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TdS Report #60: Interview with Rob Wills, Tour de Sol Technical Director

Every year I look forward to an interview with Rob Wills. I learn some details
I missed and a few behind the scenes stories.

"It was a really great Tour. We did a lot of miles, saw a lot of cities, a lot
of EVs. It was a small crew this time, but I think everyone came together and
got to know each other more."

The Tour gave the Most Innovative Vehicle award to the turbine hybrid-electric
bus from Advanced Vehicle Systems. How did that come about? "I think the AVS
bus was great. It is a very clean, series hybrid with the micro-turbine
generator running into the battery, and then the battery running the drive
system. I think that's a model for lots drive trains for the future. The best
thing about it is that it is running on conventional (diesel) fuel and could be
widely adopted quickly. It has very good performance. It looks like it works
very well. I could see that some people could complain about the turbine
whine." Is it true noise level? Or is it that the bus is so quiet that
relative to everything else it is noticeable? Traditional diesel buses are
horribly noisy. "It's probably lower sound pressure, but it's around 3
kiloHertz pitch which tends to go right through you if you are near it for a
long time. You don't notice it when you are walking by." And since the bus
has significant pure-electric range, the turbine would tend to be used on the
highway more than in stop and go traffic.

Another noticeable entry was the "Electric Blue" from Team New Jersey. "Their
fuel cell system was good to see. That was a very good demonstration. Let's
hope we have more development on that front in the future. I think most people
in the fuel cell industry agree that the fuel cell is not the hard part. The
hydrogen infrastructure and storage is the hard part. Whether you do a
reformer, high pressure tank, or a Millennium Cell type of device, it's still a
lot of extra work and equipment that's needed. When I started working with the
hydrogen community 10 years ago John Bockris at Texas A&M and others who
identified the benefits of the `Hydrogen Economy', it seemed like it would be
50 years in the future. But the government is saying that hydrogen looks like
the answer. That is the quantum leap that we saw was needed but thought was
unlikely to occur. With a little luck we will have systems like Millennium
Cell and other methods of storage that are safe, eco-friendly, and earth

Rob was surprised that there were not more private entrants driving the
commercial hybrids. "For most people it comes down to time and money. To take
a week off and do this event is asking a lot. So something that I have been
considering is to have a weekend drive-in for hybrid owners. That would be a
really exciting thing." Maybe they could do an Autocross? An efficiency run
with checkpoints and predefined leg times? Large groups can watch and it
happens in one place. "Maybe have the cars come in on a Friday night, doing
something mainly on Saturday and then have folks leave on Sunday to drive home.
That would make it very practical for many people in the Northeast to do in,
say, Washington or Annapolis. Most hybrid owners have a strong ecological
ethic and might go out of their way to make their message known." They voted
with their feet and wallets already. This would just be another step.

"Summing up."

"What makes a good Tour de Sol? The cars go from the beginning to the end and
everyone comes in safely. For the first time in a Tour de Sol we had an
accident where a vehicle was damaged, not due to the team. They were rearended
by someone else driving at considerable speed; purely operator error on the
other person's part. The vehicle was not badly damaged. There was no acid
leakage from the batteries. The folks driving the EV were OK. We can be
thankful for that. In the end it showed the robustness of their vehicle. They
had done a really good job in their design and construction."

"We also had good team spirit. A number of times I saw people pitch in. One
case was when the rearended car came back to the charging area. There were
about 10 people working on it until 1 o'clock in the morning. Another one like
that was when the tent over the charging trailer blew away in Washington.
There were 15 people, mainly the NHTI (New Hampshire Technical Institute) team,
that just hoped in. The tent was reconstructed and up before you knew it."

"The West Philadelphia team was just brilliant and so much fun. And
`Soljourner 1' beat out the `Solectria Super Force' in efficiency. Some were
convinced that the Soljourner numbers were wrong and they could not be
achieving less than 190 Watt-hours per mile. But the third day results, with
190 Wh/m again, clinched it." Is it possible the high-voltage pack has
something to do with it? I-squared times R? "Yes. I think that is good for 5
to 10 percent, especially at higher loads. And the controller can be more
efficient. It turns out that 400 Volt batteries can work ideally with 600 Volt
IGBTs (Integrated Gate Bipolar Transistors). If you go to lower voltages the
chances are you have different technologies in the controller."

"Finally is the educational aspect. You only have to look at our stop in
Philadelphia which I think was the highlight from that viewpoint. Lots and
lots of people learning about electric vehicles and a cleaner environment."

- - - -
The complete set of Tour de Sol Reports for 2002 can be found at:
The complete set of past Tour de Sol Reports can be found at:
- - - -
The above is Copyright 2002 by Michael H. Bianchi.
Permission to copy is granted provided the entire article is presented
without modification and this notice remains attached.
For other arrangements, contact me at +1-973-822-2024 .
- - - -
For more on the NESEA Tour de Sol, see the web page at
- - - -
Official NESEA Tour de Sol information is available from the sponsor,
the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) at
413 774-6051 , and 50 Miles Street, Greenfield, MA 01301 , and
[email protected] . All media enquiries should be addressed to ...
Jack Groh
Groh Associates
[email protected] email
401 732-1551 telephone
401 732-0547 fax
401 952-0886 cell/pager
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