• Mar 5th 2010 at 7:47PM
  • 36
Capstone Turbine CMT-380 – Click above for high-res image gallery

Our posts on the 240 horsepower CMT-380 hybrid-electric sports car powered by a microturbine during the car's unveiling during the LA Auto Show last fall were well-received, so we think there will be some interest in some follow-up information that we found today.

The car's 0-60 time is a wonderfully fun 3.9 seconds and it has a top speed of 150 miles per hour. The electric-only range is 80 miles and, with a full fuel tank and battery, the car can go up to 500 miles. The microturbine spins at up to 96,000 rpms (!) and puts out 30 kW. Right now, the microturbine costs around $30,000, but maker Capstone says it could come down to around $3,000 if it went into production.

Also, there's an interesting quote from the car's designer, Richard Hilleman (listen to him talk about the car here). Apparently, he used to work at the Nevada Test Site (think nuclear weapons) and is currently a chief creative director for Electronic Arts. He told the New York Times News Service that:
I've been responsible for both scourges of the 20th century -- nuclear devices and video games. Now this. I'm trying to be on the right side of time here, one of those rare cases where I can be politically correct and cool at the same time.
Finally. Thanks to Roy B. for the tip!


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 36 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Micro turbines that fly model aircraft are already down in the $3k range, I wonder what makes the one in this car so much more expensive. The ones in RC aircraft are precision engines that can produce 30 lbs or more of thrust and spin at 100k+rpms, they are not cheap toys.
        • 7 Months Ago
        Ah, but that's different, isn't it? you're not powering an electric generator with those, so their only resistance is air.

        How long do they usually last?
      • 5 Years Ago
      That turbine better be hardy, b/c getting parts to repair it would be expensive.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Shock will kill an air bearing based capstone. Those guys don't like any shock or vibration at all. I would have to guess any care based capstone turbine could not be based on the air bearings that capstone is known for.

      I've been searching for the company that built 1kw turbine units in pelican cases...It was 4-5 years ago was a company that had some small units that used R/C style micro turbines.
        • 7 Months Ago
        Good point. It's rather like the problem of sudden jolts causing head crashes in hard drives, thus causing them to fail. But then again, some laptops have been engineered in various ways to resist jolts to their hard drives, so it isn't an "unsolvable" problem.

        I suspect the engineers at Capstone are aware of the problem, and may be working on a solution. The solution might be a matter of some sort of shock absorbing mounting, or higher pressure in the air bearings, or a larger bearing gap. I wouldn't expect this to go beyond the prototype stage unless and untill Capstone makes it jolt-proof.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This goes 80 miles in pure EV mode.........and gets 10mpg for the remaining 320 miles?

      What's the advantage in comparison to a piston motor / generator unit?
        • 7 Months Ago
        This kind of car wouldn't be a good cross country trekker anyway. Just think of the back aches and leg cramps! Ha ha.
        • 7 Months Ago
        The advantages include smooth vibration free running, low weight for the power produced, only a single moving part, low maintenance, and the ability to run on almost any flammable fuel.

        The disadvantages are a higher cost than a piston engine of the same power output, and small gas turbines have low efficiency (large gas turbines can achieve much higher efficiencies, especially if equipped with thermal regeneration)
      • 5 Years Ago
      I remember seeing a prototype turbine powered car in the London Science Museum some years back (I think it was a 1950's/60's Tech Rover!) I understand they had throttle lag problems (Among others) that led to the project being mothballed or abandoned..these micro turbines being run at an optimum constant speed to charge batteries rather than driving the wheels seems to be a good solution,I understand Range Rover are looking into this again too..Re. the Jet Engine soundtrack..Can I get one that sounds like Adam West's "Futura" Batmobile?!
        • 7 Months Ago
        Chrysler had such cars too, but they were only getting 17mpg and the throttle lag was supposedly a serious issue too.

        Some of these high-rpm engines like the rotary and turbine may indeed be great range generators!
      • 5 Years Ago
      It looks like the electrification of the sportscar has already begun. Ferrari and Lamborghini have stated they will go electric as well. Tesla seems to have struck a nerve with the elite car makers.

      When I see an all-electric Maybach I'll fall off my chair.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Bah, I just couldn't resist jumping into this discussion.

      There are a lot of people expressing opinions when they really don't seem to fully understand this product and some of the developments around it so hopefully I can share a bit of insight.

      First off, let me just tell you that Capstone recently acquired the Elliot TA100 (100KW) from Cynetix along with all applicable patents (I believe there were some 26 in all). Kind of a head scratching move as Capstone already offers a 65 KW and 200 KW offering, both of which can already be daisy-chained to meet such an approximate load (65 x 3 = 195). So one has to ponder if the move is to acquire some of the patents, perhaps to be utilized in an auto grade version of their c30 (30 KW). I have heard talk of an external heat recuperator (recuperators are one of the primary costs of the unit). Also, I have heard mention of a fuel injection system that would presumably increase efficiency. But this is all just conjecture at this point. Only Capstone knows why they made this move.

      While on the subject of advancing technology, let me briefly go a little deeper down the Capstone rabbit hole. Currently, the DOE and Capstone are working on an R&D project in which a new class of AFA alloy is being tested. This new alloy utilizes aluminum instead of the rare earth metals nickel and chromium. In addition, it is expected to be able to tolerate higher temperatures and have better creep resistance than the current metal they are using, which would increase the turbines efficiency and durability. It is projected that if this metal proves viable, it could reduce the cost of parts utilizing the metal anywhere from 2-5 times. But this is R&D, and you cannot count your chickens before they hatch.

      Here are some links in regards to the AFA R&D if you are interested:

      http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/jul/21/ornl-steel-may-be-greener/

      http://blogs.knoxnews.com/munger/2009/07/ornls_new_high-temp_alloys_cou.html

      Now lets look at the cost issue. Yes, $30,000 is a lot for an auto component, unless you are dealing with works of art cars like the high end performance cars. However, you need to understand that this unit is currently being made at a rate of about 600 per year. Whereas the auto industry may put out a 100,000+ units of one make per year. I don't think I need to elaborate much here when it comes to economy of scale and utilizing supplier base and purchasing power. In addition, assembly line efficiency and expertise, of which the auto and parts makers are known for, will make a large difference in labor costs for assembly. So you essentially have material and labor costs coming down if this product is adopted by a major auto maker or parts supplier.

      And finally, here is the key a lot of the naysayers don't seem to understand when it comes to cost. Capstones current product line caters to high end industrial applications. The life span of these units is around 80,000 hours. The auto version would only need to have a lifespan of about 5,000 hours (the turbine only operates briefly to charge the battery, in theory, you could operate the car and never have the turbine turn on!). So essentially, Capstone's current turbine is made too well for an auto application. I think it is fairly logical that a lot of costs could be brought down by lowering the lifespan requirements of the turbine.

      Oh yeah, and one other thing that I feel always gets overlooked with this hybrid design. You will no longer need to change your oil as the turbine uses an air bearing. In addition, you will no longer need a cooling system (aka anti freeze). Oh, and one other thing, these things will likely initially be set up with a liquid fuel tank to store diesel and will run off that when the battery goes low, however, these turbines also run off of numerous alternative fuels, bio diesel, propane, CNG (compressed natural gas) to name a few. So lets look at what this kind of car would do for the nation. It would ELIMINATE the need for toxic/polluting oil lubrication and anti freeze (I dont want to think about how much of this stuff ends up on our roads and eventually our lakes and streams/ground water). This build could also end our the nations dependence on foreign oil. The car itself can runs off of grid electricity initially, and on long trips, it could run off of CNG (a resource America and Canada are rich with).

      In my mind, it is not so much a matter of if, but a matter of time with this product.

      In fair disclosure, I too am a shareholder in Capstone Turbine (CPST).
        • 7 Months Ago
        Ditto averything Malathus said.

        Also point of order regarding the Chysler turbine powerplants (they produced 5 or 6 different versions) from the 50's and 60's these engines were run at varying RPM's via the fuel control and idled when in city traffic.

        Idling a brayton cycle turbine is the least efficient mode of operation as they typically idle at 60% of rated RPM. A series hybrid setup such as that prposed here eliminates unnecessary idling and only runs the turbine at full power which is where they are most efficient.

        As a jet aircraft mx tech I believe that turbines are the most elegant and efficient way to burn fuel to produce power. Obviously there is something to this as every transport category a/c in use today powered by turbine powerplants. When you need as much power as is required to push and a/c 500 mph. Obviously this much power would be impractical on the street, but the opportunity to downsize provides tremendous benefits.
        • 7 Months Ago
        Oops, one quick edit, in the first paragraph I meant Calnetix, not Cynetix.

        Its late and the spellchecker wasnt much use on that one! LOL.
        • 7 Months Ago
        Careful, your alts are showing. ;)

        Thanks for some very interesting info.
        • 7 Months Ago
        Malantus,
        Thank you for your insight as an investor. I do see promise for microturbine technology, but the automotive market might be a stretch, we wont know for several more years I'd imagine. The Elliot 100kW system can be packaged more efficiently, but still takes up some space beyond that of a conventional 1.4 L turbodiesel making 125kW. If air bearings can stand up to continuous shock (or accidents), then it might get some attention. I have a feeling the cost of the unit may come down, but all the auxiliaries needed that aren't typically automotive are still an obstacle.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This looks like a very interesting approach... there shouldn't be any throttle lag (so long as there's juice in the battery) and the amount of power available is determined by the motor/battery efficiency.

      To push the hybrid into this supercar regime strikes me as a bit scary though... I'm thinking about the electrical currents developed in the regenerative braking system when I slam on the brakes at 150 mph or is that current limited to avoid arcing and melting tires/calipers/brake pads? Do they bother with that or just throw the energy away if you really mash on 'em?

      I'm willing to take one of these cars for a couple of months and put it through the paces, though... sign me up!

      (Also, in regards to turbine engines being inefficient maybe so but I remember watching some formula 1 cars back in the late 70s/early 80s, maybe from Saab(?) that were smashing the piston engines at least in europe. I understood that they were eliminated from competition by rule changes that favored the "old" tech... but that's a long time ago in a country far away....
      The power of the internet! There is a great review of the Lotus efforts in the F1 turbine engines here:
      http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2007/03/08/banned-gas-turbine-engines/
      "It did, however, have certain advantages that even today would make the engine worth considering if it were allowed by the rules. The units had great longevity – the Pratt & Whitney engines needed replacing every 1,000 hours – or 500 Grand Prix distances. Makes today’s two-race engines seem rather delicate, doesn’t it?
      It was also very light and compact compared with standard engines of the time."

      Good fun! Let's keep pushing technology to do our biding. (and even better to do it at 0-60 in 3 seconds.)
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wonder what 96,000RPM sounds like... probably inaudible, eh?

      $30,000 for a generator is not bad in itself, if you factor in that this car has less than half the battery capacity of a Tesla, it could theoretically be priced the same or lower.

      If it could ever really cost $3,000, that would make for the best range extender setup i can fathom. I doubt it would ever be that cheap, parts that can handle such speed do not come at a discount.

      ABG, thanks for following up, i for one appreciate this stuff :)
        • 7 Months Ago
        Rich.

        (sigh) Damned if I do, damned if I don't. Since this is your apparently first post ever on ABG, I know you don't understand my motivations, nor do you understand the backstory.

        As I explained, I make disclosure because of a desire to be open and honest. Paulwesterberg is the one who made the request that I clearly ID which companies I own.

        I understand that I am not legally required, but some posters here are vehement in understanding why I personally support certain technologies. I'm not trying to brag - I'm just making sure that my position as a supporter of green technologies is well-documented.

        Welcome to the party - insulting me in your first post shows you'll be very popular here.
        • 7 Months Ago
        I've invested in companies that are a crock of shit too, what's your point. The microturbine is not fuel efficient. Good luck with both efficiency, reliability (in a car), and cost as your faults
        • 7 Months Ago
        @letstakeawalk: You obviously only came here to brag that you bought shares, because it's only journalists who are required to give disclosure.
        • 7 Months Ago
        I think that's the idea here; it's basically a Chevy Volt with a turbine engine instead of a regular piston engine.

        Chrysler had a turbine-powered car back in the day; check this out:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Turbine_Car

        Looks like those cars were running about. Fuel economy didn't look good, but it was the 1960's...

        Going from capstone's site, it already looks like they have projects on the market & have been around for a while. They look more legitimate than most pixie dust powertrain promoters to me.
        • 7 Months Ago
        it sounds distinctly like a jet engine : )

        but this product and capstone is one of those somewhat dishonest concept promoters that never intend to make the product theu push but presumably expect some big automaker to come through many millions their way to design and mass produce an automotive turbine. even if you wanted to pay 30k$ per unit it would not at all be suited for car use. it's surprisingly heavy for a very weak powerlevel and to make it worse it's rather fuel inefficient. so it's pretty bad on all levels basically. it might be possible to design a turbine suitable for car use but they certainly haven't demonstrated it.

        I would be much less put off by the dishonesty if they spent their promotion money on developing a protoype turbine suitable for car use. if they could actually make a light unit with decent power level and half way decent fuel efficiency then I'd be a fan. this seems at best ill conceived.
        a turbine could conceivably be quite ideal for a generator because it's simple and the high rpm lends itself very well to generator miniaturization. the power level in an electric motor/generator is proportional to the spin speed. double the rpm gives twice the power for a given size. 100k rpm instead of 4k.. = 25x smaller
        • 7 Months Ago
        The earlier article also mentions the volume of the car with the turbine operational:

        "Three feet to the side of the car, the microturbine puts out about 87 dB, but in the cabin, it's nearly silent. California law might require him to add a muffler, but it's already quiet enough without one."
        • 7 Months Ago
        "I would be much less put off by the dishonesty if they spent their promotion money on developing a protoype turbine suitable for car use."

        Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't that what this post is about? The car, using the microturbine, that's sitting on the stage right there in the photo? The C30 microturbine is a fully developed prototype, ready to go into production and meeting 2010 EPA and CARB certifications.

        ABG did an article on the unit itself:

        http://green.autoblog.com/2009/03/31/capstone-demonstrates-turbine-compliant-with-2010-epa-and-carb-d/

        (disclosure: I'm a shareholder in Capstone)

        • 7 Months Ago
        Paulwesterberg gets all sore if I don't give disclosure...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, you're welcome, but thank Roy B, too, who found this and tipped us about it.
      harlanx6
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is an electric vehicle with a solution for extended range. It is big and beautiful enough to be desirable. The question is does it solve the initial price problem most electrics are stuck with.
      It's an interesting solution and I would like to know more about it.
      Good post, guys!
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have purchased a C30 microturbine that was once installed in a hybrid bus. It is an amazing and unusual peice of engineering. I am now amazed what has now been done with regards to vehicle installations. The power plant is not naturally suited to aurtomotive use. It's actually quite bulky and heavy, complete with batteries (It cannot function without batteries due to its recuperator induced slow transient response) it must weigh vastly more than the piston engine equivilent! The C30 microturbine alone weighs 100kg! It has slow warm up and cool down cycles that will make driving a car awkward, when the car is stopped the microturbine must be allowed to run for 10 minutes before its turned off, imagine rows of microturbine vehicles all running whilst parked! If the CMT380 geniunely attains the performance figures suggested then it is a remarkable achievment! The power electronics orginally designed for stationary use are fragile and would not survive the rigures of long term everyday vehicle use. A great prototype but a long way to go before we see em everyday and then there is Capstone's customer service.......................
        • 7 Months Ago
        Bungie- What experiences have you had with Capstone's customer service? I've been pondering buying a microturbine to generate home power while operating on natural gas.
          • 7 Months Ago
          Hey, this is probably really late for you to get much use out of as you have probably forgotten all about posting your question in the first place. But in short, unless you have a power hungry mansion, the c30 would be overkill for a residential application. It does crank out 30 KW of power after all. And to get the best efficiency, you have to run it pretty close to full speed. Cheers, Robert
      • 5 Years Ago
      Any of you engineer types out there have any thoughts on a mini 96K RPM turbine?
      I am talking maintenance and longevity issues.

      How fast does a turbo usually spin?
        • 7 Months Ago
        Another difference between standard turbochargers and the Capstone microturbine is that turbochargers are lubricated and partially cooled by engine oil, if the oil flow gets blocked when the turbo is spinning at high speed it can be damaged fairly quickly.

        Capstone made a major breakthrough, their turbine uses air bearings, thus don't need oil for lubrication. The turbine itself provides the airflow needed for proper function of the air bearings, it gets "air lubed" whenever it is running, no external air compressor needed.
        • 7 Months Ago
        Alright, I'll try to take this one on.

        The turbo analogy really isn't a bad one here. Rule of thumb on turbos - as long as the blade tips don't break the sound barrier, they're fine. Shock waves do Bad Things (in caps) to compressors and turbines. 120k-150k is not at all unheard of in a turbo.

        I can't really comment too much on maintenance and longevity, although if it's properly designed then it shouldn't be an issue. A turbine like this is a glorified turbo in a lot of senses, and turbos can last for a long time provided the proper maintenance happens (oil changes, bearing changes, probably balancing every so often).

        I'll try to dig up the article later, but a magazine asked race car engineers what they would do if they could completely design a car from scratch with very few limitations, their answer was an all wheel drive series hybrid powered by a turbine. Absolutely ridiculous power to weight ratio, so mechanically simple compared to a piston engine. It's an elegant solution, provided cost can really come down that far.



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