The answer is blowing in the wind
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Feb 1, 2013, 12:14
contributed photo Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer used a kite to pull the car for about 15 percent of their 3,000 mile Australian adventure in a vehicle created by Evonik and built with ingredients the company makes.
The idea of billowing wind has long been a fixture of open road driving. But what if that wind wasn’t just blowing through the hair of a car’s occupants, but also propelling them towards their destination?
That was the case for German extreme sportsmen Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer, who crossed Australia in a light weight car created by Evonik and powered by lithium-ion batteries charged by wind turbine.
“Our gas station is the wind turbine in our car,” Gion, said in an informational video that accompanies the vehicle, which is currently on display at Evonik Goldschmidt’s Hopewell Offices.
The car traveled 3,000 miles across Australia on less than $15 of electricity and without the use of gasoline, setting three world records in wind powered travel.
Bill Bunting, Senior Scientist with Evonik Goldschmidt said the idea was brought to the Essen, Germany headquartered company by Gion and Simmerer. Gion is a television host and director of a television company and Simmerer is a developmental engineer specializing in light weight materials. Both men also have a history of taking on adventurous activities.
“They’re adventurers on their own, and in 2009, they had the idea for a wind powered trip in a light weight car across a continent,” Bunting said.
Evonik decided it wanted to make that happen, using some of it’s state-of-the-art, specialty materials to make it work.
“We partnered with them because the vehicle is able to use a number of high tech materials that our company manufactures,” Bunting explained.
The company’s Rohacell sandwich carbon fiber created a vehicle that was strong, but light enough to travel hundreds of miles pulled by a steerable kite, that was sometimes used instead of battery power.
“Making it light weight is the key to clean mobility,” Simmerer said in the informational video.
“The force of the wind is enormous,” Simmerer added. “With our new batter technology, we can put it in our pockets and take it with us.”
While the world’s most popular car weighs in at 2,800 lbs, the Wind Explorer’s body only weights about 200 lbs. The batteries and kite brought the total weight up to 440 lbs.
The lithium-ion batteries that powered the trip were developed from Evonik’s Litarion electrodes and Separion ceramic separators, which allowed the battery to store energy generated by a portable wind turbine.
At night, Bunting said, the drivers would use the bamboo poles in the car to erect a portable wind turbine to charge the batteries.
“We’re used to thinking of wind turbines as high towers, but they also come in smaller sizes that you can take with you, or set up in your garden,” Gion said in the video.
Although the Wind Explorer vehicle is not being developed for commercial purposes, the lithium-ion battery technology is. It will be used in car-maker Daimler’s new line of electric vehicles.
“Even though this vehicle itself is not going to be manufactured, the technology play into current themes in engineering and lightweight materials, light weight vehicles, and renewable energy,” Bunting said.
Gion and Simmerer were able to travel 225 miles a day using the lithium batteries and wind power captured by the kite. Bunting said that the kite was used about 15 percent of the time. The rest of the time, the car relied on the batteries, which were charged by wind and Australia’s electric power grid.
“They went across a continent, further than from Los Angeles to New York, on less that $15 of energy,” Bunting said. “That’s pretty good mileage. I won’t call it gas mileage, because it doesn’t use gas, but that’s pretty good dollars per mile. I think we’d all be happy to have anything close to that.”
Using the average gas mileage of the world’s most popular car, the Toyota Corolla, and the average price of gas in the United States, fuel for a trip of that length would cost almost $400.
Although Evonik isn’t in the vehicle or extreme sports business, the Wind Explorer mission was a good fit for the company.
“It completely plays into materials and technology that our company is involved with today and wants to be more involved with in the future,” Bunting said. “Clearly renewable energy has to play a greater role in our energy picture of the future.”
He said renewable energy will play an ever increasing role in powering vehicles, homes and offices.
“I think it’s fascinating,” said Hopewell City Council member Jackie Shornak, who was amongst the local leaders given a special look at the car on Wednesday afternoon. “I had a good lesson today, learning about all the products they make here in Hopewell.”
That list of products includes insulation, energy management materials and polyurethane foam products used in the area of transportation.
“Evonik allocated about 60 percent of its research and development, R and D, resources to the development of new products and technology platforms,” Phil Munson, Hopewell site manager said in a statement. “We have major R and D facilities located here in Hopewell and it is very exciting for our employees to see how our company implements their innovative findings.”
Shornak said that having Evonik in Hopewell is an advantage
“I’m very pleased we have Evonik here as part of our industry,” she said. “I think they’re a great asset.”
contributed photo The car that crossed Australia for just $15 will be on display at the Science Museum of Virginia next weekend.
School and employee groups will be viewing the car at the Hopewell offices of Evonik Goldschmidt throughout the week before it goes on display at Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, Feb. 8-10. Bunting said Evonik Scientists and engineers will be on hand to answer questions and explain the vehicle.
After that, the wind explorer will be transported to another Evonik site in North Carolina. For more information, and to view videos of the vehicle, visit www.wind-explorer.com