The UK government-backed Technology Strategy Board recently announced the recipients of carbon reduction technology research project funding which sees a consortium made up of Jaguar Land Rover, SR Drives and led by Bladon Jets taking a GBP 1,103,392 (about US$1,790,000) slice of the multi-million GB-pound cake to develop "the world’s first commercially viable - and environmentally friendly - gas turbine generator designed specifically for automotive applications."

The consortium's project is amongst 16 successful applicants to receive the funding for proof of concept and six for research and development studies, the aim being "to develop an ultra-lightweight, gas turbine powered, electric vehicle range extender that will enable vehicle weight savings of 100kg or more and a modest reduction in CO2 emissions on the UNECE101 drive cycle. More substantial CO2 savings can be achieved in real world use. The small size, multi-fuel capability and potential low cost of the Ultra Lightweight Range Extender (ULRE) could also help speed adoption of electric vehicles."

Since 2007, the Technology Strategy Board has invested £74 million (about US$120 million) in over 50 low carbon projects and John Laughlin, the Board’s Low Carbon Vehicles programme manager, said of the latest investment: "We are funding innovative projects in a number of key areas which include internal combustion engine technologies, energy storage and management, lightweight structures and new propulsion technologies. The work will help to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions and deliver mass-market low carbon road vehicles within 5 to 15 years."

If at first you don't succeed

Most of the big car manufacturers have been looking into implementing gas turbines in automobile engines since the 1950s and have invested millions of dollars in various projects but "these early efforts were thwarted by the dual problems of turbine lag (the 1 to 2 second delay from 'stepping on the gas' to the car accelerating) and poor fuel efficiency at low speed and idle."

As a result, the gas turbine engine has yielded numerous concept pieces but never really made it out of the testing environment which, given that the technology is independent of vulnerable petroleum fuel production (being able to run on a host of fuels,including natural gas and bio-fuels), is nothing short of frustrating. Perhaps it was just waiting for the day when technology could overcome its numerous niggling problems.

The consortium led by Bladon Jets hopes that its research into the use of gas turbine technology in electric and hybrid vehicles (which offer both high torque at low revs and improved efficiency) could realize that potential. The project will use Bladon's "patented, axial flow gas turbine engine coupled to a high speed generator utilising SR Drives’ proprietary switched reluctance technology" to extend the range of electrically-powered vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover, will use its many years of automotive experience (including the odd dabble into the world of gas turbine technology, as you can see in the gallery) to oversee the vehicle integration aspect of the consortium's ULRE.

Bladon's manufacturing process means its highly efficient turbines benefit from a size and weight reduction too, as well as requiring no water cooling system, oil or catalytic converter - which should result in cleaner combustion and fast warm up times. When blended with the "high efficiency, robustness, reliability, high temperature capability and operation over wide speed range" of the SR Drives Group technology, the consortium hopes that its innovation will help to "play a major role in the renaissance of the British automotive industry."

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