Kinetic Energy Recovery System in spotlight after F1 blaze

chequered-flag-2.jpgBattery problems are a long running issue covered here, on MBM, and here is an intersting piece on KERS, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System…

On our sister site New Scientist, senior technology correspondent Paul Marks has written KERS comes under the microscope after F1 blaze

He begins:

The world of motor racing may have to re-examine its electrical safety rules if it turns out the powerful regenerative batteries of Formula 1’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) were implicated in a pit lane fire at the Barcelona Grand Prix yesterday.

Bruno Senna’s Williams car was withdrawn from the race after it was involved in a collision with Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes on the thirteenth lap. After the race, which Williams driver Pastor Maldonado won, Williams’ pit lane engineers were ‘defuelling’ Senna’s damaged vehicle by decanting fuel into bowser tanks when a fierce fire broke out. Thirty-one people needed medical treatment after the blaze, with seven of them suffering from minor injuries and smoke inhalation. 

While fire services and the FIA, the sport’s governing body, are investigating the cause, attention is focusing on whether a short circuit from the KERS battery that sits beneath the fuel tank caused the fire. This battery stores 400 kilojoules of electrical energy (harvested from regenerative braking) that can be dumped into electric motors that provide a speed boost for 6.6 seconds every lap. As a result, KERS has seriously boosted F1’s watchability

But the power of the battery has caused problems before, notably in 2008 when a BMW Sauber engineer received a shock from the KERS shorting to the bodywork. So F1 engineers, who have to deal with the system on a day-to-day basis, will be hanging on the results of the Barcelona investigation – not least because, anecdotally at least, KERS is already said to be unpopular and risky.

How safe the high power KERS system is in fuel-stuffed garages matters a great deal. In the 2013/2014 F1 season, F1 plans to boost the KERS energy storage ten times to 4 megajoules to give more speed boosting chances as engine sizes drop from 2.4 litres to a greener 1.6 litres.

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