Ahead of the qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday I heard Eddie Jordan, former owner of Jordan Grand Prix, comment to David Coulthard that he was pleased that KERS (Kinetic Energy Recover Systems) would not be in F1 for the 2010 season.
Love it or hate it from a racing perspective, I think given the state of the current technology that’s probably a good thing. I say that with some regret, as there is a far wider issue at stake here – the development of automotive technology that will ultimately make its way into road cars.
A couple of years ago I was privileged to hear Pietro Perlo, Director, Centro Ricerche Fiat give an excellent talk titled “The international dimension: Systems Innovation across Europe” at the 3D-Mintegration conference. The presentation made a very compelling case for electric cars being the future, and outlined some of the technological developments needed to deliver on that vision. Most were either already available or in development, but one key area in need of significant improvement was KERS.
KERS uses kinetic energy from braking to charge a battery, which is then used to provide some of the power used to accelerate. The problem is the battery. Batteries work best when charged slowly over a long period of time. Even so, only some 40% of the energy is recoverable. What’s required are supercapacitors capable of very rapid charging and discharging with higher energy recovery.
Increasing the energy density (MJ/kg) of supercapacitors is essential. Despite the obvious competitive incentive of a supercapacitor-based KERS system to use the massive energy loss during breaking to enhance acceleration, hindered by financial restrictions Formula 1 may no longer provide a suitable mechanism for developing such technologies.
Perhaps some time in the near future when supercapacitor technology is more advanced it will be re-introduced, helping bring fully competitive electric vehicles to market.