and discharges it as the driver requires, spooling up the turbochargers instantaneously as the driver opens the throttle, boosting power sent to the rear wheels via the MGU-K over continued periods of acceleration.

Currently, the dual-hybrid powertrain is capable of producing up to 418 kW (568 ps, 563 hp) – 40 percent more than the prototype’s donor car, the INFINITI Q60 Red Sport 400. Uniquely, it provides sustained and sustainable hybrid performance, delivering electrically assisted acceleration, lap after lap.

The prototype offers drivers complete control over how the powertrain uses this energy, with three Formula One-inspired drive modes – Road, Quali and Race – each altering the way in which the powertrain harvests and discharges power.

INFINITI’s Mike Colleran added: “There is still work to be done. Now we have two completed prototypes we will fully evaluate the production potential of Project Black S. It is still too early to predict the outcome as we need a solid business case, but the latest rounds of testing have proved its unique performance and underlines our pursuit of electrified performance. This is an exciting phase of the process. We will consider every element of the development prototypes to establish the feasibility of volume or limited production in future.”

A Few Snags With Voice Control Systems

Michael, I don’t think these modern cars are quite up to my standard yet.

Ever since at least the 1960s or possibly earlier, technologically minded geeky sorts have dreamed of having machines that will hear your voice and carry out your commands and popped this sort of tech into sci-fi stories. Kind of like having a very obedient slave who will do whatever is asked but without any of the nasty ethical implications.  Possibly the dream of voice-activated machines is even older – if you look hard enough in old books, robot-type things have been turning up since the 1600s.  Certainly, in the 1970s and early 80s when the way you got a computer to do something was by feeding in a punch card, the idea of just being able to tell it what to do would have seemed like the ultimate.  The people with these fantasies were probably the ones who dreamed up Knight Rider and the intelligent car named KITT… and the ones who are designing cars and in-car tech grew up watching this show.

Fast forward to today and we’ve got quite a few computerized systems inside our vehicles, It’s likely that if you pick up, say, a brand new Mercedes-Benz, it will have far more electronics and computer bits and pieces than the Apollo that reached the moon.  Even better: a lot of bits and pieces inside a new car are voice activated. We’ve got to the point that if you watch a rerun of Knight Rider with a teenager, their response to KITT’s cool functions is likely to be “So what?”

These bits and pieces tend to be related to things like navigation, music and the phone; in other words, the sorts of things that you do on your phone anyway.  The idea behind it is a compromise between safety and connectedness. Instead of having to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel to poke around with your playlists or to call the boss and say you’ll be late because you’re stuck in traffic when you actually are stuck in traffic, you can do this just with your voice.  Both Apple and Android allow you to do this, and a few marques have their own systems – Ford, BMW and Fiat, to name a few.  In some vehicles, you can also control the temperature settings via voice control, though those who have used them report that you have to be specific and keep it simple. I guess the people developing the tech didn’t really want the climate control system to suddenly add a bit of chill when the sound system is playing “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot”.

There are more ideas in the pipeline and have just been introduced.  If you’ve got the right apps and the right devices (hello, Alexa!), you can check if the boot and the sunroof are closed properly and what the battery status in an EV is (BMW); lock and unlock the doors remotely (Ford Chrysler) and more.  There’s talk that BMW is thinking of introducing a feature that will allow you to dictate and send an email entirely by voice.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that? I keep getting mental pictures of someone trying to write something really important having a near miss on the road (caused by somebody or something else) so that in the middle of the formal apology or job application, the reader encounters the words “Stupid mutt – get out of the way!” (That’s the polite version – insert unprintable adjectives if desired.)

Which leads me nicely to the couple of existing snags with voice recognition software in vehicles – and outside of the vehicle that a number of people have picked up on.

The first relates to getting the voice recognition system to actually pick up on what you’re saying. The interior of your vehicle tends to be noisier than, say, your living room.  Even if you’re in a nice quiet EV or hybrid running on the electric motor, there is noise from the ambient traffic around you, bumps in the road and fans.  The noise increases if you’re in an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle or if your hybrid is running on the non-electric motor. This makes it hard for those voice recognition systems to make out what you’re saying. Heck, it can sometimes be hard for another human to make out what you’re saying in these conditions, as quite a few married couples probably already know.

The system also has trouble distinguishing the voice of the driver from the voices of the passengers, so if there are kids in the back trying to chatter away while you try to tell the navigation system to find you the nearest petrol station (or EV charging station) or call your mother, it won’t understand you.

Then there’s the problem with different voices.  I remember the first time I came across some voice recognition telephone system and trying a number of times to get the stupid machine to recognize me, only succeeding when I faked a really, really cheesy American accent.  Voice recognition systems are a whole lot better than they used to be but they still have problems.  They like what they consider to be a “normal” voice.  The trouble is that what a lot of these systems consider to be a “normal” voice is one with a standard accent.  Introduce a very broad regional accent (Scottish and Irish drivers, for example, have real problems) or a non-native speaker accent and voice recognition systems throw a wobbly.  A few researchers have also discovered that in-car voice recognitions systems have more problems with female voices than male voices.  Which explains why my Brazilian sister-in-law doesn’t use these features.

Navigation systems are the main place that people notice these glitches.  If you’ve programmed your system to go somewhere and it’s reading the directions out to you, it has to “guess” how to read the street names out, sometimes with hilarious results.  Or you try saying the name of some restaurant you want to find the way to but it fails to pick it up; these systems are fine with mainstream outlets like Starbucks but they go to pieces on niche and boutique places – think English pub names like The Goat and Compasses or French restaurants like Mon Petit Escargot (I made that one up).

These problems often mean that the users get frustrated and end up picking up the phone to do the dialling or the searching manually, which defeats the purpose of having the hands-free voice activated in-car tech in the first place.  Add in the fact that the users are probably getting frustrated by this stage and you’ll probably find that they’re driving less safely than they would if they just pressed a touchscreen in the first place.

However, the problems with voice recognition systems, in cars and out of them, have their funny side, so on that note I’ll leave you with this little clip…

50-11: Man’s Greatest Small Step.

“Houston. Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger Tranquillity, we copy you on the ground, you got a bunch of guys here about to turn blue, we’re breathing again, thanks a lot.”

These two sentences marked the ending of the first part of mankind’s most audacious mission ever. Just eight years before, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy had presented a speech which included the words:”First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”Through an intensive recruiting process, the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Mercury and Gemini missions with one and two astronauts, the tragedy of the losses of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White in a test inside what would be called Apollo 1, those eight years would culminate in words spoken by Neil Armstrong just before 10:52pm Greenwich Mean Time on July 20, 1969.

“Ok, I’m just about to step off the LEM now.” And moments later:”That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”Barely seven hours before, the lunar module dubbed “Eagle” had landed safely, but not without some peril, in an area of the moon called the Sea of Tranquillity. The proposed landing site was found, with barely a couple of minutes of fuel left inside the LM, to be dangerously strewn with boulders of a size that, if the Eagle had landed, would have been at an angle that may have resulted in the two level craft tipping over or at an angle that would not allow the upper or ascent stage to fire back into lunar orbit with Armstrong and the second man to walk upon the moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, aboard.

In orbit 110 kilometres above was Michael Collins, aboard the Command Service Module, named Columbia. He would soon be the loneliest human being in existence as Columbia would orbit to the far side of the moon and be the furthest human from Earth for up to 45 minutes.At 13:32 GMT, or 11:32pm Sydney time, on Wednesday July 16, 1969, the massive Saturn V rocket fired upwards from Cape Kennedy. The five F-1 main stage rockets, delivering a million and a half pounds of thrust each, drinking 15 tons of fuel each, took the 363 feet tall behemoth to a low earth orbit point before separating from the second stage.

Once upon the moon’s surface the pair would speak to President Richard Nixon, lay out and perform experiments, and read the words printed upon a plaque fitted to one of the four legs of the descent stage. “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind” The first lunar moon walks would occupy just two and a half hours, which also included the collection of moon surface samples to be returned to earth.Live footage of the descent of Armstrong descending the LM’s ladder was beamed to the world via the radio telescope in Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek, near Canberra. The back story of this, including the powerful wind storm that hit Parkes just as Armstrong began his historic descent, is immortalised in the film “the Dish”.

After just under 22 hours on the surface, Aldrin and Armstrong would lift off, but this too, was not without issue. A small but incredibly vital switch, the switch to fire the ascent stage engine, had been broken by Aldrin accidentally. Aldrin managed a quick fix with a felt tipped pen, jammed into where the switch should have been.On July 24, the conical Command Module would re-enter the atmosphere, and successfully landed the crew and their ship in the Pacific Ocean. Battered and discoloured from the immense heat, this module now resides in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. The ascent stage’s whereabouts are unknown but is thought to have crashed onto the moon after a series of decaying orbits.
The three astronauts would receive a hero’s welcome upon their arrival aboard the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier tasked with retrieving them, and would be given a bigger welcome back in the U.S.A.

To date, just twelve men have walked upon the moon.

July 20, 1969, is the date, 50 years ago, that Apollo 11 landed the first two of those 12.

 

Give Me A Brake

Imagine that you’re driving along a typical suburban street.  A movement to the side catches your eye and you spot somebody’s dog off the leash madly rushing full tilt down a driveway, barking madly at the cat across the road.  Next thing you know, Doggo is rushing into the road.  Without thinking, your right foot darts off the accelerator and hard onto the brake.  Your car screeches to a standstill, stopping short of that lunatic of a dog and shoving you hard against your seatbelt.  You growl something about idiotic animals and people who can’t control their dogs, then keep on going, barely thinking about the mechanical miracle that has just taken place.

Brakes. We take them for granted, especially after we’ve been driving for a few years.  However, they are super-important for safety.  Imagine what it would be like without them.  You might have had a small taste of this sort of thing as a child if you screamed downhill on a scooter or skateboard (or, in my case, a bike with worn-out brake pads) – that feeling of being out of control and knowing that gravity will accelerate you faster and that there’s no way of checking or slowing that thing down.

Needless to say, brakes pre-date cars.  Steam trains needed them and so did stagecoaches, and the basic principle behind all brakes is the same.  The vehicle is moving because the wheels are turning, so to stop it moving or to slow that motion down, one needs to slow the wheels down. This is done by clamping something large and hard onto the wheel, which produces friction that soaks up the kinetic energy of the wheels. And this is the first and most important mechanical principle behind any brake: friction.  The bigger the surface area applied to the turning wheels and the more force it’s applied with, the more quickly the turning stops.

In your car, the friction is applied by disc brakes, which have been around since Citroën put them on mass produced cars in 1955.  Disc brakes consist of a metal disc that’s incorporated into the wheel. You can have a powerful pair of callipers that grab this disc as it spins and slow the turning that way.  You can think of it as a more sophisticated adaptation of your old bike brakes: instead of grabbing the whole rim, it grabs something near the centre. The callipers are fitted with brake pads that are usually made of tough rubber, which absorbs heaps of force and can handle heat – and you need to make sure that you replace your brake pads on a regular basis, as they do wear out over time and you’re sunk without them.  You’ve also got drum brakes (or disc and drum), where a stationary disk covered with an energy absorbing lining, known as a shoe, presses against the disc, applying the necessary friction.

A lot of kinetic energy and a lot of momentum are involved in a moving car.  However, it takes the subtlest bit of pressure to slow a vehicle from, say, 100 km/h to 85 km/h as you approach a corner.  If your average mid-sized sedan has a mass of 1600 kg and the equation for velocity is K = (m × v2)/2… you’ll have gone from 617.83 kilojoules to 445.98 kilojoules or a difference of 171 kJ.  This is equivalent to roughly the energy expended by a petite woman doing slow dancing for quarter of an hour… and you sure didn’t apply that much with that little twitch of your foot. Obviously, something’s happened to amplify what your feet and legs did or the car wouldn’t have responded one iota.

The next mechanical principle that kicks in is the one discovered by Archimedes and I don’t mean the one that saw him running through the streets in the nude shouting “Eureka!” after his bathtub overflowed.  I mean the “Give me a long enough lever and a firm place to stand, and I can move the world.” In other words, the lever principle. One tiny movement on the short end leads to a lot of movement on the long end.  This is certainly at play in your brake system but amplification comes in the form of fluid courtesy of the principles of hydraulics.  Don’t make me go into the equations for hydraulics, as that’s university-level physics and I didn’t study that.

Fluids can’t be squashed, which is how water pistols work. Actually, a water pistol is a good place to start understanding the principles of hydraulics. You couldn’t throw water with one finger very far or with much force, but by applying pressure to that water, you can get quite a bit of water going a fair distance, preferably onto your big brother’s face.  The main force goes from your brake pedal to the master cylinder, which converts the force of your foot into hydraulic pressure, like your finger on the trigger of a water pistol.  The brake fluid then exerts pressure on the slave cylinders (one for each wheel that has the brakes) and the slaves apply the brake drum or the callipers, and everything kicks in to slow the vehicle down.

There are a lot of moving parts involved and naturally, given the nature of things, the business end of the brake will wear out over time.  And they will need to be replaced, so you really don’t want to try cheating or skipping on this important part of car maintenance.

If, for whatever reason, you’re in the scary situation where any of these systems fails, here’s what you do:

Blowing Hot And Cold: The Role Of The Radiator

When you take a look under the hood of your car, an awful lot of the space in there is taken up with the cooling system – that’s if you’ve got a vehicle that gets its motive power from an internal combustion engine (ICE).  In fact, the complexity and the importance of the cooling system in an ICE vehicle – and the consequences for your car engine if something goes wrong with it – is one of the things that makes electric vehicles look very attractive.

The topic is on my mind somewhat, as last week saw me standing around at the mechanic’s garage looking at a faulty radiator and getting the bad news that my old 4×4 was terminally ill.  It was at that moment that even though I live in a rural area where the range of electric vehicles isn’t practical, I liked the idea of EVs, as they have none of the radiator-related hassles.  (The 4×4 is going to be replaced by a smaller Toyota Camry, as I never took the 4×4 off-road all that much, but that’s another story).

Anyway, enough about me and let’s get onto radiators.

In an ICE vehicle, the rotational motion needed to turn the wheels is produced by a controlled explosion pushing a piston up and down.  If you’ve ever used petrol or diesel to get a sluggish bonfire going, then you’ve probably seen just how explosive these fuels are and how much heat is released.  In fact, quite a lot of the chemical potential energy contained in these fossil fuels – or their biofuel equivalents – is converted into heat energy rather than kinetic (motion) energy.  Actually, probably most of it goes to heat energy, which is why an ICE isn’t a terribly efficient machine, as the amount of energy going in (in the form of chemical potential energy) is nowhere near the amount of kinetic energy going out – and some gets lost as sound energy as well.  For your information, the most efficient machine in terms of the ratio of energy out to energy in is a bicycle… and we don’t really mind if it burns a few more kilojoules in this case.

All that heat energy has to go somewhere or before long, it will melt the engine.  It was heat that got the metal of the engine out of the rocks it came from and into the shape that it is now, after all.  Nobody wants that, so the aim is to get the heat away from the engine and somewhere else where it won’t do any damage.  Most modern engines use a liquid cooling system rather than air cooling, as heating up water soaks up a few more joules. It takes more energy to heat water than to heat air, as we’ve all found out on sunny days in spring when the air is warm but if you try taking a dip in an outdoor swimming pool or the sea, the water still feels like ice.  The solution is to have a bunch of pipes running through and around the engine and these will take the heat away from the engine and somewhere else.  Add in coolant that has an even higher boiling point than water and you can soak up even more heat.

There’s one small problem, and that’s the fact that if water boils, it turns to steam, which, as Isaac Watt noticed with his mother’s kettle all those years ago, expands and exerts a force on what’s around it.  This is how a steam engine works (and makes you wonder if an ICE–steam hybrid is possible: something that relies on the ICE driving the pistons until it builds up a good head of steam and then uses the steam).  However, putting water under pressure increases the boiling point, which is why water boils at low temperatures at altitude.  Of course, too much pressure will blow the hoses as well, so there’s a little regulator that keeps it just right.

If the water stayed put, it would boil quickly, so an extra trick is to keep the water moving.  This is what the job of the water pump is: it moves the water through the system so the water has a chance to shed that heat energy somewhere once it’s away from the business department of the engine.

Once the water has moved away from the explosive part of the engine carrying the excess heat energy, it needs to get rid of that heat before it’s pumped around again.  This is where the radiator comes in.  The radiator has the important job of dissipating the heat energy to the atmosphere.  The core of the radiator consists of a honeycomb of little tubes, usually made of aluminium, which has good heat transfer properties.  The aim of the game is to have lots of surface area to maximise the amount of air that can be exposed to the heat and take it away into the general atmosphere.  To ensure that the air in question goes away from the engine rather than towards it, there’s a fan or two in place to whirr it in the right direction; pretty amazing when you think of the speed at which the car’s travelling.

If the weather is a bit chilly, then the people inside the cabin of the car would actually like to have a bit of that hot air, thank you very much. This is where the car’s heating system comes in.  This takes a bit of the water from the system and puts it through another core – the radiator’s mini-me – and blows it through the vents into the cabin so you can warm up your cold pinkies and toesies – and get the mist off the windscreen so you can see where you’re going.  It’s all interconnected, reminding me somewhat of how your blood circulates.  In the case of my poor old 4×4, the heater suddenly deciding not to blow hot air was the equivalent of a nasty pain in the left shoulder radiating down the arm…

Actually, using your blood circulation system isn’t a bad analogy.  In either case, if there’s a blockage or if something blows because the pressure isn’t right, you’ve got serious, serious trouble.  Blood does indeed help your human engine regulate its temperature and it does this by restricting the flow to extremities when the thermometer does down, which is why it’s your fingers and toes that get cold first.  To get rid of excess heat, the body also does the “increase the surface area” thing, which is why your face gets red when you’re toasty.

Of course, if the weather cold outside and you’re putting on the hats, thick socks and gloves to stop uncomfortable heat loss into the surrounding air, then there’s a chance that the water inside the system will freeze up inside the radiator – as the laws of thermodynamics tell us, heat goes from the hotter thing to the colder thing, even if the “hotter” thing is at 1°C and the colder thing is at –4°C.  Frozen water won’t flow, so you get a blockage in the radiator system, which you don’t want.  It gets worse, too: water expands when it freezes (the only substance to do so) and it can bust any part of the cooling system it fancies in this case.  The solution is to add antifreeze, which has a lower freezing point than water.  Amazingly, the most common antifreeze, ethylene glycol, also acts as the coolant, as it has a higher boiling point and a lower freezing point.

It’s a complicated system – which is why if you haven’t checked the fluids in your engine lately or given the system a proper flush out as part of servicing, then you won’t get as much out of your ICE as you ought to.  Don’t ever neglect this part of car maintenance and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Highlander Electric

This Car Review Is About: Hyundai dipping a toe into the battery powered waters of electric cars. The Korean company has the Ioniq range of petrol/hybrid/battery, whereas the Kona has no hybrid option.With a range of around 460 kilometres, it’s more than suitable for daily running around in the urban environment, and so it proved during our week-long test.

What Does It Cost?: The range of Kona Electric starts at $59,999. That’s before government charges and dealership costs. The Highlander starts in the middle $60k range, and that puts it within the ballpark of the forthcoming Tesla Model 3. The car comes with a charge cable which plugs into a standard home power socket. For an extra couple of thousand Hyundai will supply an adapter box that gets installed at home. At a rate of around7.2kW per hour of charge, it trickle charges at a rate good enough to avoid range anxiety if plugged in overnight. In the week we drove it, it was topped up just twice.On The Outside Is: A car that is possibly overdone in styling to alert people to the fact it’s an electric car. The Tesla range, for the sake of inevitable comparisons, look like a normal set of cars outside, and have a distinctive yet still normal-ish look inside.

Front and rear lower bumpers have been restyled in comparison to the standard versions. There is a ripple, wave like, motif to them, and the front looses the centrally mounted driving lights. Somewhere in the front guards are cornering lamps, barely visible unless looking for them. Our test car was clad in a two-tone metallic Ceramic Blue and Chalk White body and roof styling, with a number of exterior colours and combinations available, at a reasonable cost of under $600 for the metallic paints. The wheels are bladed five spoke items, with the blades sporting a heavily dimpled design on one half of each of the slabby five spoked design.These reflect the nose of the Kona Electric. As there is no need for a traditional cooling system, the front has the air intakes replaced with a plastic insert that draws attention to itself by virtue of these dimples. The colour highlights these quite strongly too. This nose section houses the charge port, and here Hyundai has a solid win.

Press lightly and the cover pops open. Insert the Type 2 Mennekes charger device which is found in a sturdy bag in the undercover cargo section, attach to an extension cable, a green loop lights up, and charging is underway. To remove the charger requires nought more than a push of a simple press-stud. It’s more effective and far more simple than Tesla’s overthought system.The overall look is very close to the normal Kona but the dimpled look is probably a non-necessary addition. The dimpled wheels are unnecessary too. Normal looking wheels would have toned down the “look at me, I’m electric!” look.

On The Inside: The Kona Electric interior is more sci-fi than traditional in some aspects. The seats are vented and heated, with the car provided having white leather-look material which wouldn’t be suitable for younger childre.. The steering wheel is heated, there are cup and bottle holders, and a wireless charge pad for compatible smartphones, plus a USB port or two. All normal.

Then Hyundai goes to Star Trek inspired designs for the centre console. Its a floating or split level design and not exactly easy to get items into the lower storage section. The upper level is home to four buttons for engaging the drive, a tab for the heated steering wheel, another for three drive modes (Sport/Normal/Eco), and all in a somewhat chintzy looking silver. It’s horribly overdone, visually tiring, and goes past the point of sensible in pointing out to passengers they’re in an electric car.There are some good points: the drive modes change the look of the full colour LCD screen that is located inside an analogue dial. These, at least, look sensible and appropriate. There are different colours and looks to the kinds of information being displayed. There is also a HUD or Head Up Display for safer driving. The touchscreen is slightly revamped to take advantage of the propulsion system and has sub-screens that allow for personalisation and adjustment of the drive modes.

In regards to charger points for public usage, the onboard map system has these preprogrammed. That’s a good thing as this particular kind of charge point seemed to be a little spare on the group using certain apps.On The Road It’s: Soft in the suspension. It’s a well controlled softness, but it’s soft. There’s a lot of travel in each end, with the front exhibiting more sponginess than the rear. It really does feel as if it could do with a dialing up of the stiffness with a corresponding change in dampening to provide a still progressive yet tauter setup for a better ride. Hyundai say that something like 37 different damper combinations and a number of varying spring and anti-roll-bar setups were tried. However, it must be said that the suspension has to deal with 1700 kilos or so, which includes the floor mounted battery pack. That does help with handling by providing a low centre of gravity, so that softness, although the final result of the extensive testing, may not be to everyone’s taste.

There’s an unexpectedly high amount of road noise too. There’s a sensation of wind coming in via a door left open in respect to the noise level. The ecofriendly rubber adds to the ambient noise levels also.Acceleration is decently quick with a sub eight second 0-100 time, and there’s a gauge in the dash that tells you the percentage of normal, economical, and aggressive driving. Even with our drive routinely seeing hard launches, never did that aggressive driving gauge get above 2%.

To engage Drive, one places a foot on the brake pedal, presses the normal looking Start/Stop button, then presses one of the four drive buttons to get underway. Drive, Reverse, Park, Neutral are the choices.

Actual physical engagement of the drive gear is instant here, and the system does insist upon the brake pedal being used, for example, when selecting Drive from Reverse. Here Hyundai go a little more sci-fi in the aural side. There is an eerie whine, an almost subliminal sound that has people wondering if they’re hearing it or not, as it never goes beyond the level of a faint background noise.

There is a question mark about the drive system. The car reviewed was the Highlander model, meaning it came with the HUD in the dash, heating & venting in the seats etc. However the drive system was front wheel only. This meant that the front rubber would scrabble for grip off the line in those same hard launches.

There are three drive modes, which seem redundant for an electrically powered car. They’re activated via a selection tab in the console and Hyundai do provide personalisation of each for items such as climate control and recharge via the touchscreen. Regeneration levels are also changeable via a pair of paddles behind the tiller. These same paddles allow for bringing the vehicle to a full halt if the left paddle is held.The steering itself is heavier than expected in normal driving. That’s more to say it’s not as assisted as expected, feeling more akin to the front rubber being deflated by around 20 to 30 percent. All up, though, the Kona Electric, for all of its perceived deadweight, is nimble enough, with rapid and unfussed lane changing when required, a definitive sense of weight transfer when lifting off the accelerator, and the mid range urge is enough to raise a smile. Punch it whislt using the heated seats and steering wheel though, and watch that expected range figure drop, and rapidly.

It’s otherwise a delightfully enjoyable cruiser but “suffers” from a peculiar quirk. Although the electronic brains engage the drive systems almost instantly between Drive/Reverse, from a standing start there’s a small but perceptible hesitation before the actual drive kicks in. Think of that momentary lag along the lines of a diesel’s slight intake of breath. It’s an unusual sensation however once knowing it happens all of the time, adjustments on driving style make for smooth progress.

The brakes are an integral part of the drive system and they’re just on the fine side of grabby in normal driving. Downhill descents have them gently squeeze and you can feel the retardation the regenerative system endows.

Hyundai adds extra tech in the form of the smartphone app called Hyundai Auto Link Premium SIM. By tying in with the car’s telematics you can look at driving history, driving efficiency, general battery information, plus it allows a user to book a service remotely. Items such as hazard lights, or lock/unlock can also be performed by the app.

And The Safety? As expected, Hyundai’s full range of SmartSense active safety tech is here. AEB is standard, radar collision alert, Blind Spot Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and active cruise control are all here. The actual safety rating is five star.

Warranty and Services? Service intervals are once a year of every 15,000 kilometres. That second figure is appealing for some as it means they’re more likely to do less than the 15K…For those that aren’t frightened by range anxiety, and drive it as they would a petroleum fed machine, it’s a figure easily achieved. Hyundai have also capped the first five service visits at $165. Warranty wise there is a five year standard figure and the battery pack has eight years.
At The End of the Drive.

Hyundai is part of the growing band of brothers that have joined the fully electric powered car family. It’s a technology that has history against it, and the future on its side. But there’s no need for today’s cars to be made to look like something from 200 years in the future. Aside from the Star Trek meets Jetsons looks, it’s a capable enough chariot. Pricing is something that will change for the better but for now, it’ll have to do.
Hit up Hyundai here for more info.