Could Volvo’s high-tech flywheel project really help save gas – and change hybrids as we know them?

Volvo Line-UpA Volvo test of an experimental high-tech flywheel-based energy capture system in a S60 reveals that the technology could help to reduce a car’s fuel consumption by up to 25 percent. Could the technology be coming soon to their lineup?

The system, known as Flywheel KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), is fitted to a vehicle’s rear axle and stores energy captured during braking, a concept related to regenerative braking common in many hybrids. Those braking forces get the flywheel spinning at up to 60,000 revs per minute.  Once the car starts to move again, the energy from the flywheel is transferred to a unique transmission that boosts acceleration form a stop – which requires a large amount of power and therefore gas – or it can be used during cruising to boost mpg. KERS is also currently used in top-tier auto racing.

Since cars were invented, energy generated during braking has been dissipated as heat and transferred to the car’s brake systems, which consisted of brake drums early on and later, disc brakes. But KERS changes that in a big way.

In the Volvo KERS system, the gas-powered combustion engine that drives the front wheels is switched off as soon as braking begins.  As the brake pedal is pushed, the kinetic energy of the car’s forward motion is stored in the spinning flywheel system. Energy generated from its rotation can then be used to accelerate the vehicle or to power it when cruising, according to Volvo’s official press release on the technology. The system is transparent to the driver; car controls and car behavior are largely normal. And yes, the car still has “normal” brakes for quick stops.

KERS Flywheel

First tested in a Volvo 260 back in the 1980s, the propulsion system has been limited in the past by the weight of the steel used to make flywheels, which limits its rotation capability.  The flywheel used by Volvo in their test S60 was instead made of carbon fiber, which is much lighter but allows higher rotational speeds. 

Combined with the combustion engine’s full capacity, the KERS system can provide a vehicle with up to 80 more instant horsepower and helped the S60 accelerate from 0 to 100 kmh in 5.5 seconds. Since the technology relies on energy captured during braking, it’s more efficient in city driving where a vehicle typically engages in more stops and starts. Also, no spendy and possibly toxic batteries are required.

KERS is already used in Formula One (F1) racing where it can give a race car a brief (usually 3 seconds or so) surge of power for passing – or it can be used to avoid being passed. It was first used in 2009, then banned in 2010, then allowed again starting in 2011. According to a post on the F1 website, there are three types of KERS systems, including the flywheel system Volvo is testing. There is the electrical system used by the racers and in consumers’ hybrids (using regenerative braking), and a hydraulic system that would use pressure to provide the power boost.

The F1 post says the system is in use “to promote the development of environmentally friendly and road car-relevant technologies in Formula One racing; and secondly to aid overtaking. A chasing driver can use his boost button to help him pass the car in front, while the leading driver can use his boost button to escape.”

Still, the KERS flywheel technology could give Volvo a much needed edge as more carmakers look for ways to meet the needs of urban commuters looking for more fuel-efficient cars.

Paired with a hotter line-up of sub-compact to smaller mid-sized cars, the KERs technology could help steer the Swedish carmaker out of the challenges it experienced last year when it saw a reported sales drop of 6.1 percent.


Volvo plans to face the future without sacrificing its identity

Volvo is embarking on an ambitious push to fill its lineup with electric and hybrid cars, as well as an infotainment partnership with Google. Volvo Americas CEO Anders Gustafsson explains how the Swedish automaker plans to pull that off.

Apple Event speculation, Google Home vs. Echo Show, flying car for sale

On today's episode: Apple announces future announcements and we'll speculate as to what they will be. We'll have a live Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show comparison, including a whispering Alexa. Facebook makes another creepy device…

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 packs Snapdragon 850 into Always Connected Windows 2-in-1

The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 is set to go on sale at the start of November and should be a solid addition the collection of Always Connected Windows laptops. It packs a Snapdragon 850 and a 20-hour battery.

Heads up, George Jetson: Terrafugia starts taking orders for its flying car

The Terrafugia Transition flying car will go on sale next year, roughly a decade after the first prototype rolled out of its hangar. Terrafugia promises improvements, including a hybrid powertrain, to make up for the long wait.

Lyft has a new fixed-price subscription plan for frequent passengers

Lyft wants you to save money by using rideshare services instead of owning a car. The new Lyft All-Access Plan monthly rideshare trip subscription includes 30 rides a month with a small discount for additional trips.

Could the next Mazda3 boast a fuel-saving breakthrough in engine tech?

Mazda released a teaser video that likely previews the next Mazda3. Expected to make its global debut at the L.A. auto show, the next 3 will wear a more curvaceous design and offer one of the most advanced engines in the automotive…
Product Review

Audi's new A8 is so sophisticated and serene, it practically deletes potholes

The 2019 Audi A8’s outline looks promising: Level 3 autonomous driving capability, haptic-feedback infotainment screens, rear-wheel steering, Matrix LED headlights and OLED taillights, plus a predictive suspension.

Workhorse takes on diesel with lighter, cheaper NGEN-1000 electric delivery van

Ohio-based Workhorse Group claims its new NGEN-1000 electric delivery van costs the same as a conventional diesel van and can haul a similar amount of cargo. A lower curb weight makes this possible.

Forget transponders with Peasy’s nationwide pay-as-you-go toll service

Verra Mobility launched Peasy, a consumer highway and bridge toll payment service. Designed to be less hassle than managing traditional transponder or toll tag accounts, Peasy pays tolls as they are levied across most of the U.S.

Just 10 people will get to put this limited-edition Audi R8 in their garages

The 2018 Audi R8 V10 Plus Competition makes use of Audi's motor sports experience to turn up the performance dial. Decreased weight and increased aerodynamic downforce make this R8 a track monster.

Porsche’s all-electric Taycan sedan will cost less than a Panamera

Porsche's Mission E concept won't change much as it transitions to a production model named Taycan that's scheduled to arrive in 2019. That means the sedan will keep the sleek design and its 800-volt charging system.

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

Modification has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. Here are 25 of the best tuner cars you can find, ranging from American muscle standouts to Japanese drift cars.

Tesla keeps promise with more affordable Model 3 with midrange battery pack

Tesla is keeping its promise of making the Model 3 gradually more affordable. The company released a new variant of the car with a mid-range, 260-mile battery option that's priced under the $50,000 mark.

The snake escapes: Ford’s 700-hp Mustang GT500 slithers online ahead of schedule

The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 will return in 2019 with over 700 horsepower, Ford confirmed at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show. The GT500 will be the most powerful Ford production car ever.