They say you cannot reinvent the wheel, but an inventor in Colorado named Brian Russell has done just that. With several patents already issued in the United States and patents pending internationally, his “Energy Return Wheel” (ERW) could be a major weapon in our efforts to dramatically reduce our dependency on foreign oil.
In their quest to make more fuel efficient vehicles, the automakers are spending almost all their time and money on engine technology. While this is a positive development, hybrids and other new engine technology still only represent less than 5% of new vehicle sales. But the real shortcoming of this new engine technology is that you cannot cost effectively add them to existing vehicles. To dramatically reduce our dependency on foreign oil, in addition to upgrading new vehicles, we need a technology that can be put on vehicles that are already on the road! The great thing about the ERW is that it can replace a vehicle’s wheel and tire. This means the ERW can be put on any vehicle, whether it is new, used, car or truck. The ERW is not a competitor to hybrid, electric, hydrogen, ethanol, biodiesel and other fuel saving technologies. Quite the contrary, because it will only make vehicles using these technologies more efficient.
The physics behind the ERW is similar to that of a garage door. Even though a garage door weighs several hundred pounds, when it is sprung by the use of springs, it becomes de-weighted. So when you lift it, it only feels like it weighs a few pounds. In summary, an object that is sprung requires dramatically less energy to move than an unsprung object. In addition to the use of springs, an object can be sprung by stretching rubber. Scientists call this “Elastic Potential Energy.” At the center of the ERW is a layer of rubber. Through the use of adjustable rods, the rubber is stretched which stores elastic potential energy in the wheel, turning the ERW into a 360-degree slingshot that retains energy (hence the term “Energy Return Wheel”). When the ERW is attached to an object, that object becomes sprung. Just like a garage door that is sprung, the attached object becomes de-weighted and requires dramatically less energy to move than an unsprung object. Less energy to move means an increase in fuel efficiency.
People think that to have a fuel-efficient car, you have to sacrifice performance. The opposite should be true with the ERW, because it should increase a vehicle’s performance in addition to increasing its fuel efficiency. In theory, when a car is riding on ERWs, it will be like riding on 4 slingshots. This “Slingshot Effect” could cause a dramatic improvement in the car’s acceleration. Because the ERWs could de-weight the car, its braking performance should also be improved. Because the ERW doesn’t have a sidewall like pneumatic tires, there shouldn’t be any lateral sidewall deflection when the car is cornering. No sidewall deflection means an increase in handling performance as well. Who says that energy efficiency can’t be fun! In addition to all these benefits, the ERW should also be safer than current technology because it is an airless wheel. The inner elastic layer provides the cushioning that air provides in traditional tires. In addition to potentially improving a vehicle’s fuel efficiency, acceleration, braking, and handling, initial tests also show that the elastic layer takes away vibration. This should improve the ride of the vehicle as well.
Because the ERW can be put on any vehicle, new or used, the market for this invention is absolutely huge. Even though sales are down, the United States will still purchase over 14 million cars and trucks in 2008. But the really big market for the ERW is for vehicles already on the road. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are over 200 million cars and trucks currently on the road just in the United States.
In addition to the overall market, the custom wheel market will be very interested in the ERW. According to SEMA, the industry’s association, custom wheels generate over $4.5 billion in sales per year. But the most amazing thing about the custom wheel market is not how big it is, but how fast it has grown. Since 1991, the market has grown by nearly 9% per year. Compared to the annual change in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (between 3% and 4%) or the annual change in new vehicles sold, the yearly increase in the custom wheel market is nothing short of phenomenal.