UltraCommuter Eco-Machine Offers Glimpse of Automotive Future

28 April 2005

A clean, solar-electric concept car boasting a carbon fibre body and weighing only 600kg is being developed by a team of Australian students.

The University Students from the University of Quuensland, Australia, have developed the UltraCommuter — a clean, light, solar-electric concept car that will use 83 per cent less fuel and emit 87 per cent less greenhouse gases than a Holden Commodore, one of the most popular selling cars in Australia.

A foam model of the hybrid car was unveiled earlier this week at the RACQ's 100th birthday celebrations at the Queensland Museum, Brisbane.

Students from the University of Queenland's Sustainable Energy Research Laboratory are building a working model of the UltraCommuter which they hope to have on the road within a year.

UltraCommuter coordinator Dr Geoff Walker said the car was driven by two electric motors, one in each rear wheel, which were powered by a lithium ion battery pack. He also said that it would have a driving range of 500 kilometres with the addition of a gas tank and a top speed of 150 kilometres an hour.

The car recharges its battery pack using the 2.5 square metres of transparent solar cells on the bonnet and back windscreen, which would power the car up to about 50 kilometres. Alternatively, the car battery can be recharged by plugging into a power point.

The car would only weigh about 600 kilograms thanks to an aluminium and carbon-fibre body which was designed for its low drag aerodynamics including wheel covers to cut down wheel drag. A lightweight extruded/hydro-formed/bonded aluminium chassis weighing 68kg will provide the backbone for the vehicle. It will be surrounded by modular bolt-on composite crash structures designed to protect the backbone chassis and improve impact energy absorption. Modular body panelling constructed from non-dent, scratch resistant, recyclable thermoplastic will attach to the vehicle exterior, doubling as bumpers for low speed collisions. By focusing on light-weighting throughout the vehicle, the UltraCommuter could attain a curb mass as low as 500kg, according to the students.

“It's not too radical. It’s still a two-seater car that people can sit in and commute in and get quite dramatic improvements in economy. We're aiming for under two litres per 100 kilometres which is about a five or sixfold reduction on your average car.""

The UltraCommuter project had cost hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars, but he said the group wanted to challenge the car industry and show off the car's energy efficiencies at international exhibitions.

There are several PhD theses riding on the success of the UltraCommuter involving the wheel motors, design concepts and energy consumption.

The UltaCommuter project was born out in 2000 out of UQ's award winning solar car project —SunShark. The project principles are based on simple research undertaken by the project co-ordinators which looked at how everyday vehicles are used. They noted that most cars reside in urban areas and carry passengers for around 10km on average trips, with the rear seats seldom used at all. The project aimed to produce a vehicle where the user maximises the vehicle's functionality, but in doing so drastically reducing vehicle omissions.

Following their success with the SunShark solar car, SERG members embarked on this new project to demonstrate sustainable personal transportation options for Australia. The UltraCommuter sustainable vehicle is targeting the fleet vehicles market segment, or as the “second car” that is commonly owned by Australian households.

""We decided that we'd take all we knew about making very slippery, efficient vehicles and apply it to a real car that people could actually register and drive,"" Dr Walker said.

The UltraCommuter car body will tour Queensland for the next 18 months as part of RACQ’s touring roadshow on the history of Queensland motoring: Bulldust to Bitumen and Beyond.

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