Regenerative braking

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There are four ways to capture energy as a vehicle slows down.

1. An electric generator coupled to the wheels can charge up an electric battery or supercapacitor.

2. Hydraulic motors driven by the wheels can make compressed air, stored in a small canister.

3. Energy can be stored in a flywheel.

4. Braking energy can be stored as gravitational energy by driving the vehicle up a ramp whenever you want to slow down. This gravitational energy storage option is rather inflexible, since there must be a ramp in the right place. It's an option that's most useful for trains, and it is illustrated by the London Underground's Victoria line, which has hump-back stations. Each station is at the top of a hill in the track. Arriving trains are automatically slowed down by the hill, and departing trains are accelerated as they go down the far side of the hill. The hump-back-station design provides an energy saving of 5% and makes the trains run 9% faster.

Electric regenerative braking (using a battery to store the energy) salvages roughly 50% of the car's energy in a braking event, leading to perhaps a 20% reduction in the energy cost of city driving.

Regenerative systems using flywheels and hydraulics seem to work a little better than battery-based systems, salvaging at least 70% of the braking energy. Figure 20.17 describes a hybrid car with a petrol engine powering digitally-controlled hydraulics. On a standard driving cycle, this car uses 30% less fuel than the original petrol car. In urban driving, its energy consumption is halved, from 131 kWh per 100 km to 62kWh per 100 km (20mpg to 43mpg). (Credit for this performance improvement must be shared between regenerative braking and the use of hybrid technology.) Hydraulics and flywheels are both promising ways to handle regenerative braking because small systems can handle large powers. A flywheel system weighing just 24 kg (figure 20.18), designed for energy storage in a racing car, can store 400 kJ (0.1 kWh) of energy - enough energy to accelerate an ordinary car up to 60 miles per hour (97km/h); and it can accept or deliver 60 kW of power. Electric batteries capable of delivering that much power would weigh about 200 kg. So, unless you're already carrying that much battery on board, an electrical regenerative-braking system should probably use capacitors to store braking energy. Super-capacitors have similar energy-storage and power-delivery parameters to the flywheel's.

Figure 20.18. A flywheel regenerative-braking system. Photos courtesy of Flybrid Systems.

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