Baby steps. That's how BMW expects to improve the efficiency of its vehicles – not by revolutionizing the automobile or replacing the internal-combustion engine, but by improving it. The Bavarian automaker's Efficient Dynamics program includes a roster of fuel-saving technologies like regenerative braking and start-stop engine management, but the second generation of the initiative looks to the heavens for inspiration. Specifically, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
NASA's satellites are powered by thermo-electric generators (TEDs) which derive electricity from the heat generated by radioactive materials. BMW has no intention of putting plutonium in your car, but is working with NASA to adapt the TEDs to hook up to the car's exhaust system and provide some 200 watts of what would otherwise be (and until now has been) wasted energy. Capturing the heat to power auxiliary systems like climate control, BMW says the system could improve fuel economy by 5%. Not a revolutionary figure, but more than the contribution of both regenerative braking and start-stop combined.