Hybrid tech in motor sport

Peter Coombes looks at what can be learned about EV/hybrid tech from its use in motorsport

Published:  01 October, 2018

If you have even a passing interest in motorsport, you are probably aware of, and have an opinion regarding the use of hybrid technology in Formula 1 racing. Back in 2009, the use of electric motors was allowed, which enabled the additional electric power to supplement the power produced by the conventional engine.
In effect, a Formula 1 car could operate in much the same way as most mass produced hybrid vehicles because electric motor could also function as a generator to charge batteries. During power-off driving (braking and deceleration) the kinetic energy of the moving car and rotating engine drove the generator, which charged the batteries; but the energy transferred from the moving car to drive the generator also helped to slow the vehicle. The stored or recovered electrical energy could then be fed from the battery back to the motor when additional power was required. This system was known as a ‘Kinetic Energy Recovery System’ or KERS; and for the purists who like the sound of a hard working petrol engine, this KERS hybrid technology was OK because the 2.4 litre V8 engine still did most of the work and sounded great.
After a bit of a bumpy ride, for 2014 the hybrid F1 hybrid regulations evolved into a more complex set of rules that specified more complex technologies. The energy recovery systems were allowed to deliver a maximum of 12KW (160hp) of power in addition to the power delivered by a 1.6 litre V6 turbo-charged engine; but for 2014 onwards, there were two types of energy recovery systems that had to be used. Both types of energy recovery systems still use a ‘Motor/Generator Unit,’ which unsurprisingly is known as an MGU; but one system is then known as MGU-K (Motor/Generator Unit Kinetic), and the second system is known as MGU-H (Motor/Generator Unit Heat).

The MGU-K system is much the same as the original KERS system used from 2009. The Motor/Generator Unit is usually connected by gears to the engine crankshaft, therefore when the unit functions as a motor and draws electrical energy form the battery, the motor feeds mechanical energy back to the crankshaft to provide additional power and torque (such as for acceleration). During power-off driving, the engine is still connected to the driving wheels; therefore the Kinetic energy of the moving car again rotates the engine and the electric motor, which now functions as a generator to re-charge the battery.
The illustration (Fig 1) shows a basic layout for the MGU-K kinetic energy recovery system, but note that for convenience, the motor generator is shown connected directly to the front of the crankshaft but it can be located on one side of the engine beneath the exhaust manifold. The illustration also shows a battery management/electric power controller that regulates the power delivery of the motor and controls the re-charging process when the motor functions as a generator.
A lithium-Ion battery pack is usually used to store the electrical energy, although super-capacitors have apparently been experimented with that can accept a re-charge and then discharge electrical energy more quickly than a battery.
However, with the second energy recovery system, the Motor/Generator is driven by the rotation of the engine’s turbocharger , which is driven by the flow of hot exhaust gas (which contains Heat Energy). Therefore the two systems are referred to as MGU-K (for kinetic) and MGU-H (for heat).

The second energy recovery system (MGU-H) also makes use of a Motor/Generator Unit; but instead of being connected to the engine crankshaft, this unit is connected to the engine turbocharger (Fig. 2). As with road vehicle turbocharging, hot exhaust gas from the internal combustion engine drives a turbine that is connected to a compressor that then draws in air and forces it into the engine intake under pressure. But because the engine only produces high volumes of hot exhaust when the engine is under load and the throttle is open sufficiently to allow a higher mass of air to enter the engine, the turbocharger is only effective under higher load driving conditions.
With the F1 engines, the turbocharger (which can rotate at speeds in the region of 100,000 RPM or more) is then also connected to the MGU-H Motor/Generator Unit, so as well as forcing air into the engine, the turbocharger also drives the MGU-H and generates additional electrical energy to charge the battery.
The clever bit however is the use of the MGU-H to then drive the turbocharger. When the throttle of a turbocharged engine is initially opened to obtain more power (especially after decelerating when the engine might be at low RPM), the turbocharger speed will have reduced to low or almost zero RPM. It therefore takes a brief period for the turbo charger to spin up, but this is then also dependent on the engine responding to the open throttle and then creating higher volumes of exhaust gas to drive the turbocharger. Therefore there is a time lag between opening the throttle and when the turbocharger can actually increase the airflow into the engine to produce increased power and torque; and this inevitably has an effect on how quickly the vehicle accelerates. Because the MGU-H motor/generator is also connected to the turbocharger assembly, it can actually spin-up the turbocharger immediately when additional power is required (which will be before the exhaust gas is able to drive the turbocharger). In effect, the turbocharger also becomes an electrically driven supercharger.

Controlling electrical power and electrical generation
The operation of MGU-H Motor/Generator Unit is again controlled by the battery management/electric power controller, which therefore controls when the MGU-H functions as a turbocharger drive motor and when it functions as a generator. The control unit therefore has a complex task of regulating both the MGU-K and MGU-H motor/generator units so that the additional power provided by the electric motors is within the specified limits imposed by the regulations, and that the additional power is only available for the specified periods during a lap of the circuit.
The electronic control system then has one other important control function, which relates to braking. During deceleration and braking, when the MGU-K system is recovering kinetic energy from the moving car to drive the generator, it creates a significant braking effect on the rear wheels. If the driver is also applying the normal brakes at the same time, there will a combined braking force from the brakes and from the MGU-K. Any increase or decrease in the braking force provided by the MGU-K could then alter the total amount of braking force applied to the rear wheels, which could either lead to brake lock up or to a lack of rear braking. The electronic control system for the MGU-K must therefore communicate and influence operation of the braking system, to ensure that the driver remains in overall control of the braking forces.
Although the use of hybrid technology in F1 does accelerate the technology learning curve (pardon the pun), one big disadvantage is that use of the turbocharger muffles the exhaust noise, which does tend to upset the purist petrolheads.

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