Why do automakers race? It’s more than just marketing, as motorsports serve as a test bed for new technology that could one day come to road cars. Toyota is exploring the possibility of bringing supercapacitor technology developed for their Le Mans race car to the Prius hybrid.
The Toyota TS040 uses a naturally aspirated V8 engine mated to two supercapacitors that recover braking energy 60 times faster than the current Prius Synergy drive. The supercapacitors can then dole out the energy quickly and efficiently, boosting fuel economy significantly. According to Drive, Toyota is proposing a system that uses this energy to begin initial acceleration, a time when the gas engine is its least efficient. Delivering short bursts of power would get the Prius going to a speed where the gas engine can take over without much effort.
This technology isn’t likely to show up soon though, with Toyota Motorsport team principal Yoshiaki Kinoshita saying that it could come to prodution cars “in the next five years”, meaning it probably won’t debut on the next-generation Prius due out in the next year or so. Meanwhile, Mazda has already integrated supercapacitors into the Mazda6 i-ELOOP system to enhance the start-stop system. This makes the mid-size sedan capable of 40 MPG, not that far behind the Prius and its vaunted 50 MPG rating.
Are Supercapacitors the secret to the next level of fuel efficiency?