Audi’s egas initiative clever philosophy Winnipeg Free Press Autos

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Audi e-gas

Audi’s e-gas initiative clever philosophy


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WHEN it comes to future transportation, most manufacturers are keying in on one form of electric propulsion or another.

Nissan envisions the pure electric car as the future (the Leaf), while General Motors favours the extended-range electric car as is typified by the Chevrolet Volt. But, ultimately, it will be the fuel cell-powered vehicle that will solve the environmental headache caused by the consumption of fossil fuels.

Audi believes the electrification of the automobile is the right route, but only as long as the power needed to recharge the main battery or create the hydrogen that will feed the fuel cell comes from a sustainable, renewable resource.

The Audi Balanced Mobility initiative includes an in-depth lifecycle assessment that looks at not only the power consumed in the production of a new car, but also the fuel consumed over its 200,000-kilometre life and the environmental cost of recycling the vehicle when its day is done.

It’s a logical way of determining the size of the environmental footprint (smog and acid rain) and the greenhouse-gas emissions the modern automobile emits on a cradle-to-grave basis. The production and subsequent use of any form of future transportation must use clean energy sources and ensure that the power consumed throughout the lifecycle is used as efficiently as possible.

Consider the new A6. The balanced approach comes together in a number of ways. Mass reduction (the new A6 is 80 kilograms lighter than its outgoing counterpart) allows a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine and a smaller gas tank without affecting either performance or the per-tank driving range.

Throw in aerodynamic improvements and you end up with much better fuel economy — the new A6’s average fuel consumption drops from the outgoing car’s 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres to 6.0 L/100 km.

This work touches one side of the Balanced Mobility philosophy. The other part of the initiative is both clever and points to the way future fuels will reduce the environmental burden caused by transportation.

The problem with the electrification of the automobile is that not all electricity is created equal. The environmental toll it takes depends very much on how the electricity that’s needed to recharge the main battery is produced. Sadly, it becomes patently obvious that, while the electric car is emissions-free at its tailpipe, it can be anything but if the power it consumes is not produced in an environmentally friendly manner.

Audi e-gas

To put things into perspective, it helps to compare the environmental footprint of a regular gasoline-powered family sedan with the footprint of a similarly sized electric car and the electricity it consumes.

In Norway, for example, the electric car would leave a significantly smaller environmental footprint than its gasoline-powered counterpart because 99 per cent of the country’s electric supply is clean, hydroelectric power. The same electric car driven in China, however, would leave a considerably larger environmental footprint in its wake than its gas-powered cousin because 77 per cent of the country’s electricity is produced by coal-fired generation.

Obviously, the ultimate electric solution lies in the use of clean energy.

Audi’s clean-energy solution is to make hay when the sun shines — or, more accurately, when the wind blows. The company has invested in four wind turbines that are part of a wind farm in the North Sea off the German coast. On an annual basis, the four turbines produce enough electricity to satisfy the needs of a town of 35,000 people.

If all goes as envisioned, the electricity created when the wind blows, a plentiful and renewable resource, will be used in one of two ways — down the road it will satisfy the need to recharge an electric car such as the mighty R8-inspired e-tron, or the electricity will be used to power an electrolyzer. The latter splits water into its constituent parts — the oxygen is bled off to the atmosphere while the hydrogen is stored for future use. Again, the hydrogen has two potential uses. When the fuel cell finally comes of age, the hydrogen will provide the fuel required to produce the electricity consumed by the car and its electric motor. In the near term, however, it will be mixed with carbon dioxide, which is harvested from the atmosphere, to create synthetic natural gas (methane).

Audi calls it e-gas.

The conversion of electricity into a readily storable medium allows it to heat homes or be used as a source of automotive fuel. To this end, Audi will launch a turbocharged natural gas-powered (TCNG) version of its next-generation A3, which will hit the road in 2013. It will be joined by a TCNG version of the A4 a little later.

The use of wind or solar power to create an automotive fuel, be it the electricity needed to recharge a battery or the e-gas that will fuel compressed natural gas-powered vehicles, is an ingenious way of making the best of a bad situation. Sure, there is a compromise when electricity is converted into hydrogen (the process is around 60 per cent efficient and so there is some power consumption in the conversion process), but it’s this sort of thinking that will solve a moral dilemma and pave the way to a greener automobile.

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