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Formula 1 technology spotlight: Energy recovery systems

Previously, we discussed Formula 1's new 1.6-liter turbo V6 internal-combustion engine and the restrictions on its fuel use. Let's move on to the electric component of this era's hybrid power unit.

The energy recovery system--ERS for short--uses two motor-generator units (MGU) to harness heat that is normally wasted, convert that into electricity, and feed the electric power back to the drivetrain. In addition, the system has a battery (otherwise called the energy store), as well as a control unit to ensure the seamless operation of the entire system.

Let's take a look at the MGUs. The first one, known as the MGU-K (for kinetic), is attached to the engine output shaft, and basically functions in a similar way to the old kinetic energy recovery system (KERS). It acts as a generator under deceleration, capturing the heat generated by the rear brakes, and storing most of that energy in the battery. During acceleration, it then functions as a motor, receiving from the battery and returning to the drivetrain a maximum of 4MJ of energy per lap.

That translates to a power contribution of 160hp for about 33sec per lap. Compare that to the boost provided by KERS in the past: 80hp for less than 7sec per lap. And where KERS required the driver to press a button in order for the boost to be deployed, energy flow and power delivery via the ERS are managed by the control unit. That said, the driver still has an "overtake" button at his disposal for short bursts of full power.

Now, here is where things get a touch complicated. The battery may send 4MJ to the MGU-K, as mentioned, but the MGU-K may store in the battery only 2MJ of energy per lap. Where does the rest of the juice come from?

That's courtesy of the MGU-H (for heat) attached to the turbocharger. This new element utilizes the excess rotational speed and pressure from the turbine to convert exhaust gases into electrical energy, which is either stored in the battery to top out the latter's 4MJ capacity, or sent directly to the MGU-K for deployment to the drivetrain. Unlike its K counterpart, the MGU-H isn't subject to energy-flow restrictions--it may send as much energy as it can spare to the battery and to the MGU-K.

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Crucially, the MGU-H also plays a role in controlling the turbo's rotation. Off the line or at slow corner exits, it acts as a motor to spool up the turbocharger, thereby eliminating turbo lag. For this purpose, it may draw power from the battery or from the MGU-K. At speed, it then goes about its other duty of electrical-energy generation from exhaust gases.

Why the complicated energy-flow restrictions? The logical answer is that it would force the full development of ERS--and, in turn, the power unit--in terms of performance and efficiency. The internal-combustion and electric aspects are both very much essential now, unlike before, when a KERS malfunction came with a penalty of less than half a second per lap.

Below are illustrations from Renault detailing the operation of ERS in various on-track situations.

 

Formula 1 technology spotlight: Energy recovery systems

Formula 1 technology spotlight: Energy recovery systems

Malaysian Grand Prix fast facts
 Circuit  Sepang International Circuit
 Lap distance  5.543km
 Race distance   310.408km (56 laps)
 Lap record  1:34.223, J. Montoya (Williams, 2004) 

 

2013 Malaysian Grand Prix flashback
 Winner  S. Vettel (Red Bull)
 Second place  M. Webber (Red Bull)
 Third place  L. Hamilton (Mercedes)
 Pole position  1:49.674, S. Vettel (Red Bull)
 Fastest lap  1:39.199, S. Perez (McLaren)
 Dry-tire allocation   hard (prime); medium (option) 

 

2014 Malaysian Grand Prix preview and schedule
 Dry-tire allocation  hard (prime); medium (option) 
 Weather forecast  wet (qualifying); wet (race)
 Friday free practice 1  March 28, 10am to 11:30am
 Friday free practice 2  March 28, 2pm to 3:30pm
 Saturday free practice 3   March 29, 1pm to 2pm
 Saturday qualifying  March 29, 4pm
 Sunday race  March 30, 4pm

*Schedule information is in Philippine time.

Sharleen Banzon
Editorial Consultant
An inveterate Formula 1 geek, Sharleen tips the scales at just 50kg because she starves herself to save up for F1 trips.
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