If you ask me

In this green issue we look at improving the energy efficiency of trains to F1 cars.

Green technologies sustain growth

The financial pressures that we are all experiencing at the moment are accelerating trends that have been visible for a while: focus on energy efficiency and offshoring of volume manufacturing, both driven by greater focus on the bottom line. At the same time, the growth of renewable technologies continues unabated, though this is driven more by regulation and general concern about the environment.

Almost universally, we see more interest in the total cost of ownership rather than just the acquisition cost - which plays into the hands of those aiming to improve energy efficiency. The rail industry is a great case in point. Although this is an environmentally friendly industry already, it is interesting that operators are becoming more sophisticated in their thinking, and are calculating the total cost of operating a train over its 20-year life, rather than just focusing on the initial capital cost. They find that the energy used completely dwarfs the purchase price.

Magnetic cores contribute greatly to the size and weight of power supplies, and have a measureable impact on the weight of a train. The latest ferrite materials store much more energy in the same volume of material allowing developers to achieve the same performance with a 25 per cent smaller core, or achieve 25 per cent greater performance with a core of the same size. This alone will provide an energy saving which can be enhanced by improving the energy efficiency of the power supply itself.

A statistic that deserves to be better known is the very high proportion of electricity used by electric motors - a typical estimate is around the two-thirds mark.

Improving energy efficiency has become a major industry priority. It not only has a direct and attractive impact on the bottom line, but for many businesses reducing their carbon footprint has become a corporate goal. Other pressures, including government energy regulations, carbon taxes, and the growing strain on power infrastructure, are feeding the trend.

New ferrite materials can also offer spectacular efficiency improvements: we've just brought out a material that can improve efficiency of three-phase motors by as much as 65 per cent.

On top of this, the renewable energy sector is itself a fast growing market, and presents many attractive opportunities. Solar panels require inverters, and wind turbines use rare earth magnets.

Many of the systems described above are relatively complex and very large and bulky, and hence are likely to continue to be made at the point of use. This offers a lifeline for the electronics industry in 'old Europe'. Markets such as white goods and air conditioning systems, traditional sources of demand, have been declining for a while. Sales of magnets into these applications have been reduced by soft markets for the end products - and the fact that the remaining manufacturing is continuing to be moved offshore.

In the prevailing gloom, the focus on the bottom line is generating new demand which is compensating for weaker sales in established markets.

In the magnet and ferrite market, where I earn my daily crust, I see products supporting complex systems, energy efficiency or renewable energy sources growing strongly. There is a 'green' lining to today's black economic cloud.

Forbes Crisell is sales and marketing director with specialist industrial magnet supplier MMG MagDev

KERS gone mad

F1 has gone 'green' from the start of the 2009 season and managed to produce a two-horse race in the process - those with - and those without KERS (kinetic energy recovery system).

KERS technology takes a vehicle's kinetic energy that is otherwise wasted during braking, stores it, and then releases it back into the drivetrain as the vehicle accelerates. Anything up to 400kJ of energy can be recovered from the braking process, which can then be redeployed to propel the car for six seconds at a rate of 60kW (around 80 horsepower). This gives an extra boost on F1 cars equipped with the system, which can be used as and when the driver wishes. However, the system is quite heavy (25-35kg), which causes problems with weight distribution for heavier drivers such as BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, as the location of the system is fixed.

The whole reason for fitting KERS is to promote the use of eco-friendly technology in road cars by helping manufacturers sell it to the public through its use in F1. Speaking in his keynote address at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco in December 2007, FIA president Max Mosley said: "It is necessary to demonstrate to society that F1 is doing something useful, and it is essential for F1 teams to be able to demonstrate to major companies that they are able to really make a contribution."

However, it is interesting to note that Toyota and Honda (currently Brawn GP), despite having already invested in KERS through their road-car programmes, have opted not to run the system in the early part of the F1 season. Brawn GP is currently holding the first two places in the world championship with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are in fifth and sixth places respectively, and Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel are in third and fourth places for Red Bull, which is also a non-KERS team. Lewis Hamilton, driving for McLaren, is the first driver in the standings with a KERS equipped car.

All the hype at the beginning of the season about KERS cars being able to dominate by being quicker off the start line and faster out of the corners has failed to materialise and some F1 teams have really struggled as KERS seems to have compromised their car designs. Perhaps the way forward should have been to make KERS compulsory for all, instead of optional for the 2009 season, then we might have had a level playing field.

Only time will tell whether KERS-equipped cars will be able to get on terms with their non-KERS rivals. However, perhaps the FIA should take note and not go for the soft option of giving a choice. The FIA is already looking at giving teams the chance to opt for capped budgets for 2010, with no limits on KERS output for the teams that comply. This could result in an even bigger gap between teams going for the different options, resulting in another two-horse race.

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