back to article EA exec punts 96,000rpm e-car engine

One of the highlights of the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens on 4 December, will be a jet-powered electric car. Called the CMT-380, the vehicle has been developed by microturbine specialist Capstone with help from Electronic Arts' Chief Creative Director, Richard Hilleman, who presumably is tired of only driving far- …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    It has EA's involvement.....

    ... so it's bound to be shit.

    1. Mike Gravgaard


      Umm that's a bit harsh...

      They did make Deluxe Paint and the IFF file format if I remember right back in the day (DPaint is still used by alot of graphics design people - I know of about 5 I could put names to off the top of my head). Photoshop might be good for remastering photos, Dpaint is good for pictures from scratch.


  2. Witty username
    Thumb Up


    An electric car that looks (like a car) absoultly brilliant? Has someone been snorting common sense?! ;D

  3. Number6

    Old News

    I sketched out a design similar to this several years ago. I don't know if they've got the refinement of being able to use the battery in parallel with the full generator output to boost acceleration over short distances. I also threw in regenerative brakes for good measure.

    The main thing stopping me back then was getting hold of a suitable-sized turbine (and lack of cash).

  4. fifi
    Thumb Up

    at last...

    an electric/hybrid that I'd happily drive.

  5. John Robson Silver badge

    Jet engines

    Have long been the way to do this - glad someone's worked it out...

    Servicing a jet is fairly simple - they're effectively only one moving part after all...

  6. Stan 2


    At last someone has had the sense to use a power plant intended to run a generator, not some antiquated lump intended to work over a wide speed range, ie. jack of all trades, master of none. Once this gets a good looking at the hybrid car will be feasible, as it is hybrid designs are just an extra piece of inefficiency in an already inefficient design,

    Number6, have a look at turbines built from turbo's. You've probably already seen them but it's what I was planing to use if I ever get around to trying it, god help the alternator bearings though :)

  7. Andy 97
    Thumb Up

    Great idea

    Finally we can have cars that sound like the ones in THX 1138.

    Actually, I'm surprised nobody came up with this idea earlier.

    I hope someone like Saab (Koenigsegg) or Audi will have a go and see what could really be achieved.

    I think the earlier comment about EA was a bit rough.

  8. dr2chase

    30 kW = 40hp

    That's an appropriate amount of power for an auto (I learned in a 42hp Saab) but not something I'd associate with a "super car", and probably not adequate to go 150mph without soap-bar streamlining.

    Did they perhaps drop a zero?

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      @ dr2chase: you're forgetting something

      This is used to RECHARGE, not to drive the main train. You can buffer a good amount of power to get up to speed, you don't need the turbine to produce the power continuously - unless you want to maintain that speed.

      However, you make in the process one very important point.

      Fuel consumption at higher speeds can become simply ludicrous - I've done speeds that made my car use over 5x as much fuel as at UK national speed limits due to roll resistance and wind (the irresistible, temporary temptation of a totally empty, straight 5km stretch of German Autobahn :-).

      Making a car go very, very fast is thus IMHO mildly counter productive if your aim is fuel economy..

      1. Anonymous Coward

        your forgetting one thing

        its called a gearbox!

        Your car is geared so that it can drive at 1-2000 rpm and serious efficiency all the way to 50mph

        at 70 your doing 3-4000rpm

        at 90 your doing 4-6000rpm

        so when you take it all the way up to 7-9000 rpm of course its drinking 5 times the fuel... if you want speed and efficeincy change your gear box!!

  9. Steven Jones

    Not a Jet Engine

    A jet engine is a reaction engine - that is where there is a reaction mass expelled at high speed to generate thrust via various arrangements of fans, compressors, combustion chamber and the like (there are some none combustion powered jet engines, but not so common). The class is quite wide, so the exact details vary quite a lot,. However, if it doesn't work through the thrust produced by a reaction mass. This is not a jet engine...

    It is a miniaturised gas turbine used to power a generator.


  10. Michael C

    price is the only obstacle

    microturbines are the future of electric drive enxtended range vehicles. UNFORTUNATELY, engines like the c30 are about $25K today. Even with mass production, and some laxes in build tolerances (since it would only need to last 10 years used a few hours a day, not 24x7 like the c30 generators it;s designed to power), the exotic materials in said engine will forever keep the prices about $10K. Even streatching current electric/gas hybrids from 60MPG to 100MPG is not enough over 250,000 miles to justify the cost. The difference in price between this engine and a basic cheap hybrid car needs to be within $3,000 (and that hybrid itself not more than $2K higher than a regular car).

    If they could take the 30kw engine and par it down to a 15 or 20, it would not save more than 3 or 4K in build costs. That's not enough.

    Now, where this DOES have potential in in large vehicles. a $25K engine putting out 150-200Kw, if they could be made that cheap, could potentially bring the possibility of heavy trucks being powered by elecric drive. Some large capacitors allow for a smaller generator yet still could put out 400+Kw for acceleration. 2 motors at 220Kw each, or perhaps 4 at 150 each would provide enough torque to pull a double length trailer, and the encine cavity can easily support a large scale generator and battry system costing $15-20K more than a traditional deisel setup. That 5-10K could easily be recouped quickly in the trucking industry where $3/gallon diesel at even just a 25% efficincy improvement could be $5-10K anually in savings.

    Most cars see less than 150K miles in 10 years, so hybrid costs are so high as they will never make financial sence, only environmental sense. However, big rigs that see that king of mileage anually could EASILY benefit. Even smaller heavy trucks like utility vehicles, garbage trucks, tow trucks, fire trucks, and more could use similar but smaller scale systems (actually, not much larger than the sports car setup, just with bigger motors for more acceleration torque and capacitors to push the juice instead of a motor and battery alone.

    1. Mike Gravgaard


      Umm mass production will drive down prices - look at processor speeds and harddrive prices compared to years ago...

      In 1989, a XT 20MB harddive cost around £600, now you can get a 20GB IDE drive for around what £50? Price goes down as production goes up and as people develope the idea.

  11. The Original Ash

    A lot like The Matrix

    "Combined with a form of fusion, they'd found all the power they'd need."

    With 80 mile range on the batteries, and 420 on the turbine, what's the point of the battery? Remove batteries, improve efficiency of the system to compensate for reduced weight, and bring to market. If electric motors are more economical than the regular combustion engine and mechanical transmission of energy, then this is a winner.

    The batteries are probably only there so they can hop on the green bandwagon; Good for publicity, but ultimately pointless.

    Either way, a turbine powered car would be awesome.

    1. Swedish Chef


      The batteries come in handy when you need a lot of power (i.e. accelerate). They also allow for regenerative braking. Whether they financially make sense remains to be seen.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    I want one now

    The engine that power my home and get off the grid.

  13. Stuart 2

    96,000 RPM seems like a bad idea

    Having the engine spin at 96,000 RPM seems like a really bad idea.

    (a) it's not very efficient

    (b) the wear would be terrible

    (c) if it breaks it will be pretty spectacular

    (d) the gyroscopic effect will reduce handling

    1. Mike Gravgaard


      Um but doesn't it have air bearing so wear would be low.

      "(d) the gyroscopic effect will reduce handling"

      Not necessarily, it depends on how its mounted I believe - I agree with you but jet engine planes have the same issue.

      I had an NC30 many a few years ago (Honda VFR400 NC30) it would rev to 16000RPM and do 60MPH in first gear OK so there are better bikes now but it shows what you can do (but then this was Japanese designed and not American or British).

    2. Anonymous Coward

      ermm but

      A) Actually More Efficent - 1 moving part no direction changes (like pistons). efficency equivilent is stated in the article! - where did you get your superior knowledge from?

      B) Bearings for the job. aeroplanes work fine as do ships both use gas turbines. in this case air bearings so no wear! - unless of course you know better?

      C) yes just like all those failling aeroplanes that keep spectacularly raining out of the sky. Just design it properly! - is there something you know that we don't?

      D) Yes just like the reduced handeling on your Ipod (original 5400rpm hdd version) - gyroscopic effect is really only noticeable with weighted flywheels in this case the weight will be at a minimum and mainly axial (a heavy shaft not a heavy wheel) and the rotating mass will be less that 0.5% of the weight of the vehicle.. this wont be noticeable at all, but if your worried mount it in another axis say vertically then it would prevent roll!

      Talking of gyroscopics didnt someone in formula one use a flywheel Kers system? wonder why they didn't consder the handling issues?

      Unless of course you posses some kind of superior knowledge, please enlighten us with a little bit more detail...

  14. Paul_Murphy

    So that's one jet engine...

    How many more before it can fly?

    Seriously good idea though, especially the range of fuels it can use (petrol and diesel as well I would hope) so pretty flexible.

    Now all it needs is a useful bodyshell - and estate for instance.


  15. James Hughes 1

    about time too.

    Although the 300degC (ish) exhaust temp might need cooling down. Could be a great way of defrosting the windows though.

    Even at the current 80mpg this is a pretty good prototype. With a bit of work, I would have thought 100mpg should be possible. i.e. regen braking, better management of heat from exhaust (can you get some back to leccy?), more efficient turbine, better aero.

    Serving should be pretty much the same as turbo chargers, after all, they are pretty much the same thing. Turbines are also very small compared to current engines. You don't need so many batteries as you have backup, so the overall weight could be lower than a conventional car.

  16. Nexox Enigma

    Not a bad idea

    I too have been wondering about a turbine for a hybrid, since I want to drive something with a turbine, but they take a while to spool up, plus provide something like 60% of their maximum power at idle, which would make it tricky with a standard power train. Of course all that idle power is perfect for generating electricity, and the batteries can pick up the slack while the turbine spins up.

    Turbine engines do have a wonderful power to weight ratio, since they are largely composed of empty space, and they tend to run on just about anything, but generally they struggle for 20% fuel efficiency, whereas a smallish diesel can usually peg 35% without too much trouble.

    And regen brakes are part of the package automatically if you use DC motors for locomotion. Presumably the motors are the limiting factor on power, since the turbine can charge the batteries while powering them, it probably doesn't need much extra power for acceleration.

    Since I don't really care much about mileage, I wonder if I could do a hybrid with just enough battery to fill in the gaps while the turbine spools, and possibly gain something from regen breaks, then fit that and 2 160HP+ motors into a Lotus... Sounds like a far better idea than a tesla to me : -)

  17. 3kids2cats1dog

    Turbin engine good. Piston Bad

    I want one with an after burner!!!!

  18. captain veg Silver badge

    and not a bad looker, either

    You're never going to go far wrong if you trace the design of a GT40.


  19. Neil Stansbury

    @Stuart 2

    Alas Stuart wrong on evey single one of your points:

    1. Gas turbines are VERY efficient at high RPMs that why they are frequently used in aircraft (you may have heard of this). It also means they can be tuned to be very efficient as they only operate at a very narrow RPM once spooled up.

    2. The wear isn't terrible, the diagram show that it uses air bearings (foil in this case) which are VERY reliable and VERY efficient

    3. These don't break - they only have one moving part... one reason they are so reliable

    4. Gyroscopic Effect - Huh? How big do you think these things are? These turbines are tiny!

    0 out of 4 - Oops!

    This is really a more efficient 1960's use that could run on tequila!!


  20. Steve X
    Thumb Up

    Rover 2000

    Rover created a turbine version of the 2000, back in the 60s. It managed single-digit MPG and filled the garage with oily smoke when started! Biggest problem was turbo lag, several seconds elapsed between hitting the accelerator and getting power. The hybrid model should deal withn most of those problems, it looks like a neat and compact solution to the problem of a compact, powerful and economical 'top-up' for the batteries. Make it plugin for short journeys, and this could be a lot more practical than diesel/petrol hybrids, if the cost issues can be resolved. Turbines can burn almost anything, so I can see a big problem with taxing the fuel. How do you stop people using cheap 'untaxed' fuels?

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @Michael C

    "microturbines are the future of electric drive enxtended range vehicles. UNFORTUNATELY, engines like the c30 are about $25K today. Even with mass production, and some laxes in build tolerances (since it would only need to last 10 years used a few hours a day, not 24x7 like the c30 generators it;s designed to power), the exotic materials in said engine will forever keep the prices about $10K."

    Capstone do micro co-generation (heat & electricity) in the 200Kw range already. Price is (IIRC) c$1000/WK.

    It might be interesting to find out what the going price for car piston engines was in the early 1900s. Inflation adjusted I suspect it will not be much lower than current gas turbine prices. When production volumes go from 10s /year (early 1900s, and modern F1 engines) to 1 000 000x per year prices go down a *lot*. The learning curve (price drop for each doubling in volume) is quite substantial when the volume change is roughly 2^13.

    The pressumption that they will *always* be more expensive due to the exotic material is a doctrine of impotence.

    Industrial and aircraft gas turbines trade simple cooling design for more expensive materials. A mass produced design would justify using lower performance materials with a cleverer design. The engineering equivalent of writing the core of the original Mac OS in assembly for speed and compactness.

    The AEA developed the FeCrAlY range of steels for the purpose of getting an affordable oxidation reisstant high temeparture alloy. Nickel (the favorite bulk element of aerospace high temp superalloys) is c$14k/tonne, iron (last time I looked) c$800/tonne. Chromium is much closer to Iron than Nickel in price.

    The foil air bearing replace precision ground pins and spheres (roller and ball bearings) with metal foils (commonly called shim stock and a standard engineering form). This is standard practice in aircraft "Air Cycle Machines" or APUs, which this unit most resembles (It's claimed no mfg has used roller or ball bearings in ACM's since the designs of the mid 80s).

    Cutting down the unique parts count means few parts to design (but each is more complex), fewer to make, test and assemble. A US mfg has tested a turbine rotor built up of photo-etched shims which were diffusion bonded together. However this has not proved competitve with making them by casting or machining from a block, as the turbos of some US truck engines (19lb starting, 4lb finishing, 19 hours to machine) are.

    OTOH if someone decided to run with this they might make a single diffusion bonded block to incorporate not just the rotor, but its casing, connections, holes for sensors, combustion chamber, injectors etc in 1 big block. Diffusion bond several complete units in 1 press run and machine the individual major components out of the seperated individual packages. Were you to incorporate "perforations" in the shim patterns components could be seperated out by etching, EDM or high speed machining.

    Mines the one with a copy of Instruments & Experiences in the side pocket.

    Toodle pip.

  22. Brett Brennan 1

    Chrysler solved most of these problems in 1965

    When I was about 10 years old, Chrysler release their prototype Turbine Car for consumer test drives in the US. While not a hybrid, it attained efficiency comparable to contemporary sedans (and remember, gasoline was running about US$0.13/gal back then) and had very, very minor acceleration delays due to turbine lag. More importantly, Chrysler had cracked the cost barriers for mass-production of the engine. The vehicle was never introduced mainly due to the need to revamp servicing departments to be able to handle the precision repairs and rebuild (the concept of complete unit swap and depot repair hadn't really been invented yet), and the fact that, other than being different, the turbine really didn't improve upon existing engine technology in a way that a consumer could see.

    Alas, even today the turbine market is tenuous at best. Diesel technology has advanced tremendously in 40 years - actually incorporating many of the alloys and techniques developed for gas turbines in the process - and is built upon existing service industry practices. Even with depot repair (like airliners use when they swap engines overnight) the changes in service practices and facilities would be too expensive for most auto dealers to swallow...and the DEALERS, not consumers of the manufacturers, are the ones that really control the market.

    Personally I'd love to see turbines come into general use. In the long-term this would certainly pay off, especially in simplifying the drive train, reducing weight, and making cars interesting again! (I've oft though of getting a Garrett or Allied APU and fitting it to my MG...)

  23. 100113.1537

    Maybe the Volt wasn't such a bad idea?

    I am surprised how many people here sound approving when all I heard about the Chevy Volt was bad! The idea of having a fully electric drive-train means that you can use whatever you like to re-charge the battery. The Volt was designed so that they can stick pretty much anything in it to - from a conventional petrol or diesel engine to a fuel-cell or, one presumes a whizzy micro-turbine.

    I want to see something with 4 in-hub motors (the Honda insight uses these for the rear wheels only) and do away with transmission and gear-box altogether. Electric motors have plenty of torque at low revs anyway so who needs a gear box and you can save a lot of weight that way. You might need some snazzy electronics to replace mechanical differentials, but aren't they already in use?

    Any engineers out there who can give the numbers on how fast 4 25KW motors can drive a relatively light car? You can save a lot of weight by kicking out the transmission and with a turbine like this, you may not need too much in the way of battery either.

  24. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Gyroscopic forces

    1 word.


    These peripheral combustion engines had a large spinning rotor as standard and (IIrc) they typically only had 1 rotor, despite the classic solution for gyroscopic force concerns being to have 2 spinning things (of whatever sort) contra-rotating back to back. The classic case being the engine for the Harrier, which are the only gas turbine I know with contra-rotating spools (drive shafts).

    I have never seen anyone comment on Wankel vehicles having trouble cornering.

    In fairness such forces are proportiional to the rotor speed squared and linear with rotor mass. The gyroscopic forces it excerts on its mounting might be surprising for its size, but not massive in an absolute sense.

    Mine's the one with the A level Physics text book in it.

  25. James Hughes 1


    In answer to some questions above.

    4x25KW motors = 134ish horsepower.

    Plenty enough to get my old Rover 216 GTi to over 120mph. In something smaller and lighter (Elise?), good for 150 at least, with 0-60 in less than about 5 seconds (Remember, no gear changes = faster acceleration, 4 wheel drive + traction control = maximum grip).

    You still need batteries to buffer the power from the engine - you cannot directly link the turbine to the transmission. Also allows regen braking, and gives more power for acceleration. Also means you only need to run the turbine at its optimum RPM when you need to charge. Then turn it off again.

    Gyroscopic forces. Model jet planes don't suffer too badly, and their turbines are only a bit smaller.

  26. Stan 2


    4 25KW motors would give you the same kind of speed as a 120KW car, about 20% of crank output is lost in the drive train. OK, 120something but I cant be bothered to do the sums and 20% is very approximate :) The whole "25KW" thing is a bit misleading as DC motors are almost always used and their power output is based on duty cycle, a motor that could give a constant 25KW (again, misleading. The duty cycle is based on torque and kind of independent to speed) could give you well over 100KW for short bursts, you may well get over 160mph for a short period but would only be able to hold 100mph for long periods. The sustained speed would more likely be limited by what the generator can produce.

    All this is going to be a real pain in the ass with hybrids and electric vehicles, manufacturers will be making all kinds of claims of '140mph runabout scutbox' and '120mpg' when the reality is 'an optimistic 140mph for 0.2 seconds, 55mph continuous' (can be much higher but then the motors start getting very expensive. Check sportsbike alternators) and '120mpg in urban conditions, never exceeding 15mph. 60mpg cruising' (regenerative braking, very little loss due to wind resistance). Good figures in their own right but definitely 'small print' and nothing to say they have to print it, let alone us read it.

    Urban conditions are where the juicy numbers live, until power units come along (this engine being a good start) that give a lot better than the crappy 30ish% efficiency of current infernal combustion units then cruising figures will be slightly worse than conventional drive trains due to the extra weight of batteries.


  27. Edward Welbon

    I'd prefer that mine have two wheels

    This seems like an interesting possibility for a motor-bike, the power is on par with that of the KTM SM690 or the Aprilia SVX 450/550 provided the motor could be used to significantly lighten those bikes... Maybe this is how Suzuki will one day build the 75Kg equivalent of the GSXR-1K (a perfect use of the technology). Sign me up.

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Noe on Capstone pricing

    I meant $1000/Kw. So a 200Kw package is roughly $200k. This is (iirc) a full package in a cabinet. Add fuel, cooling and power lines and it's ready to start powering your stuff.

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