BMW desires to use NASA technology to boost fuel efficiency of its luxury cars and in turn reduce harmful emissions.
Skilled and talented BMW engineers are experimenting to adapt the thermoelectric system for cars in BMW's high tech experimental lab in Palo Alto, California. The thermoelectric system is used by the scientists at NASA to power their deep space probes that navigate to the solar system.
The thermoelectric system uses radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) that transform the heat emitted from naturally decaying plutonium into electricity. BMW desires to bring the same concept to its entire range of car models.
Commenting on the BMW’s desire, BMW’S director of vehicle integration, Hans Rathgeber, said, “I firmly believe that when you look at this technology in 20 years, this will be the key issue that will replace everything else.” He also added that a motor with a power output of 200 kilowatts (kw) generally creates 400 kw thermal energy as a waste by-product. Recycling this thermal energy needs a non-hazardous material that can conduct electricity while resisting heat.
The skilled BMW engineers decided to use a semiconductor Bismuth Telluride as a significant link between the exhaust and the car's engine coolant. This will help power the thermoelectric cycle in the car’s engine. To this, Hans feel that batteries are preferable to store this energy.
Hans Rathgeber further commented, “When you have brake energy recovery (as with hybrids), you produce and trap electricity in a battery every time you take your foot off the pedal. With the thermoelectric generator, electricity is produced every time you step on the gas so it's an ideal supplement.” He also said that a sedan like 530i could experience a reduction of fuel consumption by about 13% with the use of thermoelectric generator.
According to BMW this alternative energy will be used in series of production after about 5 to six years. The company also claims that as the technology is costly the prices of the BMW cars will also be increased considerably.