An eco-friendly car being designed by a team of Winnipeg engineers could soon power demand for a new era in energy efficiency, says a Red River College instructor.
For the last several years, designers and engineers from local firm Kor EcoLogic Inc. have been hard at work on the "Urbee" — a low-energy passenger vehicle that's powered by electricity and ethanol, instead of fossil fuels.
"It has the potential to drastically reduce the amount of non-renewable energy we use," says RRC instructor Andrew Warren, who's been involved with the project off and on for the last 15 years.
"We've calculated that we can go 30 miles a day on energy gathered from the sun. So theoretically, you could buy this car and not have to put gas or hydro power into it — you'd just charge it from the solar panels on your roof at home."
Warren and his colleagues, under the direction of company president (and RRC alum) Jim Kor, were inspired to create the Urbee — short for Urban Electrical with Ethanol as Backup — after building a model of a human-powered transit system for the Seattle Bicycle Show.
Guided by the same principle — that of travelling the furthest distance possible while consuming the least amount of energy — they turned their attention to a passenger car, which they originally entered in the 2010 Progressive Automotive X-PRIZE competition.
The Urbee — a sleek-looking three-wheeled model — finished in the Top 30 of 111 entries, and also resulted in a treasure trove of media attention for the Kor team.
"It went viral right away," says Warren of the prototype. "We were in Wired Magazine, The Economist, and USA Today, and even before that we'd had a 10-minute spot on (the Discovery Channel's) Daily Planet, which got us even more publicity."
The team's latest prototype was unveiled recently at SEMA 2010 — the world's premier automotive aftermarket trade show in Las Vegas — where it attracted even more attention from prospective international investors.
Warren says the Kor team wants to differentiate the Urbee from other eco-friendly vehicles by making it the most aerodynamic and energy-efficient car in existence. As such, the car will be equipped with six batteries (that can be recharged by plugging into an ordinary electrical outlet), plus a seven-horsepower engine that runs on ethanol.
In Manitoba, it's predicted the Urbee will cost just two cents per mile to operate (when powered by electricity), compared to about seven cents per mile for a hybrid Toyota Prius, 14 cents for a gas-powered Honda Civic, and about 30 cents for an SUV, van or truck.
Warren says the Urbee is designed to run on electricity for speeds up to 64 km/h, after which point it would switch to the ethanol-burning engine for speeds up to 112 km/h.
The team still has to create glass panels for their current prototype, after which point they hope to produce 10 additional "pilot units" which they'll use to ensure the vehicle is road-worthy. (A class of Mechanical Engineering Students from RRC already performed a finite element stress analysis of the existing prototype's frame, under the direction of RRC instructor Erik Luczak.)
It's estimated the Urbee could cost between $30,000 and $50,000, though that price could drop to as little as $10,000 to $12,000 if it's ever mass-produced. And as Warren points out, the cars will be designed to last much longer than most mass-produced vehicles.
"It's our hope that people buying this car won't just hold onto it for 10 years," he says. "It'll be like a grand piano — you buy it and it stays in the family for a long time."
For more information about the Urbee, see www.urbee.net.