100-mpg Automotive X-Prize Gets Underway

March 6, 2008
Want to see a 100-mpg car up close and personal? You could get the chance if you are near one of the 10 U.S. cities that will be chosen to host events for the Automotive X Prize.

On March 20, the X-Prize Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Monica, will formally release plans for its races and invite teams from around the world “to design, build, and sell super efficient cars that people want to buy.” The Foundation will stage at least two races for two classes of vehicles. Winners will need to get better than 100 mpg (or its energy equivalent), meet strict emission constraints, be ready to put their vehicles into production, and finish the race in the shortest time. Winners will split at least $10 million in prize money.

“The Automotive X-Prize has the potential to revolutionize the auto industry,” says Automotive X-Prize Executive Director, Don Foley. “Competitors have a unique opportunity to help bring about tangible, positive change: lower fuel costs, reduced carbon emissions, and an invigorated market.”

It’s clear from the rules that competing vehicles can’t just be home projects. For one thing, they must meet U.S. EPA Tier II (bin 5) emission restrictions, put out no more than 200 gm of CO2 generated per mile, and generate no more greenhouse gases than today’s typical production cars. To prove they are ready for production, vehicles must meet safety regulations in the U.S. and even be market able. That means having a cost at a production rate of 10,000 units per year within levels the market will likely bear, and having features and performance consumers consider when purchasing automobiles. Design teams must also have a reasonable business plan for bringing their vehicles to market.

There are two competition classes, Mainstream and Alternative. Mainstream vehicles are four-passenger, four-wheeled cars and trucks that meet conventional expectations for size and performance. Alternative vehicles must carry at least two passengers and embody innovations that push conventional auto design. They can have any number of wheels. Both classes have the same requirements for fuel economy and emissions.

The two key public events will be cross-country qualifying and grand prize final races. But don’t look for X-Prize cars cruising down your street. It now appears the race will be on closed courses that reflect typical consumer driving patterns through varied terrain and weather conditions. Officials have yet to choose the cities through which these races will pass, but expectations are that the first leg will take place next year with the final in 2010. “We are currently talking with a number of cities interested in hosting stages of the competition,” says Foley. “And we will soon issue a formal request for proposals to more than 100 cities that might want to host parts of the competition.”

Currently 54 teams from eight countries have signed letters of intent saying they will participate in the competition.

Make Contact
X-Prize Foundation

Inside a 130-mpg project

Ingo Valentin has an idea for a 130-mpg car. The X-Prize entry he is planning will carry five passengers and be powered by a two-stroke free piston Diesel engine. The Elms Grove, Wis., inventor says the engine works at a constant (and the engine’s most efficient) speed pumping hydraulic fluid into an accumulator. A bladder inside the accumulator is charged with nitrogen. As the accumulator fills with fluid, the bladder compresses and thus pressurizes the hydraulic fluid. When the driver hits the throttle, the fluid goes to run hydraulic wheel motors — one per wheel and each capable of 230 hp. When the fluid level gets low, the engine switches on and sends more fluid into the accumulator and keeps the bladder compressed.

Valentin, who has a background designing hydrostatic transmissions and built a prototype of this vehicle back in the 1980s, claims this approach will yield a powertrain lighter than those of electric vehicles. Another plus is that his concept uses many technologies automakers are already using.


Check it out !

Videos of a few X-Prize contestants that were at this year’s Detroit Auto Show are at engineeringtv.com.


One potential X-prize contender is the three-wheeled, two-passsenger “alé” from FuelVapor Technologies. It runs on regular gas, but burns an air-fuel mix with a 20:1 ratio. Most cars today burn a 14.7:1 mix. This lets the alé get 15 hr of driving from a 10-gallon tank. (Its makers don’t give hard mileage figures.) The vehicle is powered by a 180-hp, 1,500-cc single-cam Honda Vtec engine. The car will go from 0 to 60 mph in 5 sec, has a top speed of 140 mph, and can pull 1.7 gs in corners.

Phoenix Motorcars, Ontario, Calif., manufactures zeroemission, all-electric freeway-speed trucks and SUVs for commercial fleets. They are powered by rechargeable lithium titanate battery packs that can get 100 miles per charge and last 250,000 charges. The trucks have a top speed of 95 mph carrying four passengers and a full payload, and can go from 0 to 60 mph in 10 sec.

The seven-passenger Kernel, a “crossover urban SUV” from the Society for Sustainable Mobility, is powered by NiMH/Li-ion batteries, which give it a top speed of over 75 mph. It features a lightweight mixed aluminum/ composite unibody and the ability to swap out power modules that use different fuels. Fuel options will include: natural gas, diesel/ biodiesel, gas or up to 85% ethanol (Flex-fuel), or hydrogen in a fuel-cell configuration .

The first version of the two-seater Aptera (from the company by the same name) used a hybrid Diesel/electric powertrain to get 230 mpg driving at a steady 55 mph. Unfortunately, emissions were too high for certification in California. The version the company intends to enter in the X-Prize competition will likely have a small, watercooled EFI gas engine with closed-loop oxygen feedback and catalytic converter rather than a diesel engine.

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