New startup company wants to change the rules of hybrid & electric cars

The Geneva Auto Show always serves as a home for some interesting concept cars, and this year one of the most interesting concepts comes from a company called Techrules. Techrules is a China-based research and development company that is apparently looking to rewrite the electric-car rulebook with its AT96 and GT96 TREV electric supercars. As a short explanation, the car’s use a micro-turbine as an onboard generator to charge the car’s battery packs. If this sounds familiar, it should – we saw a similar technology back in 2010 at the Los Angeles Auto Show in the 2010 Jaguar C-X75.

According to Techrules, the TREV, which stands for “turbine-recharging electric vehicle,” can be designed to run on a number of different fuels like aviation kerosene, biogas, and nature gas, to name a few. Aside from this somewhat unique take on battery recharging and range extension, the AT96 concept itself is pretty wild looking and well worth taking a good look at. According to Techrules, this puppy can achieve 1,569 mpg under plug in operation.

Chances are we’ll never see this particular concept, and its technology as it is, ever make it into production, but according to Techrules, the plan is to build its own low-volume supercar within the next few years. A few years after that, it plans to begin production of higher-volume city cars. Oddly enough, a development prototype of a TREV supercar started testing just last month on the Silverstone race circuit in the U.K.

So, now that you can see how interesting and potentially game changing the technology in the AT96 TREV is, let’s take a much closer look at it.

Continue reading to learn more about the Techrules AT96 TREV.

  • 2016 Techrules AT96 TREV
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    1030
  • Torque @ RPM:
    6300
  • 0-60 time:
    2.5 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    217 mph
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668532

This is a rather wild-looking concept, though something about it makes me question whether or not I would push it to the extreme speeds it’s said to be capable of. Up front, the fascia and what would be a hood are one piece, with two LED light strips in the corners for headlights. Down below the headlights sit the corner vents, which presumably channel cool air over the electric motors to help keep them cool. The 3-shaped cutouts in the fascia, which are completely separated from the fenders, comes to two sharp points. At the bottom of the fascia is a small beam that connects the two corners of the fascia together. Mesh fills the open area in the air dam and the corner vents.

This is a rather wild-looking concept, though something about it makes me question whether or not I would push it to the extreme speeds it’s said to be capable of

Moving to the sides, the actual shell of the car loses a bit of its width as you move closer to the rear. The side skirts are thin, flat units that extend from the bottom of the body outward, probably to provide a large amount of downforce to the rear of the vehicle. It appears as if air is channeled through the front corner vents, around the tires, and along the top of the side skirts. The rear end wraps around the rear wheels at the top to create the fenders, if that is what you would call them. The doors are rather smooth and are hinged at the top, front corner.

In the rear, the same gloss-black finish that was used for the side skirts makes up most of the rear, with the tail lights and brake lights integrated into it. The blue body surrounds this rear panel, with a large, but rather bland rear diffuser mounted at the bottom. The rear spoiler is completely unique and attaches to the body at the sides of the rear end, behind the rear wheels, and on top of the rear deck. It is certainly an interesting design, and according to Techrules, the entire body is composed of carbon fiber to help reduce weight and provide torsional rigidity.

Interior

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Interior
- image 668545
The fact that the AT96 is a track-focused concept explains why the body is so extreme, and why there is only one seat inside

The fact that the AT96 is a track-focused concept explains why the body is so extreme, and why there is only one seat inside. Looking through the doors, we can see lots of carbon fiber making up the center tunnel, door sills, trim panels, dash and center controller housing. The steering wheel is three-spoke in design, but it almost square shaped. Ahead of the steering wheel is what appears to be an eight- or nine-inch display screen that provides all the necessary information like speed, battery state, charging system state, and other performance-based information. The seats and steering wheel look to be wrapped in Alcantara.

The one odd thing I’ve noticed here is that despite that large glass windshield, it looks like the driver may have some difficulty seeing. I’m not sure if what the purpose is, but the dash in front of the driver cures up wildly, coming within just a few inches of the forward glass. Very odd indeed. In the center, there is a large, semi-floating panel that housing all of the switched and warning indicators that are normally associated with track vehicles, and down below the brake and throttle pedals are done up in what appears to be drilled aluminum.

So you’re probably wondering why an electric car such as the AT96 has a tunnel in the middle of the interior. Well, it isn’t for a transmission, because there is no engine up front. That tunnel is actually where the T-shaped battery pack resides under the body. When you really think about it, that is a pretty slick design. Instead of exposing the driver to the batteries, the liquid cooled units are stored underneath. Plus, it gives the interior the appearance you normally see with front, longitudinally mounted engines. Given the odd bodywork on the outside, I expected the interior to look thrown together, but aside from those weird fins on the dash in front of the driver, this concept looks ready to hit the track on the inside.

Drivetrain

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668534

This is where the AT96 Concept really gets interesting. You probably expect to hear about four electric motors, but that isn’t the case. There are actually six electric motors present. One for each front wheel, and two for each rear wheel. Each motor weighs just over 28 pounds and is coupled to its own dedicated inverter. The batteries that power these motors are mounted in a T-shaped pattern in the middle of the vehicle and are composed of 2,376 individual 18650 cylindrical cells that use “ultra-safe” Lithium-magnese-oxide chemistry.

These batteries are charged by plugging the vehicle into a standard wall socket, or can be fully charged in about 40 minutes by the onboard, rear mounted turbine generator system. Basically, air that is pulled into the turbine is passed through a heat exchanger where it is then compressed and turned into cold air. Ignition of the compressed and heated fuel-air mixture creates energy that is channeled to rotate the vanes of the turbine. The shaft of the turbine rotates the generator, which then generates electricity. Here’s where it gets weird, though.

Instead of sending all 36 kW of electricity from the turbine to the motors, six percent is used to power auxiliary electronics, while the other 30 kW is sent to the battery back to charge it. Use of a smart battery management system has enabled Techrules to change the way the batteries are charged. Instead of losing energy by discharging the cells that charge fast – the balance method used in most hybrid systems – the extra energy in those cells is transferred to other cells, creating a harmonious balance between all of the cells.

Techrules claims the concept can hit the 62 mph sprint in 2.5 seconds with a top speed of 217 mph

According to Techrules, the combined output of all electric motors is 1,030 horsepower and an unbelievable 6,300 pound-feet of torque. Techrules claims the concept can hit the 62 mph sprint in 2.5 seconds with a top speed of 217 mph. Plug-in juice provides enough power for about 31 miles. Using the generator as the sole means of charging brings the fuel consumption down to 62 miles for every 1.26 gallons of fuel used, or roughly 50 mpg. So where did that 1,569 mpg figure that I mentioned earlier come from? Well, that’s what you get under plug in operation, which means you have to plug the car in every time the batteries are depleted to gain that kind of fuel economy. Running off the generator system alone, and you’ll share fuel economy similar to that of the hybrid vehicles on the road today. Should have known there was a gimmick in there somewhere.

Conclusion

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668540

I have to give props to Techrules for coming out with such a bold and unique design for its AT96 concept car, but I think it is trying to be a little misleading offering up fuel economy numbers above 1,500 mpg. Sure, it can achieve that, but only if you stop every 30 miles or so and plug it in. If you use the car as most would considering this is a track car, you’re going to get about 50 mpg which really isn’t any better than the other hybrids on the market. The uniqueness of the model lies in its turbine and generator, which up until now has been rather inefficient in the past. Plus, it can easily be adapted to run whatever fuel is available in a given market, so that is a nice advantage too. At the end of the day, Techrules may be at the forefront of developing some pretty radical technology, but it has a lot more work to do if it’s really going to compete in any market. The biggest benefit here is that the car doesn’t use a fuel-power engine, or, in this case, the turbine, to turn the wheels. The fact that the car can charge and drive at the same time, without ever running out of juice is a big deal, and I’m curious to see how well this strategy plays out in the future.

  • Leave it
    • Only 50 mpg when using on-board charging system
    • Only a concept

Press Release

Techrules, a new China-based automotive research and development company, is making its global debut at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show. It is dedicated to the innovation of new energy technologies to advance the environmental and dynamic performance of EVs as well as the convenience to the user.

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668530

It has developed a Turbine-Recharging Electric Vehicle (TREV) system, an all-new patent-protected series hybrid powertrain technology comprising a turbine-generator. TREV combines extensive experience of aviation and electric vehicle technologies with several proprietary technical innovations to deliver unprecedented levels of efficiency and performance, and ultra-low environmental impact.

TREV is a range extender system that uses a micro-turbine to generate electricity that charges a battery pack. The battery powers the motors that drive the wheels. Newly developed battery management technologies enable superior charging efficiency. The high efficiency of the TREV range extender results in a requirement for fewer batteries, saving weight and space.

Techrules is showcasing its ground breaking technology at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show in a plug-in hybrid range extender TREV concept that represents the first step towards production of China’s first supercar. A development prototype started testing last month (February 2016) at the world-famous Silverstone race circuit in the UK.

Producing peak power of 768 kW (1,030 bhp / 1,044 PS), initial projections indicate blistering performance (0 - 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds; 350 km/h restricted top speed) and a huge range (over 2,000 km). Under plug-in operation, it achieves fuel consumption of just 0.18 l/100 km (1,569 mpg).

Techrules plans to begin series production of TREV technology in a low volume supercar of its own design within a couple of years. It then plans to begin production of higher volume city cars a few years later.

William Jin, the founder and CEO of Techrules, said: “The TREV system is a perfect combination of micro turbine and electric vehicle technologies. It is highly efficient, produces very low emissions and provides an optimal charging solution for electric vehicles.

“We believe it may redefine how the next generation of electric vehicles is powered.”

FURTHER DETAILS

Turbine-recharging electric vehicle (TREV): a revolutionary range extender technology for next generation EVs

TREV is an all-new proprietary, patent protected series hybrid powertrain system. It comprises a micro turbine generator that is inspired by technology commonly used in the global aviation industry and large-scale power generation industries. The turbine drives a generator which charges a battery. This in turn, provides electricity to drive the traction motors. Unlike many previously developed turbine powertrain systems, there is no direct electrical feed from the generator to the electric motors: the TREV system is purely a series hybrid range extender system.

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668531

Air drawn into the micro turbine is passed through a heat exchanger where heat from the exhaust air is transferred to the cold intake air after it has been compressed. Ignition of the compressed and heated fuel-air mixture generates enormous energy which is channelled to at very high speeds to turn the turbine vanes. As this hot exhaust gas is expelled, it passes through the heat exchanger to ensure the heat energy is recuperated and transferred to cold intake air.

Techrules Chief Technology Officer, Matthew Jin, explains: “In the conventional cars that dominated the 20th century, the combustion engine that converts a fuel’s chemical energy into a useful mechanical energy is also the driving engine that turns the wheels.

“Because turbines have always been a very inefficient way to convert chemical energy into useful wheel turning mechanical energy, only a few have tried to use a turbine in the powertrain system, and none have ever succeeded commercially.

“But, with electric vehicles, an electric motor is used to drive the wheels, which effectively frees the combustion engine to exclusively convert chemical energy into mechanical energy and finally into electric energy. This is a major breakthrough, making it possible for us to use the highly efficient turbine engine as a superb range extender on our vehicles.”

Micro turbines are significantly more efficient than piston engines in range extender applications, because significantly less energy is sacrificed in frictional losses, meaning more of the fuel’s chemical energy is harnessed.

The turbine shaft powers a generator that produces electricity to charge the battery cells. In Techrules’ TREV configuration, the turbine and the generator share the same shaft and rotate at the same speed: over 96,000 revolutions per minute.

The total weight of the TREV range extender system (micro-turbine, inverters, fuel pumps, air pumps, and generator, but excluding batteries and motors) is approximately 100 kg.

TREV system features proprietary innovative technologies for unprecedented levels of efficiency

The TREV system incorporates several new technologies that make it approximately 50 per cent more efficient thanrange extender systems using petrol engines, which dramatically increases the viability of its commercial series production.

The high rotational speeds that the shaft requires in order to draw in the required volume of air means that achieving low friction is paramount to the efficiency of the TREV system.

Techrules employs air bearing technology – a high pressure feed of compressed air – instead of a traditional oil lubricant film to separate the shaft from the bearing. This results in fewer frictional energy losses, since it eliminates parasitic losses of a mechanical bearing. The use of an air bearing system is not unique, but how Techrules uses the air bearing involves genuine world-first innovations.

Of particular note is that the air bearing is also supported by a magnetic field that allows for precise adjustment of the high speed shaft. Both bearing solutions work together to maintain exceptional stability. The magnetic bearing allowsa far greater clearance between the shaft and its wall lining, which delivers significant advantages for the long-term durability of the system.

This is an especially important consideration in automotive applications of turbine systems because – unlike in stable power generation conditions – the entire assembly must be able to be capable of withstanding volatile operating conditions that result from, for example, vertical shocks from uneven road surfaces and lateral forces in cornering. Techrules’ hybrid bearing system is also more economic to produce, because the built-in extra clearance space reduces the extreme tolerances usually required.

In addition, a new design of internal foil – an intrinsic component within an air bearing – is used for the bearing liner that supports the air pressure and flow. It is made of a new compound material that gives it superior durability. Of equal importance is that the new foil enables the mass production of the bearing liner at the required production tolerances to be achieved at a high volume scale at low cost.

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668532

Techrules has also introduced a new and innovative heat exchanger design that is more thermally efficient than conventional designs. A new material has been introduced in the hybrid heat exchanger which greatly increases the efficiency of heat recuperation from the exhaust gases.

The turbine – rotating at 96,000 revolutions per minute – produces 36 kW. Of this output, 30 kW powers the generator, with 6 kW directly powering auxiliary equipment such as the inverters. The 30 kW electrical output from the generator is used to charge the battery pack.

Smart battery management with new charge balancing strategy

The TREV system employs an innovative smart battery management system that optimises the efficiency of battery charging and power balancing between battery cells.

In a conventional lithium-ion battery management system, to avoid cells being damaged by overcharging, the cells – which each charge at a slightly different rate – must be balanced as they charge. This balancing is conventionally achieved by actively discharging the cells that are charging more quickly in order to enable the other cells to ‘catch up’. This process sees a proportion of energy wasted during the charging process and increases the time required to charge all cells fully.

To address the shortcomings with this standard industry practice, Techrules has introduced an innovative new charge balancing strategy. The smart battery balancing system harnesses the ‘excess’ voltage in cells that are charging more quickly, sharing their charge with slower-charging neighbouring cells to achieve the required balance. As a result, the entire pack charges more quickly, and there is no energy wasted in actively discharging the best-performing cells.

The TREV system uses readily available cylindrical 18650 Lithium-Manganese-Oxide battery cells. Techrules is focusing its capabilities on the efficiency of the battery management rather than the battery chemistry itself. Its insight and smart battery management system will be applicable to any future, higher capacity battery technology.

Unlike most EV development programmes, because the TREV system incorporates a series hybrid range extender, Techrules is prioritising power density – the capability of the batteries to deliver peak power – ahead of energy density – the capability of the batteries to hold maximum energy

TREV’s advanced smart battery management system optimises the efficiency of battery charging, reducing the time to charge batteries and reducing wasted energy.

Reduced whole-life environmental impact

TREV technology lowers the whole-life environmental impact of EVs by addressing or avoiding several major shortcomings of current technology.

TREV is capable of delivering an unprecedented range for a series hybrid supercar.

Projections, based on initial testing, indicate that the range of a future production supercar under battery power alone will be up to 150 km. Where charging points are unavailable TREV technology can recharge batteries anywhere, either while underway or when parked – eliminating range anxiety. It is envisioned that this parked recharging process could be completed unsupervised, overnight for example.

Maximum range – based on the battery configuration in the concept supercar presented at Geneva – is projected to be over 2,000 km from 80 litres of aviation kerosene (in urban driving conditions), or a fuel with equivalent calorific value.

Another fundamental challenge to the feasibility of mass adoption of EVs in several markets is the massive draw on the electricity grid that would be impossible to meet within the current grid capacity. If the Chinese market, for example, adopted plug-in EVs, the result would be a massive increase in pollution from coal-fired power stations. And many markets in the western world, too, are precariously close to the limit of the electricity generation capacities of their power generation infrastructures. These markets would not be able to sustain a widespread adoption of plug-in EVs.

With a common core architecture, the TREV system can be tailored to run on one of a variety of fuels. This means that the configuration of the TREV system can be matched to the fuel which is already prevalent in a specific market with a comprehensive supply and distribution infrastructure. As a result, adoption of the TREV system by the fuel supply industry, vehicle manufacturers and consumers requires no major investment in new networks – as with plug-in EVs or hydrogen fuel cells. The TREV system’s turbine has been tested in various guises, with alternative versions running natural gas, biogas, diesel, gasoline and aviation kerosene.

Since the significant uptake of EVs is dependent on the availability of charging point networks, which require major investments in new infrastructure, harnessing the existing fuel distribution infrastructures reduces the absolute reliance on these networks.

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668533

The TREV system delivers very high efficiency and very low emissions, and is a sealed-for-life powertrain solution which requires almost zero maintenance throughout the ownership cycle. The only service item is the air intake filter.

Concept is a vision of future production TREV supercar

Techrules is showcasing its TREV technology at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show in a two-seater all-wheel drive concept supercar. The turbine generator is carried behind the passenger cabin and in front of the rear wheels, making the concept a ‘mid-engined’ electric vehicle.

It is presented in two designs, the AT96 and GT96. These designs – each offering an alternative configuration of the TREV system – are two variations of a vision of how turbine-recharging supercars might look when the technology enters production in China’s first supercar.

‘AT’ refers to ‘Aviation Turbine’, indicative that the turbine is configured to run on a liquid fuel such as aviation kerosene, diesel and gasoline. The AT96 is a vision of a track-focused version of the supercar and features management large rear wing, which provides both straight-line stability as well as downforce to aid high speed cornering.

The GT96 – for gas turbine – is designed to run on a gaseous fuel such as biogas and natural gas and is styled as a road-going hypercar.

The supercar also incorporates plug-in charging capability for markets where public or residential off-street parking charging networks – ideally powered by renewable energy sources – are in place.

A first supercar development prototype – based on the AT96 aviation turbine configuration – has been produced by Techrules’ specialist vehicle engineering partners in Italy and the UK. Initial testing began in February 2016 at the iconic Silverstone race circuit in the UK.

The range of the supercar concept on plug-in battery power alone is projected to be up to150 km, with a total range of over 2,000 km from 80 litres of aviation kerosene – or a fuel with the equivalent calorific value – with the TREV range extender deployed.

The combined peak output of the motors is 768 kW (1,030 bhp / 1,044 PS) and maximum torque at the wheels is projected to exceed 8,600 Nm (6,300 lb ft). With such power available with such brutal immediacy, the Techrules supercar concept boasts performance to rival today’s hypercars: 0 - 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds; top speed electronically restricted to 350 km/h.

Fuel consumption is projected to be just 0.18 l/100km. With a full charge provided solely by the TREV system, fuel consumption is expected to be approximately 4.8 l/100 km.

The kerb weight of the development vehicle is currently 1,380 kg. The target for the future production supercar is a sub-1,000 kg dry weight.

At the heart of the concept is a carbon-fibre monocoque to provide exceptional torsional rigidity and passenger safety. The body structure is also lightweight carbon fibre, including the dihedral doors.

The rear subframe carries the primary range extender components, including the micro turbine generator and direct ancillary systems, as well as the cooling systems for the electric traction motors and battery pack, and the rear motors and inverters.

Under the carbon-fibre body, a longitudinal T-shaped battery back runs down a central spine of the car – providing the same appearance in the passenger cabin as a transmission tunnel would in a front-engine, rear wheel drive car. The battery pack is liquid cooled to maintain an optimal operating temperature for the cells.

The battery pack comprises 2,376 individual 18650 cylindrical cells that use the ultra-safe Lithium-Manganese-Oxide chemistry (LiMn) chemistry with a capacity of 20 kWh usable and with a voltage of 720 V. Thanks to its smart battery management system, the battery pack can be charged by the turbine generator in approximately 40 minutes.

The supercar concept is driven by six electric traction motors, each weighing 13 kg and each one of which is coupled to its own dedicated inverter. Each front wheel is driven by a single motor, while each rear wheel is driven by a pair of motors.

2016 Techrules AT96 TREV High Resolution Exterior
- image 668534

The primary advantage of using two smaller motors instead of a single larger motor for each rear wheel is packaging efficiency and simpler mounting to the monocoque.

This six-motor layout with independent power feeding each wheel provides an ideal configuration for torque vectoring which is managed by an electronic control unit. Four-way torque vectoring guarantees maximum cornering stability at high speed and eliminates the requirement for complex and heavy mechanical differentials.

With such power and speed available from the accelerator pedal, so is there due consideration for high performance stopping power. Rapid retardation is achieved with 405 mm ventilated discs with six-piston calipers at the front, and 380 mm ventilated discs with four-piston calipers at the rear.

The current plan is for a TREV-powered supercar to be produced and sold in low volumes within the next few years. The low volumes will help Techrules perfect the production process of the TREV system and learn from its performance in real world conditions as it further develops the system for higher volume production.

Introducing TREV technology in its own supercar will also allow Techrules to demonstrate its credentials as an environmentally-friendly technology that can deliver exceptional dynamic performance. As it evolves quickly from an automotive research and development business into a car manufacturer, Techrules aims to lead a symbolic shift by the Chinese car industry towards world-class automotive quality and performance standards.

Following its launch with low volume supercars, Techrules’ will then develop its capabilities to realise its next ambition: the development of the technology for high volume applications including sub-compact and compact (B- and C-segment) cars, to be introduced to the market a few years later.

Techrules – a new company heralding a new dawn for the automobile

Techrules is a Beijing-based automotive research company focused on developing groundbreaking powertrain technology and fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles.

Its founders believe that future cars should be more efficient, more environmentally-friendly, and with better user experience than what is available on the market today. To achieve this, vehicles need to minimize whole-life well-to-wheel emissions that piston engine and plug-in EVs are failing to make significant progress with.

Techrules is a subsidiary of Txr-S, a research and development company which has other subsidiaries operating in the fields of new materials development, biogas production and aerospace.

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