The Icelandic Monster Ísar Is Taking All-Terrain Passenger Travel Into The Future

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Take an extra moment when you look at this beast. Because your brain might automatically come up with an explanation to what you are seeing that is not entirely accurate. Terms like extravagant, unnecessary, extreme, and wasteful are likely to pop up in the minds of environmentally conscientious readers, but as I said, take a moment — and then read on.

Converting 4×4’s in Iceland with extreme wheel configurations and high clearance suspension to so-called Supertrucks is commonplace and these monstrous vehicles are absolutely essential if you want to get the full picture of Iceland’s beautiful scenery and geothermal sites of  “Geyser” hot springs. We’re not talking about comfortable sand-dune off-roading in warm and sunny places, but lava-stone, snow-blizzards, and cross-glazier off-roading. With this in mind, take another look. Meet Ísar (Icelandic for Ice):

Still too badass for you? Okay, here’s a short explanation from the Ísar website:

“The time has come to take the inevitable step beyond the Icelandic extreme Supertruck 4×4 modifications.

“Reconstructed, flotation-tyred trucks and vans from Iceland carry people across the Antarctic, over the Greenland icecap, and serve 365 days a year in the brutal Icelandic Highlands. Now, based on this experience, we are building a clean sheet design for up to 18 people, running 46 — 54 inch diameter tyres.”

The goal of Ísar is simple: “To revolutionize the transport of people in areas of low or no infrastructure, anywhere, anytime.”

Got it? As I understand this, Ísar is a serious project with the goal of making transportation by car practical, safe, and reasonably convenient where there are no roads. And here’s the kicker (and the reason I found this story suitable for CleanTechnica):

“Powertrains only rely on fossil fuel to the extent necessary to ensure occupant safety far away from built-up areas. The first prototype economically uses biogas from local household waste, geothermally produced methanol is an option for our spark-ignited powertrain, and electric hybrid to fully electric solutions are in development.”

Time for one more look (I just can’t fathom the size of this thing!):

Having just read yet another story from renowned Icelandic writer Jón Kalman Stéfansson, leaving me with an urge to go visit this incredible country with some of the most unforgiving nature on the planet, and picturing myself cruising along in this rough terrain in straight lines, quietly, without disturbing nature itself, I reached out to the man behind this project: Ari Arnorsson. I asked him for more details on the environmental friendly approach that certainly can seem counterintuitive for a vehicle like this:

“Our prototype is powered by biogas from local landfill, with biodiesel as backup fuel for more remote areas, but electric mobility is the future, on road and off.

We currently have a 2 million Euro grant application under consideration for our Extreme Mobility Electric Propulsion (EMEP) project, which is a core of our passenger transportation solution for areas of low or no infrastructure. This means attempting to cross the possibly toughest frontier of vehicle electrification — wilderness passenger travel. Well, someone has to try. Fossil fuel exhaust fumes have no place in pristine nature, we think.

The EMEP technical concept entails use of components and concepts for electric propulsion with the least possible chances of leaving a group of paying passengers stranded in potentially lethal conditions, say, on a glacier or in a gully. So unproven bleeding edge tech would be a recipe for failure. We are working with a UK engineering service provider with a background in racing, including electric and hybrid racing, which as you know is now the foremost breeding ground for future electric mobility. This company is helping us identify the best current engineering compromise between efficiency, reliability and cost.

Our professional customers do not need up to 1,000 kW sprint abilities (Rivian, anyone?), but one of the challenges we face is to enable constant state use of 200 — 300 kW to scale mountainsides, while wading soft ground like snow, causing extreme drag, for an hour or more. Such slogs have killed many a transmission and brought cooling systems to the brink in the highlands of Iceland.

Our technical roadmap includes using two 100 — 150 kW motors, one front, one rear, driving through two speed gearboxes. Today’s batteries can not substitute the 200+ litres of diesel fuel now carried on board a fully modified Supertruck. Tracked vehicles (replaceable in many cases by our Ísars) have closer to 400 litres of fuel capacity. A fuel-powered APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) is therefore the only present option to get this project off the ground and into testing. Vehicle APU’s develop fast these days, a turbine generator such as Capstone are a reality, but at extreme cost and unconvincing BSFC (Brake-Specific Fuel Consumption). Our final APU choice for EMEP is therefore open, pending more research.”

Wow. So, let’s get the current available specs on the table:

  • Length: 4 door: 4,700 mm. 6 door: 5,550 mm. 8 door: 6,400 mm (Yes, 8 door!)
  • Width: 2,550 mm (Max inside width: 2,400 mm)
  • Height (road setting): 2,050 mm
  • Curb weight: <3,000 kg
  • Gross vehicle weight: 4,800 kg
  • Tyres: 46”– 54”
  • Suspension: All independent, fully adjustable, 400 mm wheel travel
  • Engines: GM L86 V8 6,2l 420 hp/625 Nm, biomethane/petrol/methanol or VM 630 EcoDiesel V6 3,0l 240 hp/570 Nm, diesel/biomethane
  • Transmission: ZF 8HP 8 speed automatic transmission, 4.7 — 0.67:1 with Borg Warner/Atlas, 2 — 4 speed, up to 11.7:1 reduction or 10 speed GM transmission with 2.7:1 transfer case
  • Differential rear: Dana 80
  • Differential front: 10” Currie

Look at that rear transmission and those chassis details. It’s built for strength, and at the same time, to protect the rotating parts that would otherwise leave you stranded if hit by large boulders.

One prototype is being tested with the internal combustion engine, and I asked Ari about the timeframe for the fully electric concept, and his answer leaves me with the impression that these guys have the right perspective on the future of mobility, including this particular niche:

“It would be suicide to attempt to launch our highly innovative, first-in-the-world vehicle with unproven propulsion technology on top of everything else. We therefore keep EMEP as a separate project, pursued because of our genuine concern for our environment, locally and globally. Trillions will be invested in the near future to push fossil fuel off the roads. We aim to push fossil fuel off the off-roads. Nature deserves it. And we see an eventual business case in it. Given time.

“We know perfectly well it will take time, more time than we would have liked. But someone has to get pollution-free nature travel off to a start, sometime. Like now. You see, it’s early days for us, in spite of years of preparation work. But we fight hard to get there. We have to.”

Ari Arnorsson

Ari also told me that there is an environmental perspective apart from energy use that he feels quite strongly about: It’s the sectioning and destruction of wildernesses and habitats through road building, to fit vehicles unfit for anything but smooth roads. Most people obviously see road building as the only way of enabling travel at all, but people in Iceland that have been using Supertrucks with large, aired-down Low Ground Pressure tyres (i.e. balloon tyres) to travel to the indescribably beautiful and otherwise inaccessible wonders of fire and ice in the uninhabited highlands of Iceland, think differently.

“These vehicles can carry up to a dozen people over rougher terrain even found on the moon, or over soft snow fields and glaciers (their raison d’être) — without messing up the surface and ruining the feeling of being the only human on this primal earth,” as Ari puts it, and finishes:

Adapt vehicles to Nature, not Nature to vehicles is our motto. For this alternative and environment-sparing travel solution to work, globally, the right vehicles must be available. That is our mission.”

Photos from Ari Arnorsson, í, and Ísar’s Facebook page

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Jesper Berggreen

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

Jesper Berggreen has 243 posts and counting. See all posts by Jesper Berggreen