Regenerative braking technology, where kinetic energy of a vehicle in motion is transferred back into on-board electric systems, has been used in public trains for some time and in race cars somewhat more recently. Nissan Motor Co. has plans to bring regenerative braking to its Japanese Serena S-Hybrid minivan in order to squeeze out extra miles per gallon. Automotive News reports that the Nissan S-Hybrid will be a different kind of hybrid than the Toyota Prius of Honda Insight.
Smart and simple regenerative braking
According to Nissan, The Serena S-Hybrid’s electric motor won’t use torque to power the wheels as other hybrids on the market do. Regenerative braking will convert the kinetic energy of motion into electrical power. This power is stored in a supplemental lead-acid battery that serves to power on-board systems, freeing the engine to deliver great fuel efficiency. Combined with stop-start technology and a more powerful starter, the hybrid engine receives a significant boost when firing cylinders from standstill.
The “S” in Nissan S-Hybrid reportedly stands for “smart and simple,” and Nissan expects that regenerative braking will boost fuel economy by as much as 10 percent. The cost of the system, estimated at $1,910, compares favorably with the $6,370 cost for the 40 percent fuel economy boost in full hybrids like the Prius, says Nissan. It is unclear at this time whether Nissan will incorporate regenerative breaking technology into vehicles outside of Japan.
Other automakers follow suit
In addition to Nissan’s explorations in regenerative braking technology, Mazda’s redesigned Mazda6 sedan will boast similar technology. Called the i-Eloop, Mazda’s sedan (available in the U.S. in early 2013) will use a capacitor to store kinetic energy to power engine control, lights, fuel pump and air conditioning. Suzuki’s Wagon R minicar, which will use a lithium ion battery as part of a regenerative braking system, will hit Japan in September. BMW already uses a regenerative alternator that is clutched only when the engine is on overrun.
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More on how regenerative braking works
The Nissan S-Hybrid will use an intelligent electronic braking system that replaces the usual booster with a high-precision motor and computer. This will allow for more precise control of friction and regenerative braking while maintaining a natural brake pedal feeling. Thermal energy generated by the vehicle’s brakes will convert to electrical energy, as the engine stops and the vehicle’s ECO motor engages to create the charge that replenishes a pair of 12-volt batteries.
When the car needs to move again, the ECO motor works as a starter, reigniting the gas engine. This differs from a traditional gasoline engine in that with a gas engine, on-board electrical systems are powered by an engine-driven alternator. Fuel efficiency is reduced by the constant parasitic draw of power.