Ford To Test Range-Saving “Breakthrough” Heating System in Focus Electric

5 years ago by Eric Loveday 9

Ford Will Test a Heating and Cooling System That is Claimed to Draw Almost No Energy from the Vehicle's Battery

Ford Will Test a Heating and Cooling System That is Claimed to Draw Almost No Energy from the Vehicle’s Battery

Owners of electric vehicles who reside in northern regions of the world know that using the vehicle’s heating system depletes range.  It’s no different for those who reside in areas where temps soar above 90 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis, which basically requires the use of the vehicle’s range-sapping air conditioning system.

But what if there was a method for generating heat or cooling a cabin that doesn’t deplete range?  Electric vehicle owners would rejoice, right?

 A prototype heating and cooling system for electric vehicles works without battery power.

A prototype heating and cooling system for electric vehicles works without battery power.

Well, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claim to have stumbled upon a breakthrough HVAC system that draws almost no energy.  This system, which theoretically wouldn’t reduce range by a noticeable amount, will first be tested by Ford in the Focus Electric in less than two year’s time.

The HVAC project is funded by a $2.7 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.  The system, which is similar to a heat exchanger, is described by MIT as a thermal battery. It’s based on the idea of using materials that store a high volume of coolant in a compact unit.  The coolant that travels through the unit can be used to either heat or cool the vehicle’s cabin.

It’s tricky stuff, so we’ll turn to the experts at MIT Technology Review for an explanation of how the system functions:

“As the material adsorbs water molecules, heat is released; it can be run through a radiator and dissipated into the atmosphere when the system is used for cooling, or it can be used to warm up the passenger compartment. The system requires very little electricity—just enough to run a small pump and fans to blow cool or warm air.”

“Eventually the absorbent can’t take in any more water, but the system can be “recharged” by heating the absorbent above 200 °C. This causes it to release the water, which is condensed and returned to a reservoir.”

Notice that it has to be recharged?  That process takes four hours, but work is being done right now to find an absorbent that absorbs more water or one that can be “recharged” quicker.  Zeolite is one possibility, as is something described as a “metal organic framework, whose properties can be systematically changed by varying the composition of organic materials that link microscopic clusters of metal.”

Why 2 years before it’s ready for in-vehicle testing?  Well, MIT researchers still need to find a way to shrink the size of the unit, which right now is not at the target size need for implementation in a production vehicle.

But in two year’s time, if all goes as planned, then range in extreme temps won’t vary so dramatically simply because the HVAC system is in use.

via MIT Technology Review

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9 responses to "Ford To Test Range-Saving “Breakthrough” Heating System in Focus Electric"

  1. Brian says:

    Recharging the unit doesn’t seem a big problem to me, provided the car can do this while plugged in without drawing too much extra power from the wall. It already takes 4 hours to recharge the FFE (since we’re talking about Ford here). Why not recharge the heater/chiller at the same time? The key is that it needs to be a closed system (i.e. doesn’t require you add water every day), but it sounds like it is.

  2. GeorgeS says:

    Is this something like an ammonia refrigeration cycle like used in an RV refrigerator?

  3. Driverguy01 says:

    that would be a breakthrough, next make a home unit. That technology would be a game changer and not only for cars.

  4. Vincent says:

    I like this idea.

    That’s exactly what we need in Qc. We already have a lto of EV, but the cold is a problem for the range. We can maybe use propane or ethanol like Volvo is doing with the C30 EV. But since that our electricity is really cheap here. Heating the car before to leave and store heat make a lot of sense and will be 0 emission for us since that the electricity come from hydro.

  5. David Murray says:

    I guess there is a lot of room for such breakthrough ideas. People really haven’t spent a lot of time improving heaters in vehicles since gasoline vehicles essentially have free heat. Even air conditioning hasn’t been much of an issue since it barely affects fuel economy.

    1. Brian says:

      Actually, air conditioning affects the range of my Leaf much less than it affects the fuel economy of my ICE. A/C is an instant 15-20% hit in an ICE, but seem to be less than 5% in the Leaf.

  6. Kickincanada says:

    Honestly this is the most interesting seemingly realistic news I’ve heard on this topic. Very cool. I also don’t see an issue with the recharge time given u plug in to charge anyway. Honestly stuff like this plus battery technology advancements point to an exciting future.

  7. Priusmaniac says:

    I thought it was a thermoacoustic heat pump, but it is rather an absorption system. It will need to be regenerated and cannot double as a generator, but it is true that the regeneration could take place when the car is plugged in, so it would not affect range.
    The question that remains though is what happens after the absorber is full, do you lose all heating or cooling, does a conventional resistor take over?

    1. Brian says:

      I would hope that it would be designed to either provide more heating/cooling than the car can use (given that the battery needs to be recharged at some point), OR have some kind of inexpensive backup system.