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Neil Young’s LincVolt hybrid visits VIR

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Neil Young's LincVolt
SoVaNow.com / March 18, 2009
Famed rocker Neil Young’s motor coach and car collection includes a ‘series hybrid’ vehicle – a 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible. Young and his team recently stopped by VIRginia International Raceway to utilize the Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research’s (VIPER) chassis dyno to work on the car’s generator engine.

Using VIPER’s instruments to fine-tune the single-rotor Wankel engine driving the generator, the stop helped to improve the car’s efficiency. Dyno staff led by Victor Seaber helped the team test the generator engine and electric motor output on the chassis dynamometer at VIPER’s lab in VIR’s North Paddock.

Explaining why he chose to center this project around the huge ‘59 Lincoln, Young says: “the reason we’re using this car is because the car doesn’t go against the flow…my theory is you go with flow and then the change will happen quickly. People want big cars. Let’s build a big, smart car. What’s the problem?”

Young is truly a man who lives his convictions – set about to build a “big American car” that will go down the road in comfort and safety while delivering up to 100 miles per gallon. LincVolt, the name of his car, is the result. “We don’t have to change the things that we want to be smart. You can be smart and have the things that you want. Doesn’t mean you have to give everything up. [This] is America. Its road’s are big. It’s a big country. This car’s a Continental. It says Continental. That’s what it wants, maybe drive to Las Vegas, across the desert, drive to California, pull a trailer.”

Young said that with Compressed Natural Gas (CNS) “we got 65 miles per gallon; we switched to gasoline to see what we could do with gasoline.” After the engine is warmed up, “we introduce the vaporizer – the vaporizer injects hot fumes into the rotary and since the rotary doesn’t go up and down, it goes around, once we get it going on vaporized gasoline fumes, we get better efficiency out of the fumes.” To generate hydrogen, LincVolt uses a water-cooled electrical control box to manage the electrical demands. The single-rotor engine drives a 75 kiloWatt UQM electric motor running in reverse, generating power to charge the batteries as neded. LincVolt’s engine “runs at only one rpm – it runs at a sweet spot,” explained Young, a feature that enhances engine efficiency. The engine is being tested to run on multiple fuel sources, with gasoline, CNG, plus “water gas” -- hydrogen produced via electrolysis from water carried on board.

Pointing to a water-cooled cylinder under the vast hood of the LincVolt, Young described the hydrogen generator: “this thing called a ‘slog’ – this converts water to a gas through electrolysis. We’re working with this gas made from water, which you don’t have to refill. It just creates a gas out of water. It’s displacing an unknown amount of fuel at this time and that’s one thing we’re going to figure out here [VIPER]. We’ve had estimates that it’s displacing up to 70% of fuel at this time, but we really don’t know. But we know we can get more out of it than we’re getting now,” explains Young. “The big pie-in-the-sky goal is to eliminate the fuel. 80 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas comes from distributing and refining it. The cost of making oil to work in a car is what’s expensive. So if people had something they could use from home, they wouldn’t have to have this distribution system.”

Young is not doing this project for commercial reasons: “commercializing is for other people,” he says. The LincVolt is entered into the 2010 Automotive X Prize competition, where it must demonstrate fuel efficiency of 100 miles per gallon, Young’s ultimate goal.

TheLincVolt’s performance is impressive for a car of its size and weight, regardless of power source: “we’re not as fast off the line as an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) engine is,” Neil admits, “but we are fast when you get going – like five to ten miles an hour, you put your foot in this thing and it’s just scary.”

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