Carnegie Mellon Converts Gas-Powered Cars to Electricity - Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, November 16, 2009

Carnegie Mellon Converts Gas-Powered Cars to Electricity

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University aren’t waiting for big car companies to bring affordable electric vehicles to the market. They’re proving that with some tinkering, today’s gas-powered models can be rigged to save as much as 80% in energy costs.

Project ChargeCar, led by the school’s Robotics Institute, is a holistic approach to automotive over-consumption. Here are the basics

- A supercapacitor, which can store and quickly release large amounts of electricity, is installed between a car's battery and motor. The supercapacitor's stored energy can be used instead of the battery's, cutting the charge/discharge cycle that shortens battery life. It also makes the car more responsive.

- Vehicle architecture, dubbed smart power management, uses artificial intelligence to manage the flow of electricity among the battery, supercapacitor, and engine. It decides whether to pull electricity from the battery or the supercapacitor and where to store the power gained from regenerative braking.

- Researchers say intelligent electric car control could recapture 48% of the energy used during braking, reduce the load on batteries by 56%, and reduce battery heat by 53%.

- People upload GPS data from their commute to, which uses an algorithm to figure the energy costs of gasoline vs. electricity for their route, and how much wear and tear on a battery could be saved by using a supercapacitor.

Researchers think that converting gas-powered cars to electrics with supercapacitors could spur the economy, too. ChargeCar just received a grant from Heinz in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to train local Pittsburgh-area mechanics in the craft. They think conversions will cost commuters around $8,000—much less than a brand new electric vehicle typically priced at some $50,000.

I spoke with the project's leader, Professor Illah Nourbakhsh, on the phone today. He told me that if the Web site, ChargeCar.org, catches on, they hope to use the crowdsourced commuter data to create custom conversion kits tailored to individual vehicles and routes. Some 3,000 miles worth of commutes have been uploaded so far from drivers around the country.

Professor Nourbakhsh also clued me in to something the university hasn't yet announced: ChargeCar will host a national competition to improve the algorithm on its Web site. You might remember a similar competition from Netflix . The winner will receive a brand new electric car.

Check out some of the other fascinating projects Nourbakhsh and the rest of the robotics team at Carnegie Mellon are working on here.

News Story Courtesy BusinessWeek Author: Damian Joseph