• Image Credit: Drew Phillips
Porsche has been testing and teasing all-electric vehicles for years, like the trio of experimental Boxsters in 2010 and a Pajun EV in 2015. Then came the Mission E, a gorgeous electric concept unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show late last year. Unlike previous test programs, this one was intended for the real world. Porsche is getting ready to ramp up its EV development, and has stated that its first all-electric vehicle, based on the Mission E, will arrive by 2020.

For now, the future production version of the Mission E looks a lot like the Le Mans Prototype Porsche 919 Hybrid. Well, under the hood, anyway. Parts of the 800-volt powertrain in the Mission E are being used in the Le Mans prototype because, "The 919 served as the trial vehicle for the voltage level of future hybrid systems," Porsche says. During testing with the race car, Porsche says it is learning a lot about EV tech, including keeping the battery and electric motor cool and "extreme high-voltage" connectors. This news is not as exciting as a flashy new concept, but this is just the sort of thing that automakers need to do in the big transition from fossil fuels to electric drive.

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Hybrid technology in the LMP1 Porsche 919 Hybrid

Atlanta, Georgia. This weekend, the Le Mans Prototype Porsche 919 Hybrid has its only 2016 appearance in Germany. At the six-hour race to be held on the Grand Prix circuit of the Nürburgring, the fourth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), the series' leader fights to defend its title. At the same time its mission is to revolutionize the technology of future sports cars.

With the 919 Hybrid, Porsche has developed a new field of technology at racing speed. For the "Mission E", a fully electric road-going concept sports car unveiled in 2015, the designers adopted the 800-Volt technology from the prototype racer. Porsche has exhausted all possibilities in designing the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner – especially in terms of the drive concept. It consists of a two-liter, V4 turbocharged gasoline engine – the most efficient combustion motor that Porsche has built up to now– and two different energy recovery systems.

During braking, a generator at the front-axle converts the car's kinetic energy into electrical energy. In the split exhaust system, one turbine drives the turbocharger while another converts surplus energy into electrical energy. The braking energy contributes 60 percent, with the remaining 40 percent is produced from exhaust gas. The recuperated electrical energy is stored temporarily in a lithium-ion battery and feeds an electric motor "on demand", meaning, the driver can accelerate and call up the energy at the press of a button. In accordance with the latest regulation changes, the power from the combustion engine is just under 500 hp and the output from the electric motor is well over 400 hp.

The use and interplay of these two energy sources require a sophisticated strategy. In every braking phase, energy is recuperated. On the Nürburgring's 3.2-mile Grand Prix circuit, this happens 17 times per lap, before every corner. The amount of recovered energy depends on the severity of the braking maneuver, or in other words, the speed at which the driver arrives at the corner and how tight it is. Braking and recuperation last until the apex of every corner, the driver then accelerates again. In this moment, the aim is to utilize as much energy as possible. Therefore, the driver steps on the throttle using fuel energy, and also "boost" electrical energy from the battery.

While the combustion engine drives the rear-axle, the electric motor takes care of the front-axle. The 919 catapults out of the corner without any loss of traction using all-wheel drive – and in the process recuperates energy again because on the straights, the extra turbine in the exhaust tract is hard at work. At consistently high engine speeds, the pressure in the exhaust system increases rapidly and drives the second turbine which is connected directly to an electric generator. Both energy sources, however, are limited by the regulations: a driver may not use more than 1.8-liters of fuel per lap and no more than 1.3 kilowatt hours (4.68 megajoules) of electricity. He must calculate this carefully so that at the end of the lap he has used exactly this amount – no more, no less. He who uses more is penalized. He who uses less, loses performance. It is important to stop "boosting" and lift off the throttle at exactly the right moment.

Converted to the 8.469-mile lap of Le Mans, which is the scale model for the regulations, the amount of electrical energy allowed is 2.22 kilowatt hours. This corresponds to eight megajoules – and that is the highest energy class stipulated in the regulations. In 2015, Porsche was the first and only manufacturer that dared to push the limits so far. In 2016, Toyota is also competing in the eight megajoule class. Audi uses six megajoules. The WEC regulations almost completely balance these differences.

For the concept choice of the Porsche 919 Hybrid, a very close look at the individual alternatives was taken. There was no question that Porsche would use the braking energy from the front-axle as this means a large amount of energy from areas already partially developed in 2015 combined with massive progress in the updated 2016 car. For the second system, two solutions were considered: brake energy recuperation at the rear-axle or through the utilization of exhaust gas. Weight and efficiency pointed in favor of the exhaust solution. With brake energy recovery, the system has to recuperate energy within a very short space of time, which means coping with a lot of energy but at the expense of weight. The acceleration phases, however, are much longer than the braking phases, which allow a longer period of recuperation and make the system lighter. Additionally, with the combustion engine, the 919 already has a drive system on the rear-axle. Adding more power at the rear would have made wheel spin less efficient, leading to heavy tire wear.

Arguably, Porsche's bravest decision for the hybrid system in the 919 was opting for 800 volts. Establishing the voltage level is a fundamental decision in electric drive systems as it influences everything else – the battery design, electronics design, e-motor design and charging technology. Porsche pushed this as far as possible.

It was difficult to find components to accommodate the high-voltage, particularly a suitable storage medium. Porsche chose a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery, with hundreds of individual cells, each enclosed in its own cylindrical metal capsule – 2.7 inches high and 0.71 inches in diameter.

In both a road and racing car, power density and energy density must be balanced. The higher the power density of a cell, the faster energy can be recharged and released. The other parameter, energy density, determines the amount of energy that can be stored. In racing, the cells – figuratively speaking – must have a huge opening. Because as soon as the driver brakes, a massive energy hit comes in, and when he boosts, it must leave at exactly the same speed. An everyday comparison: If an empty lithium-ion battery in a smartphone had the same power density as the 919, it would be completely recharged in less than a single second. The downside: A brief chat and it would be empty again. For the smartphone battery to last for days, there must be a higher storage capacity, therefore energy density is a priority.

In an electric car for everyday use, storage capacity translates into range. In this regard, the requirements of the racing car and a road-going electric car are different. The 919 hybrid has advanced into regions of hybrid management that were previously unimaginable. The 919 served as the trial vehicle for the voltage level of future hybrid systems. Important basic knowledge was discovered during the LMP1 program, such as, cooling for energy storage (battery) and the electric motor, the connection technology for extreme high-voltage as well as battery management and the system's design. From this experience, the colleagues in production development gained important expertise for the four-door concept car Mission E with 800-Volt technology. From this concept car a production vehicle will appear by the end of the decade to become the first purely electric Porsche.

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