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Fuel efficiency and the physics of automobiles

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Energy flows and energy efficiencies in the operation of a modern automobile are expressed in terms of simple algebraic approximations. One purpose is to make a car's energy use and the potential for reducing it accessible to non-specialists with technical backgrounds. The overall energy use depends on two factors, vehicle load and powertrain efficiency. The former depends on speed and acceleration and key vehicle characteristics such as mass. The latter depends on heat-engine thermodynamic efficiency, and engine and transmission frictions. The analysis applies to todays automobiles. Numerical values of important parameters are given so that the reader can make his or her own estimates. Various technologies to reduce the energy consumption of automobiles are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 1997

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