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In terms of efficiency, cars driven by humans are fickle. There's only ever one optimal accelerator position for the best fuel efficiency, no matter what gear you're in. This leads to the situation where the imprecise driving of humans is responsible for lowered fuel efficiency and performance. But what if you could tweak the vehicle's software just a little to take human behaviour into account? John Kessels, who just obtained his doctorate from the Technical University Eindhoven (Netherlands), has been playing around with hybrid vehicle efficiency techniques on non-hybrids to achieve just that.

Hybrid cars utilise technologies such as regenerative braking to reduce energy wastage and boost efficiency. The key for hybrids though is the availability of a generator which can store excess power produced by the internal combustion engine, or draw upon the power stored in the on-board battery pack if the combustion engine's output is lagging. In other words, the generator works to smooth out the energy fluctuations of the combustion engine, flattening the energy output curve and reducing its variation from that of the optimal energy output curve.

Looking to achieve efficiency improvements in non-hybrid vehicles, Kessels realised that the smaller generator and battery pack of a standard petrol or diesel vehicle could still be used in a similar fashion to those found in a hybrid.
  • Car battery charged with excess power production
  • Battery-charging generator turned off when inefficient
  • Electric braking to generate energy and stored in the battery
  • Shut off rear window and seat heating
  • Shut off other electric energy systems
Analysis: Kessels' research indicated that with minimal modifications including uploading a software patch to the car's computer, fuel savings of 2.6 percent could be achieved. Shutting off the engine while idle would boost this figure but would require major modifications. These are great examples of "mining negawatts" as outlined in URGEĀ² theory and should be embraced by the automakers immediately to improve not only the efficiency of new vehicles, but potentially of the installed fleet already on the roads today.


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