Someone wants to generate electricity inside your car's wheels.
Trying to decipher our electric future is an uncertain game, but one we still love to play. We've already taken one look through recent electric vehicle patents as part of our "Your EV Future" series, but if you only do something once, it's not a series, is it? So, let's dive in again. As always, just because a company has secured a patent on a particular bit of technology, that doesn't mean that it will ever see the light of day. But we can dream, can't we?
Ford: Metal Oxygen Battery
Patent says: "The metal oxygen battery storage system includes a metal oxygen battery, which includes a cathode and an anode including a lithium metal material. The metal oxygen battery system further includes an oxygen containment unit including an oxygen storage material and external to the metal oxygen battery. The metal oxygen battery system also includes a reversible closed-loop in fluid communication with the metal oxygen battery and the oxygen containment unit, which are spaced apart from each other."
What this might mean: Future battery tech holds exciting promises, but the details are incredibly complicated and – in this case, at least – somewhat outlandish. In short, Ford is researching metal oxygen batteries [MOB] because they are "known to have relatively high electrochemical capacities, and are therefore of great interest for applications where the total mass of a given battery is limited," even if they require some sort of oxygen tank to let an MOB, "achieve its full discharge capacity." Ford says that MOB tech has, "recently been demonstrated experimentally in a small number of laboratories," but that nothing satisfactory has been developed just yet. Would you fill up your EV at an oxygen station?
BMW: Cooler, better EV motors
Patent says: "The present invention relates to a method and a control device for controlling the waste heat generated by a motor vehicle with an electric drive, wherein the electric drive has at least one rechargeable battery and an electric machine for driving the motor vehicle. Motor vehicles that are operated exclusively electrically over long periods of travel include electric heating devices for heating the interior because the heat loss of the electric drive train, for example the rechargeable battery (high voltage battery), the electric machine, the power electronics, the direct current/direct current converter and the like is not sufficient in all driving situations to heat the interior of the motor vehicle. Such an additional electric heating device requires additional installation space, increases the cost of the motor vehicle, and increases the weight of the motor vehicle."
What this might mean: Basically, BMW is looking at new way to heat an electric vehicle without adding any extra bits to the powertrain. The idea here is that the EV can use two parts of the electric drive, with different "thermal loads " (i.e., how hot a part of the powertrain is), to balance things. The end effect is that, "heat can be generated for heating the interior of an electrically driven vehicle without requiring any additional components. In this way, the production effort and the mass of the electrically driven motor vehicle can be reduced." Heat could be generated while the EV is driving or parked, and BMW says it this technology could increase the life of powertrain components because they won't be subject to temperature extremes as much.
Hyundai: Better EV shifting with "Synchromesh"
Patent says: "A transmission for an electric vehicle includes an input shaft for receiving power, an output shaft disposed in parallel with the input shaft, a plurality of shift gear units each including external gears connecting the input shaft and the output shaft to each other, a synchromesh system for switching any one of the shift gear units into a power-transmissible state or a non-power-transmissible state between the input shaft and the output shaft, a servo gear unit including a pair of external gears engaged with each other on the input shaft and the output shaft, and a servo clutch adjusting a degree of power transmission between the input shaft and the output shaft by the servo gear unit."
What this might mean: Figuring out how to most efficiently get power from the motor to the wheels in an EV is one of the big technological challenges in the automotive industry today. Hyundai is rightfully proud of the fact that the Ioniq Electric is the most efficient EV offered for sale in the US, but that doesn't mean things can't be improved. In this case, Hyundai is proposing, "an automotive transmission that can be manufactured in a simple configuration at a low cost, prevent torque interruption, and provide smooth shifting, thereby improving the commercial value of a vehicle." What's most interesting about this patent is that Hyundai's brand new EV, the Ioniq Electric, doesn't use anything like what's described here, and instead has a single-speed reduction gear. In other words, if you see "synchromesh" in a future press release about Hyundai's electric vehicle, you know where it came from.
Freescale Semiconductor: Electricity generating tires
Patent says: "An apparatus for installation within a tire for a vehicle includes a flexible arm and a power generating element coupled to the flexible arm for generating electrical energy. One end of the flexible arm is coupled to a rim of the tire. The opposing end of the flexible arm is configured to be in contact with the inside tread surface of the tire. The flexible arm is capable of deformation in response to a variability of distance between the rim and the inside tread surface during rolling movement of the tire, and the power generating element generates the electrical energy in response to deformation of the flexible arm. The apparatus may be combined with a tire pressure sensor module as a system so as to provide electrical energy for powering the tire pressure sensor module."
What this might mean: From the say-what-now? files, we bring you this little tidbit. Sure, you'll never be able to power a car, but Freescale (which merged with NXP Semiconductors late last year) apparently thinks that there's electricity to be harvested from the inside of a tire. Enough to power a pressure sensor, anyway. Aren't patents fun?
Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office