In May of this year, travelers on London’s orbital motorway were treated to an early view of a car that has been designed to turn heads and make headlines. Weaving through the late evening traffic, the SRZero brought a taste of the racetrack to the UK capital’s beltway. Painted in racing colors, its streamlined shape, low slung clearance and open cockpit wouldn’t have been out of place on any of the world’s racing circuits. Emphasizing its sporting look, the bodywork was festooned with sponsorship logos. Motorists who got close enough would have seen KPMG’s logo among them.
But the SRZero is something more than a racing car with a free pass to travel the public roads in the South East of England. In fact, under the bodywork is a revolutionary battery-powered vehicle built by graduate students at Imperial College London. And they hope it will change the perception of electric vehicles.
As team leader Alexander Schey said before the London orbital test drive, “One of our goals is to demonstrate that an electric car can be exciting.”
They’ve certainly achieved that. Built around a chassis made by British sports car manufacturer Radical and powered by lithium ion batteries supplied by Thunder Sky, the car can hit speeds of 200kmph and accelerate from 0-100kmph in about seven seconds. It is, in other words, thrilling to drive.
The electric revolution
But the Imperial College team, their work coordinated by the University’s Energy Futures Lab, are planning to do something far more important than demonstrating that a battery-powered car can be fast. Electric-powered vehicles are now a fact of life and while early models have tended to be far removed from the aesthetic standards demanded by motorists, new models from companies such as Nissan will push this new generation of cars into the mainstream. Nevertheless, there remains concern about battery life and (consequently) range. A car that can only travel, say, 40 or 50 miles between charges is pretty much limited to short trips around towns and cities. To become truly mainstream, electric cars must ultimately have a range comparable with their petrol-powered counterparts.
The SRZero has a range somewhere in the region of 300 miles. That’s approximately twice the distance around London’s orbital motorway, hence the test-drive. In July, the car’s range is to be properly tested as the Imperial College team take it on a 26,000km drive from the tip of South America to Alaska via the iconic Pan-American Highway.
The journey – the first of its kind to be undertaken in an electric vehicle – will take the 11-strong Imperial team 84 days and will pass through 14 countries. The aim is to travel something in the region of 3,000km per day.
To complete the longer stretches of the trip, the drivers will have to coax up to 300 miles out the vehicle on a single charge. This kind of range has been made possible by a combination of powerful lithium ion batteries and maximum drive chain efficiency. Put simply, the students have engineered the vehicle to ensure that energy loss is cut to a minimum when power is transferred from battery to wheel. This efficiency has been achieved, in part, by the non-inclusion of a gear box, and deployment of a separate motor for each of the vehicle’s back wheels.
As the car travels through South, Central and North America, there will be a support team on hand; although the team stress that there will be no cheating. The support vehicles will not carry generators. Therefore, if the mission is to succeed, the car will have to make it to the charging point before the battery runs out.
The genesis of the Pan-American trip was a project run by Imperial College to train engineers. Working with components supplied largely by UK companies, the students had been building and competing in electric-powered race cars under the banner of Racing Green Endurance. Using their experience, the team built and developed the SRZero, calibrating it for range rather than speed.
All the components used represent technology that is available today from companies such as Thunder Sky, Harvey Nash and Radical. While the car is certainly not a production model, its existence proves that it is possible to use current technology to build a vehicle that combines performance, range and low energy consumption. The average cost of running an SRZero in terms of electricity usage is a mere one penny per mile.
The hope is that the publicity generated by the Pan-American journey will drive home an important message. In a world where action must be taken to tackle climate change, electric cars offer a means to cut down on emissions and thus create a cleaner and more fuel-efficient planet.
Sponsorship by KPMG
KPMG is a gold sponsor of the Racing Green Endurance initiative, an involvement that emphasizes our commitment to help drive and promote the advancement of green technologies.
That commitment can be clearly seen in KPMG’s Global Automotive practice, which is contributing to the advancement of alternative fuels and green technologies by supporting projects like Racing Green Endurance.
The project is also supported by KPMG’s Energy & Natural Resources practice. Our practitioners in this field have specialist knowledge honed through participation in international initiatives on renewable energy. They have not only developed strategies with member firm clients through our commitment to driving forward the renewable energy agenda, but also undertaken numerous research studies including our annual Winds of Change survey and Offshore Wind Farms in Europe.
Our support for the Imperial College project is part of our larger commitment to sustainability. Locally, member firms around the world are using their skills to support local community initiatives and projects. Globally, we are using our capacity and capability as an international network to support the Millennium Development Goals, working strategically with governments, non-governmental organizations and charities in order to make a positive impact.