Our week-long technology tour through Germany was designed to show you tomorrow’s cleantech, today — and ready or not, that includes FIA Formula E all-electric racing. Some time in the sparkling green future, when you pop the hood of your new electric vehicle, you could be experiencing technology developed on FIA tracks at cities around the globe.
Repurposing Today For Tomorrow’s Electromobility
For those of you new to the topic, the Formula E Series is the electric vehicle sister of auto racing’s legendary FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) Formula 1. Formula E was launched in 2013 and is just finishing up its first season.
Leveraging the racing sport’s long history of automotive innovation, Formula E has a technology transfer mission with the aim of accelerating EV development for the consumer market, specifically in urban areas. To that end, the first season has challenged teams to get the best performance out of identical cars, including the powertrain and batteries.
You can get all the lowdown on Formula E standings and the rest of the inaugural season from the Formula E website, but since we happened to be in the neighborhood when our tour ended in Berlin, we went out to the historic Tempelhof Airport to catch the Formula E race on Saturday, May 23.
The airport is within the city limits and Formlula E set the urban mobility theme right off the bat with priority parking for bicycles, right outside the main entrance. The photo below is the main entrance — we got there early before the crowds arrived, and there was enough rack space for hundreds of bicycles. Mass transit was just a few steps away, too.
The airport setting dovetailed nicely with Formula E’s urban theme, as it’s a stunning example of repurposed space. The airport was shut down for air travel several years ago but the buildings are beautifully preserved and the entire grounds are used for casual recreation and special events.
The airport venue also fits in with one of the themes that we’ve encountered on our way through Germany, which is the ways that existing infrastructure can be repurposed and retrofitted to work with new technology (ubitricity’s lamp pole-into-charging station trick is another good example of that).
As you can tell from the photo above, the primary Formula E Berlin sponsor was DHL, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh At You…
There are ten Formula E teams and one of them was cofounded by the cutting edge electric auto manufacturer Venturi. If that name rings a bell, Venturi launched Fétish, the first all-electric sports car, all the way back in 2004, apparently to the sound of snickers from some quarters (personally, I wouldn’t know, I’m too young to remember).
Well, who’s laughing now? Venturi program director Nicolas Maduit and communications director Thierry Apparu graciously spent a few minutes exclusively with CleanTechnica after the race discussing technology transfer and motorsports.
Maduit drew our attention to another current Venturi project, the aptly named Antarctic EV. It’s designed for zero-emission function in the environmentally sensitive frozen south, even in temperatures down to the -40° centigrade range. The eventual goal is -50°. It features two engines and a lithium-iron phosphate battery developed by Venturi.
Though specifically designed for use in research operations, the foundational technology behind its performance could appear in EVs for search and rescue, maintenance and repair, and recreation facilities. We’re also thinking there’s a military aspect there somewhere and we’ll wait for the remake of Ice Station Zebra to find out what else could be cooking.
Then there’s the new land speed record for an EV that Venturi set last year in its VBB-3 project with Ohio State University, which the company hopes to beat this summer (that’s VBB for Venturi Buckeye Bullet — Ohio’s nickname is “the buckeye state”).
VBB-3 was powered by two motors and a two megawatt lithium-ion battery pack from A123 Systems.
This summer, Venturi will attempt to break its own record, with a four-engine model. In the interests of technology transfer, one of those four engines will come right out of an existing street vehicle, the company’s America sports car.
Next year’s Formula E series should provide some interesting challenges for Venturi, according to Maduit. Each team will be able to develop its own powertrain, and Venturi expects to leverage its experience to come up with the best on-road efficiency possible.
Here’s another view of Venturi’s Formula E innards at the track in Berlin — it could look very different next year:
Tomorrow’s Tires, Today Thanks To Formula E
Meanwhile, back at the inaugural season of Formula E, the requirement of identical cars includes the tires. They are all provided by Michelin, so one Formula E innovation that you might see on your street sooner rather than later actually won’t be under your hood, it will be gripping the asphalt.
We visited Michelin’s tire station at the track and spoke to the head of the program (here he is with tires, so you can see the tread):
In accord with its technology transfer mission, Formula E is using 18″ treaded all-weather tires rather than the slick tires used in Formula 1, aiming for durability that can translate into the consumer market. Here’s a snippet from the FIA website:
…Michelin has developed a bespoke 18-inch treaded tyre that is unique to Formula E and usable in both wet and dry conditions. Michelin will supply tyres that will not only deliver exciting racing but also cope with the demands of the abrasive street circuits and all-weather conditions.
And The Last Laugh Goes To…
Speaking of laughter, it wasn’t too long ago that EVs were the butt of jokes. Judging by the crowds at Formula E Berlin, that’s yesterday’s news. Check out the interest in the SolarWorld GT equipped with rooftop solar panels, a concept that might have seemed silly not too long ago:
Formula E also showcased pint-sized electromobility solutions that are becoming increasingly popular in tight urban spaces, such as the Renault Twizy:
You’re also going to see more variety in electric-motor bikes and scooters, represented at Formula E by a pair of snazzy emco classic models:
…and this badass three-wheeler…
Earlier in the week, we noticed that standup electric scooters are also coming on the scene, so here’s the MyPET version we saw at Formula E:
There was much, much more to see, including commercial applications exemplified by DHL, but we’re running out of space so we just have time to comment on the noise, of which there was very little compared to Formula 1.
That may have disappointed some racing fans, but to our ears, the 20 cars (two per team) made a very satisfying Star Wars type of sound as they zipped along the track. Here’s a snippet of our media-only trackside view just feet away from the action (keep watching after that first car passes, he was way out in front):
What do you think, not noisy enough? Drop us a note in the comment thread.
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This CleanTechnica technology tour was sponsored by GTAI (Germany Trade and Invest) in partnership with Baden-Württemberg International GmbH in Baden-Württemberg (Stuttgart, Karlsruhe), Investitions und Strukturbank Rheinland-Pfalz in Rheinland-Pfalz (Kaiserslautern, Mainz), and Berlin Partner für Wirtschaft und Technologie GmbH in Berlin.
Photo Credits: All by Tina Casey except where noted (and thanks again to Thierry for grabbing our camera and getting some great closeups).
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