Conventional wisdom tells us that speed requires more power, and more power typically means burning more fuel. Volvo recently allowed us to take a peek into the future of its take on a kinetic energy recovery system, a “power boost” of sorts used in Formula 1 racing that Volvo says could make its way into a Volvo within a few years.
The idea behind a KERS setup and a typical hybrid is the same: recovering energy from braking and storing it later for reuse. But in a KERS, the energy is stored in spinning discs rather than a heavy set of batteries. For Volvo, its KERS system uses a carbon-fiber composite flywheel, spinning at about 60,000 revolutions per minute in a vacuum-sealed case to reduce drag. It weighs only about 13 lbs., and is installed on a S60 T5 experimental vehicle driving the rear wheels.
The supplemental power adds about 80 hp to the car’s 240-hp rated inline-5 turbo engine. That ups the car’s performance comparably to a 6-cylinder turbo model, with zero to 60 mph acceleration accomplished in an estimated 6.1 seconds, and with 25 percent improvement in fuel consumption. In addition to assisting in acceleration, the extra power stored in KERS can also be used during passing, much like a reserved turbo boost that will give you a shot of extra power to speed up — just like the KERS button on a F1 car.
On Volvo’s test track in Gothenburg, Sweden, we had a chance to feel the extra kick in acceleration from KERS. The integration of transforming braking energy into spinning discs was seamless, all accomplished by a continuously variable transmission. While faster acceleration at lower speeds is apparent, it's during passing from a higher cruising speed that KERS’ advantage is more noticeable. You can feel the extra push as you dip deeper into throttle.
While the concept of KERS has been around since the 1980’s, the technology has never evolved enough to be practical, quiet or safe for a production car. Volvo’s recent research has proven that it could now be a viable option for extra power in a future model. Who says less fuel and more speed is not possible?