By Evan Ackerman
Until there are practical and cost effective ways of transferring and storing large amounts of electricity quickly and efficiently, hybrid cars are going to have to depend on alternate power sources that can extend their range to be viable for consumer use. Cars like the Chevy Volt and the Fisker Karma use traditional gasoline engines to recharge their batteries on the go, but a company called Capstone has decided that it would be a way, way better idea to use a microturbine generator instead of a piston engine, which is exactly what they’ve done on their CMT-380 supercar. And by microturbine generator, they’re pretty much talking about a jet engine.
More, after the jump.
Why, you might ask, is this a good idea? Well, turbines are very simple (there’s one moving part and no lubrication is required), very clean, and substantially more efficient than piston engines. Also, they can run on a variety of fuel sources, including diesel, biodiesel, natural gas, propane, methane, or kerosene (but not regular unleaded gas, in case you were wondering). In fact, Chrysler created a consumer car powered by a turbine back in the sixties. And, it kinda sucked, because the problem with turbines in general is that they’re not very good at doing what cars need them to do, which is vary their output from idle to acceleration and back again. Turbines are happiest maintaining a fixed (albeit very high) RPM.
This is exactly why they’re perfect for a range extending engine on a hybrid vehicle. Since the CMT-380 supercar is driven by electric motors, the turbine doesn’t have to worry about acceleration and stuff. All it has to do is spin up when the car needs more power, and recharge the batteries, which provide power directly to the motors. So, put the microturbine, batteries, and electric motors together, and you end up with an ultra-low emissions car that goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, has an electronically limited top speed of 150 mph, and can make it 500 miles (80 of them on battery power alone) on a single tank of gas, which works out to about 80 mpg.
There is, of course, a downside or two. One is that the exhaust comes out of the turbine at an uncomfortably high temperature… It gets directed up through the back of the car so as not to incinerate whoever pulls up behind you in traffic, but it’s not something you’d probably want to leave idling inside your garage. Also, the estimated price for a car like the CMT-380 is somewhere between $200k and $300k, although a big chunk of that is likely the fancy aftermarket body. And finally, the car doesn’t sound like a car… The turbine emits a quiet whine that sounds (unsurprisingly) like a jet engine. Capstone sees this as a downside, but I think it would be sweeeeet.
Capstone is currently considering production of the CMT-380 and powertrain, based in part on the reception from the LA Auto Show.