A jet engine for a hybrid vehicle generator set seems at first a little extreme.  But is it?  The scale for jet turbines for outside observers is the huge engine hanging from the wings of airliners.  That’s a little deceptive, as those jet’s turbine engines are much smaller than what’s visible.  The power turbine inside is turning the big slave turbine that is so visible.  The slave turbine is really a very high-speed propeller.  The mass of pulled and forced air bypasses the smaller power turbine inside.

Inside is a much smaller turbine engine.  These engines have seen immense improvements since the early days when the easy to recognize torpedo shape was common.  Those engines worked by exhausting a hot high-speed gas flow.  But a lot of energy is wasted in heat.  Much energy could be recovered by mechanically connecting to the rotating shaft.

Even so, jet turbines we recognize are big.  From natural gas turbines powering utility size generation sets to ship-sized turbines these are massive power engines.  But little ones have been built.  Some of you can remember the Chrysler automotive turbine model in the 1960s.  Small turbines have come a very long way since.

A consortium led by the UK’s micro gas turbine company Bladon Jets with Jaguar Land Rover and leading electrical machine company SR Drives, has secured investment from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board to develop an Ultra Lightweight Range Extender (ULRE) for next-generation electric vehicles. That’s Brit speak for a hybrid vehicle generator set.  The allure is – turbines are very tolerant about the fuel they can use.

The consortium’s objective is to produce the world’s first commercially viable – and environmentally friendly – gas-turbine generator specifically for automotive applications.  Their ULRE will incorporate the Bladon Jets’ patented axial-flow gas turbine engine coupled to a high-speed generator using SR Drives’ proprietary switched-reluctance technology.  Engineers at Jaguar Land Rover will oversee the design of the ULRE’s packaging and integration into vehicles.

Bladon Jets Small Turbine. Click image for the largest view.

The advantages in Bladon’s claim for small external combustion gas turbine engines are they’re more efficient, less polluting and lower cost than internal combustion reciprocating engines.  Add to that gas turbine engines will run on just about any type of fuel including natural gas and bio-fuels.  Turbines are not dependent on specific fuels, external combustion allows a wide range for fuel choice.  Rigged for liquid fuel, a turbine could use ethanol up to heavy diesel.  It’s fuel accessibility risk reducer as well.

Axial Jet Engine Flow

Bladon’s specific choice in turbines is to use axial flow instead of radial flow.  An axial flow turbine uses more fans to compress close to the axial shaft.  That allows very high compression.  A radial flow uses less fan compression with the compression increase coming from a squeeze between the extended shaft body and the outer wall.  Radial flow is much less costly to build, but axial flow is much more efficient.

Radial Jet Engine Flow

Bladon may have answered some of the radial build advantage with a new process to manufacture the blades and hubs.  Bladon is doing a full bladed hub and blades in one piece.  That allows the machining to be quite precise and the singular casting is stress free at lower mass.  No more assembled blades to the hubs.  Plus engineering adaptations are easily accommodated in manufacturing.  The surprise is Bladon is now at 75mm (just under 3 inch) rotor diameter.  Now one can see the hybrid vehicle potential.

Bladon Jets 75mm Compressor Rotor

Turbine engines while expensive, might finally be cost comparable to internal combustion.  The turbine won’t need the water-cooling system components, or catalytic converters and much of the emission equipment.  The fuel system will be simpler; the total number of parts will be greatly reduced as well as the total weight.  They warm up in just seconds saving cold start inefficiency.

The Bladon route to hybrid vehicle generation sets might just work if the costs can be driven low enough.  Turbines are high-speed precision engines.  Fed clean air they should last a very long time with very little attention.  Keep in mind, compared to sophisticated piston engines the 5% effect applies to size, weight, part count and power output.  An effective turbine HEV generator set isn’t going to be very big or heavy.

It’s all about cost.  The materials are not cheap, but what power and rotational speed requirements would be needed isn’t discussed yet.  Bladon has a patented technology to reduce manufacturing costs and claims they can address material from the lower cost to the most expensive.  One just has to assume, the Bladon team must have the numbers to make the effort, and if they do, series hybrid designs with turbine generator sets might just really take off.

It’s very encouraging.  The ability to catch an emergency fill from the cooking oil in the kitchen, or a simple kerosene fill up or ethanol or whatever might be cheapest is an alluring feature that should support the Bladon effort for quite some time.


Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. bfast on January 27, 2010 2:21 PM

    There is a lot of merit to this concept. Jet engine technology, if I understand it correctly, is significantly more efficient than internal combustion engines are. The big downside to jet technology is that it cannot produce the dynamic power changes that the internal combustion engine can. That issue, however is addressed with hybrid technology. The battery systems provide the power dynamics, the jet engine maintains the charge in the batteries.

    That said, there are a couple of other very efficient power systems that should be reconsidered now that the power range issues have been settled. The ones that come to mind are steam, and stirling cycle engines.

    The Chevy volt has one thing going for it that should be considered, with modification.
    With a good sized battery pack, a car should be able to confidently provide round-trip power on batteries alone. However, for long trips, an engine able to produce average consumed energy is required. I propose that the engine be removable. For short trips, the engine (turbine, steam, stirling or internal combustion) is removed. For long trips, it is mounted into place. This is the most efficent model for a universal vehicle that I can think of.

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  3. Indian Car Blog – Carazoo.com: Bladon Jets signs deal with Jaguar … | Land Rover Automotive Marque on February 7, 2010 3:07 PM

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  4. Shraman on March 1, 2010 7:40 PM

    It is a great thing to be able to use variety of fuel for Range Extension.
    Looks like Bladon claims, according to the article, that Axial Compressor has more compression capacity than radial, which is a strange comment. Radial Compressors are known for their higher compression ratio and Axial compressors are generally used for high mass flow low compression ratio.

  5. Richard Hilleman on April 19, 2010 4:23 PM

    I built the CMT380. This is a sportscar that has an electric drive train (the AC150 from the Emini and licensee to Tesla), 24kwh of Kokam LiPoly batteries and a Capstone C30 Liquid Fueled Microturbine.

    It currently gets between 40-50mpg on the highway at 70MPH, while haveing a 60 Miles pure EV range.

    To get the Efficency up to 30% or above, you need to recooperate as much heat as possible into the intake charge. Lost heat is lost KW’s. You can use a regenerator (active component usually used with Axial Turbines) or recooperators (passive systems usually used with Radial Turbines.

    Mine is more like a T34 Turbo with a combustion chamber connecting the compressor and turbine stages, with the exhaust routed through a recooperator for heat recovery.

    The Turbine/EV drive have been very reliable. I have had more problems with door latches and windshields than turbines and AC drive systems.

    Now there is the little thing about cost, but at 5000 units or less, the economics aren’t there yet…

  6. Charly Franklin on September 27, 2010 5:11 PM

    I thought of this a couple of years ago after the electric versus range thing came up in a conversation at a poker game. I live in San Francisco which is very hilly so there’s a lot of energy wasted going up hills and a lot of brake wear going down. That got me thinking about the advantages of regenerative braking with an electric vehicle, and how that would be perfect for local trips.
    But what about going to Santa Cruz or Death Valley? I figured a turbine could be small, light and reliable but had no idea about cost.
    I also realized that using GPS systems and telling the car what you’re planning to do would help efficiency. For example it’s 506 miles from my house in SF to Furnace Creek in Death Valley. With a stop overnight in Mojave and several short stops along the way, the car can use these stops to recharge the batteries, as well as charging while driving, and GPS info would allow the car to anticipate the terrain ahead. The latter is significant considering that when approaching Death Valley from the south west via the Panamint Valley the road rises almost straight up 3,000 feet from the valley floor to Towne Pass, and then drops 5,000 feet to sea level at Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley.
    If charging “meters” existed at rest stops, restaurants and motels, then that would of course reduce the need to use the generator thus saving fuel and emissions.
    This certainly seems like a better way than the idea of swapping batteries.

  7. Lawrence Richard on January 15, 2011 12:10 AM

    The article in EVO Magazine on this really caught my eye. My only question though is what about the systems or accessories that currently run off of the accessory belts, vacuum, or coolant from our current internal combustion engines…

    Belts running for power steering and water pump aren’t a big issue since we have electric racks now a-days, the need for an alternator would obviously be gone, and there will be no need to circulate coolant through the block because well–there is no block, so no water pump either.

    However there will be a need for heat, I for one don’t want to be running around in winter without some toasty air running across my frozen hands. What would be an effective way to harness the heat produced from these little turbine engines and how are the interiors of all electric cars currently on the market heated now?

    This obviously brings us the the next point, which is cooling. We obviously use accessory belts to run the ac compressor, so how would we do this with the new hybrid-car design?

    The next thing would be vacuum, right now MOST cars on the road still use the conventional vacuum assisted master cylinder type brake setup. Some more recent, mostly higher end cars are using brake-by-wire electric fluid pumps instead of the master but unless I’m mistaken they still rely on some sort of vacuum from the engine. I would imagine this is a small hurtle since jet engines probably produce sufficient vacuum you can pull from.

    Just curious.

  8. Lawrence Richard on January 15, 2011 12:21 AM

    I guess a little Google never hurt anybody…

    Photo:
    http://www.rover.org.nz/pages/jet/images/jet9c.jpg

    And article it came from:
    http://www.rover.org.nz/pages/jet/jet2.htm

  9. Grant on January 24, 2011 10:52 AM

    Respectful disagreement with the above poster who mentioned a removable engine. The jet turbines are so incredibly lightweight that you wouldn’t even want to go through the effort of removing it unless it was on a motorcycle. You’re talking about a drivetrain that would have several hundred pounds of batteries, a couple hundred pounds of motor, and an engine that weighs probably less than 100. The batteries would also have to be much heavier to have an acceptable range without constant charging.

    There are other unforseen consequences in terms of weight. Converting to an electric brake system is not only inherently heavier, but would have to be built in such a way that it would never lose power even if the batteries were dead. Probably a completely separate electrical system would be in order for the power brakes. And if there’s a motor at each wheel, a conventional brake system would not necessarily bolt right on. No matter how you swing it, in the short-term future, no hybrid will ever be as light as a similarly powerful internal combustion drivetrain. Batteries are just not that efficient in terms of energy to weight.

    But in my opinion, the thing that would hold this product back would be the publics unwillingness to adapt to new things. The high pitched whine would scare people, people would be stupid and try to burn unsuitable fuels, either damaging the car or disrupting the peace with acrid fumes (an unintended consequence that will get the emissions czars concerned) and idiots everywhere would think of dumb reasons to hate on it. You’d literally have people filling up with nail polish remover, unfiltered frier oil, and bacon fat! I wonder how those rotors would take to unrefined animal fats..

    I hope this technology sees fruition but in the short term (next 15-25 years) I see cleaner emitting rotary engines as being the future of hybrid electric powertrains. They can be built to be so tiny and with such density of power, and shoved anywhere. They’re cheap, simple, infinitely scalable, and pose no weird crash safety issues. Such a system is still significantly more efficient compared to a non-hybrid car, and that’s good enough for most people, even if a rotary engine is less efficient in terms of fuel in -> power out then any of these other technologies.

    I think this jet turbine technology would be more at home in vehicles that see more extreme situations and where cost is less of an issue, like marine applications, heavy planes, trains, 4x4s that see extreme adventure, vehicles that are otherwise “off the grid”, and even heavy duty construction equipment. So I don’t have my doubts at all about the potential of this technology, but I don’t see it appearing in driveways any time soon except in halo cars. The thing that would really turn people on to this tech would be a major interruption to the conventional fuel supply.

  10. krispin scanlon-hill on January 26, 2011 6:15 PM

    So when and were can I buy one. I would like to use just the turbine and generator portion as a genset on my hybrid, no internal combustion, sailboat. Electric motors to drive the props powered by batteries that are charged by solar, wind and if need be Turbine.

  11. Mike on March 27, 2012 8:42 PM

    With a twinned set of batteries and a small jet engine used only to recharge a one battery pack at a time (one pack would run the motors, while the other accepts a charge), the possible range is limited only by the gas tank size. Cooling batteries could be accomplished by the incoming air running over the batteries in the front of the car. The heating and cooling system requirements might be accomplished by recapturing the heat from the jet combustion system through a small scale steam powered system (byproduct heat!). The weight of the battery packs might seem an issue but the cabin forward design of some Dodge vehicles show that the engine compartment can be manipulated and the positioning of the batteries might enhance the low center of gravity. While everyone loves the idea of an electric sports car, I really think this is a technology better suited for the family of 5 with storage needs, going on a long vacation. I would like to see this used in a hybrid minivan constructed from lighter weight materials and using the hybrid to get the 50mpg rating to the soccer mom mobiles!

  12. Longhorn on August 19, 2012 6:09 PM

    This jet engine will be loud, but I guess no louder than some of the motorcycles/ hot rods on the road. I don’t see how they can build it cheap because the materials will have to be able to withstand really high temps and pressure. The batteries alone for EV’s cost around 14,000.00…Maybe with a jet engine to recharge they could use a cheaper battery than lithium ion batteries and cut cost in that way?

  13. Mendy Millings on November 5, 2012 1:17 AM

    Hybrid cars are really necessary these days if we want to stop pollution. ‘

  14. Carlos Barrera on November 21, 2012 6:17 PM

    Technology Submission – Novel Rotary-Turbo-InFlow Tech / Featured Development

    *GEARTURBINE PROJECT:
    Atypical InFlow Thermodynamic
    Technology Proposal Submission
    Innovative [TURBO-ROTARY]
    Novel (Fueled) Motor Engine Type

    -The Gearturbine comes from the contemporary ecological essential global needs of an efficient power plant fueled motor engine. -Power thrust by bar (tube); air, sea, land and power generation, work use application.

    *Have the similar simple basic system of the “Aelopilie” Heron´s Steam Turbine device from Alexandria, [10-70 AD] one thousand nine hundred years ago. Because; the circular dynamic motion, with 2/Two Opposites power [polar position] lever, and is feeds from his axis center.

    YouTube Video/10.30 min; * Atypical New • GEARTURBINE / Retrodynamic = DextroRPM=> VS to <=front; "Collision-Interaction Type" – inflow vs. blades-gear-move. Technical unique dynamic innovative motion mode. [Retrodynamic Reaction = When the inflow have more velocity the rotor have more RPM Acceleration, with high (XY Position) Momentum] Which the internal flow (and rotor) duplicate its speed, when activated being in a rotor (and inflow) with [inverse] opposite Turns. A very strong Novel concept of torque power thrust. At field explanatory example with a metaphor is like if a sailboat take the wind from his prow front to move; wind/inflow + knots/rpm + wind/inflow + knots/rpm + wind/inflow + knots/rpm + etc… = Acceleration x Acceleration = Exponential Acceleration. Whereas it has more movements forwards, it receives a frontal impulse still but to move more forwards. A present example of the implementation of the Retrodynamic effect is in the application in the accelerator (and collider) of particles that this in the border of Switzerland and France.

    -Shape-Mass + Rotary-Motion = Inertia-Dynamic / Form-Function Wide [Flat] Cylindrical shape + positive dynamic rotary mass = continue Inertia kinetic positive tendency motion / all the complete Rotary motor mass weight is going with the power thrust move circular direction.

    -Non-waste parasitic looses system for cooling, lubrication & combustion; -Lubrication & Combustion, inside a conduit radial position, out way direction, activated by Centrifugal Force-Fueled Injected. -Cooling; a) IN-Thermomix flow, & b) OUT-Air Thermo transference.

    -Combustion 2Two [Inside-Rotary-Dynamic] continue circular [Rockets] flames. Like two dragons trying to bite the tail of the [ying yang] opposite other.-Increase the first compression by going of flow reduction of one big circumference blades going pass to 2TWO reduced, very long distance (total captive compression) INFLOW [inside propulsion] CONDUITS [long flow interaction] [like a digestive system] Start were ends, in perfect shape balance in perfect equilibrium well balanced, like a snake bite his own tale. -4 TURBOS Rotary [inside-rotary-active] [In-Flow, Out-Flow] Total Thrust-Power Regeneration [Complete] Power System. -Mechanical direct 2two [Small] "Planetary Gears" at polar position. Like the Ying Yang Symbol/Concept. Wide out the Rotor circumference were have much more lever [HIGH Torque] POWER THRUST. -Military benefits, No blade erosion by sand & very low heat target profile.-3 stages of inflow turbo compression before combustion; 1)1-Turbine, 2)2-Turbos 3)2-Turbos. -And 3 points of power thrust; 1-flow way, 2-gear, 3-turbine.

    *The most innovative power plant motor engine project today. Higher efficient % percent. Next trend wave toward global technological coming change.

    Patent; Dic. 1991 IMPI Mexico #197187 – Carlos Barrera. – Individual Designer – Inventor and project owner. / All Rights Reserved. – Monterrey NL Mexico.

  15. Carlos Barrera on November 21, 2012 6:20 PM

    YouTube Video/10.30 min; * Atypical New • GEARTURBINE / Retrodynamic = DextroRPM=> VS to <=front; "Collision-Interaction Type"

  16. Karissa Ornelas on December 21, 2012 11:54 AM

    Hybrid cars will be the standard vehicle in the future

  17. Jeff Falkner on September 12, 2013 2:00 PM

    I would be interested to see what is being designed for the gear connection to the generator. Gears are often overlooked in the costings by people focussing on the primary components, there are tricky technical issues to overcome. Small turbines mean high speeds so a high speed generator would reduce the low speed torque and overall ratio. Better to use latest tech and run generator at turbine speed with no gears if it’ll hold together!

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