Tuesday 6 December 2016

Wheels of ice; hydrogen from sunflowers – what bizarre trend is next in motoring?

Published 23/12/2015 | 13:20

Lexus commissioned a team of ice-sculpture specialists to examine if, and how, ice could be used instead of traditional alloy metal and rubber.
Lexus commissioned a team of ice-sculpture specialists to examine if, and how, ice could be used instead of traditional alloy metal and rubber.

ONE thing is for sure: the motor industry never stands still.

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Just take a look at two new developments.

One is certainly as seasonal as you can get (maybe a bit unseasonal this year with the mild weather) – it’s a car with wheels made of ice.

The other, is the discovery that sunflowers could produce hydrogen to power our fuel-cell cars of the future.

Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes but for this Christmas week let’s take a look at the two developments outlined.

Lexus has taken their compact crossover, the NX, and managed to craft what it calls the world’s first set of working wheels and tyres made from frozen water. I’m not surprised no one else has tried it.

The company commissioned a team of ice-sculpture specialists to examine if, and how, ice could be used instead of traditional alloy metal and rubber.

I’m not sure where all this is going . . . but the outcome of three months’ work was a set of wheels fitted to an NX.

And here’s the mad bit.

According to Lexus, the car itself was “deep-frozen, stored for five days at -30°C (it started first time, they claim) before being driven off down a London road”.

Giving a really cool (sorry for the pun) edge to the entire affair was the in-wheel LED lighting they added.

The ice was made from softened water which was taken from a moving flow.

That was to make sure it was perfectly clear when it was taken from the freezer.

Lexus did add acrylic inserts to make certain that the wheels would be able to carry the weight of the NX.

Meanwhile, researchers in England say they have found what looks like a really hopeful way of producing hydrogen from sunflower oil.

The experts involved developed an experimental hydrogen generator that uses only sunflower oil, air and water vapour.

As well as that, they had two special catalysts – one nickel-based, the other carbon-based.

Those catalysts were used to store and then release oxygen or carbon dioxide while producing hydrogen. Critically, the new process does not involve burning any fossil fuels.

While fuel cells are regarded as a potential long-term player in reducing our dependency on fossil-fuel derived energy, a major drawback, as of now,

is that the hydrogen still depends on such sources in many cases.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Valerie Dupont, from the University of Leeds: “Producing hydrogen from sunflower oil could provide a more environmentally-friendly alternative by reducing these pollutants while offering an abundant, low-cost and renewable resource that reduces dependence on foreign oil.”

Incidentally, the sunflower oil used in the research is no different from what is sold on grocery shelves.

“We would happily toss our salad with it,” Ms Dupont says.

She added that the process can also work with other types of vegetable oils too.

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