Introduction to the BioCar Nature Based Transportation Systems

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Courtesy of XCORP

The people of the world are rapidly growing aware of the full impact of current transport systems upon their safety, economy, health and environment. This has not been lost on the major auto companies who have spent millions of man-hours and billions of dollars over the last decade in pursuit of the Next Generation Vehicle. But they have little to show for their efforts having been increasingly challenged by the seemingly contradictory issues of safety, performance, and environmental issues. One valuable source of a solution that has been largely overlooked is what Nature can teach us. From the lowly amoeba to the swift of foot horse, Nature has evolved the ability of locomotion over millions of years while only recently the car had its one hundredth birthday. Each living organism is specifically designed to navigate the world it inhabits with as much mobility and safety as needed while consuming the least amount of energy and causing the least detrimental affects to its environment. This is exactly how our future transport systems must perform to reverse global warming and improve the quality of life on this planet. All of these natural forms of transportation have several things in common including: specially developed materials, structures, fabrication and intelligence systems and a benign relationship with their environments .

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When Nature builds load-bearing structures she generally uses cellular materials: wood, bone, coral. There is a good reason for this: cellular materials permit the simultaneous optimization of stiffness, strength and overall weight in a given application. All through history man has dutifully studied Nature recreating it as best he could to serve his needs. Humans relied on natural materials over the millennia until they learned that fire could convert clays into pottery, ores into metals and sands into glass. Now when modern man builds load-bearing structures, he uses dense solids: steel, concrete, glass.

But man has turned away from naturally occurring structures and instead uses structures built using machines assembled for mass production. Current automobiles utilize box frames and panel construction of steel, although the standard for the other transportation industries (aerospace, rail, and marine) is one-piece chassis/body structures composed of lightweight, high strength metals and composites. We should consider returning to Nature and creating a biomimetic structure - a man-made structure modeled after natural biological materials. This 'BioCar' would utilize a number of naturally occurring structures including sandwiches, honeycombs, nanotubes and laminates. The vertebrate skeletal and muscle structure, arguably Nature's most evolved structure, is an excellent choice for use in this vehicle combining both body and chassis into one structure. It uses a backbone and rib substructure to spread high point loads to the backbone, and on to an inner lighter, less dense structure. This ingenious structure maximizes redundancy by not only isolating vibration and noise, insulating from outside temperatures, but also stands up to physical abuse, spreads operating and crash loads and finishes the entire structure in a highly detailed shape.

All living things must be smart enough to deal with their ever-changing environment. To meet the challenges of the future the BioCar would have to be much smarter too. First, the BioCar must maximize the advantages of what the fuel cell will bring to the automobile: all-electric drive, all-electric controls and software systems. Its nonconductive surface would double as a mega-scale IC chip making it cheaper and more adaptable to the dramatic increase in onboard electric systems. The BioCar would utilize a powerful onboard computer as a brain, an extensive electrical harness as a spinal cord, four-wheel electric motors as muscles and a fuel cell as its heart. Its nervous system is an extensive array of sensors in its body, suspension and engine, which monitor all functions real-time thus eliminating any chance of failures. This embedded intelligence offers automatic adjustment of all driving parameters improving safety, efficiency and ease of use.

All living things have shapes derived from the demands placed on them by their environment. These shapes are designed to improve the ability to maneuver on the ground with minimum aerodynamic resistance thus reducing energy consumption. All naturally based shapes use complex surfaces and compound curves to enhance their strength and resist impact damage. They also have highly padded areas for high wear and low speed impact. The BioCar would have adjustable suspension to boost its ability to traverse rough ground and still lower itself to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve stability at high speeds on flat surfaces. It would have shape-changing capabilities to adjust down force under environmental stress of high winds, snow and rain. Like the external shell of insects, the BioCar would have a stressed skin constant radius roof and stressed ballistic polymer windshield forming a protective roll cage over the driver and while further strengthening the chassis under high crash conditions.

Nature is all about the interrelationship between mass, energy and simplicity. Nature was the first to discover the principle of mass decompounding. A Sparrow has an ultra-light skeleton system and body with little aerodynamic drag which means it needs small, light wings and legs to support the body which means it needs a small, light heart, muscles and digestive system and so on. Over millions of years of evolution all living things have evolved into the least mass necessary to survive. The BioCar too would use the same principle of mass decompounding. Its lighter composite chassis and body with less aerodynamic drag needs a smaller, lighter power plant which needs a smaller, lighter drive train needing smaller and lighter brakes, suspension and tires and so on. Nature also reuses energy such as the built up energy in a Cheetah's leg muscle as it runs or the energy created in a vortex of a fly's wing, which are used and not wasted. Current auto technology does not reuse energy. Energy lost in braking is approximately 30% of the total energy used in an average car. The BioCar would recapture braking energy in an ultra-capacitor to be fed back into the electric drive system upon acceleration. Nature also designs for simplicity; minimal mass equals minimal parts and processes. Fuel cell powered all electric drive simplifies the entire drive system, cuts inertial and frictional loses and reduces failure points.

Most of the environmental damage done during the total lifecycle of an average vehicle comes during its use but there is also considerable pollution produced during its manufacture and disposal. The material production and manufacturing phases contribute 13% of the consumed energy, 65% of the particulate emissions, 68% of the solid waste and 90% of the metal waste to water. Equally important, 39,000 gallons of water is consumed to produce the average car. Nature does it differently; it's fabrication system, how cells combine to create organisms, uses self-assembly structures that communicate with each other in an intelligent way allowing it to build new organisms 'on-site'. The BioCar manufacturing would use self-assembly structural modules each of which can communicate with each other supporting the fabrication process while using an environmentally sustainable, clean manufacturing system, which does not require large-scale energy intensive assembly lines.

Current auto industry distribution systems are inefficient in terms of energy and emissions. Cars are shipped to dealers who keep an average of 65 days of supply at their sites. This not only requires a sizable area to be used for inventory but large maintenance and service facilities to maintain the inventory and freshen it up when sold. To change this, the 'DNA' of the BioCar, the size and shape of the car, its intelligence, nervous system and other capabilities, would be ordered over the Web and built to order in hours. No inventory would be necessary. Low energy clean mini-manufacturing plants would be sited near major population centers.

Nature surrounds us with its sounds, smells and beauty. But the automobile has taken that away from our cities and towns replacing it with noise and pollution. The BioCar with its all-electric drive train, low tire noise and clean aerodynamics would run almost silently. Its zero tailpipe emissions virtually do away with the stench of air pollution. It's all electric drive and brakes eliminate the use of hydraulic and oil fluids thereby eliminating toxic road runoff and the common practice of dumping used engine into our rivers and lakes.

Nature is very careful to design everything it creates for recycling and reuse. Once a plant or animal dies the energy in its body is consumed by other life forms. Even inanimate objects degrade and are rebuilt to degrade again in never ending cycles. Man is well known not to design for this very important factor and now we are living with the consequences in terms of poisoned land, water and air. The BioCar is designed to be easily recycled with minimal investment of manpower and energy and emissions.

Like Nature, the BioCar is based on the energy of hydrogen that powers the sun. The BioCar would fuel up at what appears to be your average corner service station, but the fuel would be hydrogen. And there would be no hauling and storage of fuel. Hydrogen would be produced on demand from simple tap water and electricity. Oxygen is produced as a byproduct and allowed to escape further greening the areas around the fuel stations. Though this hydrogen based transportation system would eliminate all pollution where cars are driven, the electricity to produce it would still have to be generated using a combination of oil, coal, solar, water and biopowered sources. Combining the superior efficiencies of these large scale clean burning electric generating plants with the improved efficiencies of the BioCar's all electric drive train and engine and the 50% reduction in mass could produce up to a 80-90% reduction in overall energy consumption.

In summary, the environmental impact of moving the world's population from point A to point B has overwhelmed our health and our planet's health. In terms of air quality, the 500 million vehicles on the world's roadways produce approximately 10 trillion cubic meters of exhaust fumes each year. Within 25 years its estimated there will be one billion cars on the surface of this planet. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only about one in five of the world's town-dwellers enjoy good enough air, in terms of low levels of emissions such as nitrogen oxides. One city in three has levels of nitrogen oxide above WHO safety guidelines, and more than half have excessive carbon monoxide levels. In terms of water quality- the average car consumes 39,000 gallons of water to produce (Dept. of Agra.). And you must add the fact that refining a barrel of crude consumes 1,851 gallons of water (Dept. of Agra.). In terms of land quality, materials processors are trucking as much auto shredder 'fluff'-mostly nonmetallic debris that has no end use-to landfills as they did in 1990. Can the citizens of our planet continue to live with the byproducts of this dated technology? Now is the time to embrace Nature's well-learned lessons to create the much-needed Next Generation Vehicle.

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