Rapid advancements in automotive design has meant that traditional automotive parts are being modified and replaced to create more efficient, cost-effective engines. This article considers the history of starters and alternators in order to understand how hybrid engines have revolutionized their roles.
The role of an electric starter is to automatically create rotation in order to initiate the operation of a car’s engine.
A brief History
The first electric starter was installed on an Arnold in 1896 by HJ Dowsing in East Peckham, London. Its invention was a response to the dangers users encountered trying to start cars manually. Before the use of electric starters, an engine would have to be started by a hand crank. Users would wind the crank to create the force needed to initiate combustion in the engine. However, engines are notoriously unpredictable when they start up and often create powerful kickbacks. When a kickback occurred, hand cranks would violently swing back and injure the operator. This could result in broken thumbs, dislocated wrists, shoulders or even worse. For this reason, starters rapidly became popular and widely used.
In 1903 the first starter was patented in the US by Clyde J. Coleman and by 1920, most American cars were installed with electric starters.
How they work
Electric starters are small motors intentionally built to create a voltage and current far too high for continuous operation. However, the charge created over a short period of time provides enough power to spark the main engine into operation. Users simply have to turn a key and a starter will convert that kinetic energy into a highly concentrated charge to start the engine.
Alternators are devices that convert excess mechanical energy from the engine into electrical energy. The energy is then typically stored in a battery and used to power the electrical systems of the automobile.
A brief History
Alternators were first used during World War II because vehicles like tanks needed electrical energy to power radio equipment.
In 1960, the Chrysler Corporation installed the first alternator on a commercially sold vehicle. Before this time, electrical systems would have been powered by a DC dynamo generator. These generators also burnt a vehicle’s fuel to function and were, therefore, not cost effective. Furthermore, modern cars required much higher levels of energy in order to power electric wipers, brighter headlights, rear-window heating and other accessories. Alternators were the perfect replacement because they recycled energy from the engine and did not burn any extra fuel in the process.
Alternatorshave become so efficient that a car battery is now able to power A/C, GPS navigation devices, phones, lights and every other type of electrical device found in new cars without burning any fuel.
How they work
Alternators create alternating currents in order to convert AC power to DC. DC power can be stored in a battery which constantly recharges itself through the mechanical movement of the engine. The conversion to electrical energy creates high temperatures which were a problem in early designs. However, modern cars have specialized air valves which cool down the process and prevent the engine from overheating. In turn, the battery naturally recharges itself while the engine is in operation.
The Hybrid Revolution
In 1997 the first Hyrbid cars began to emerge. Hybrids use advanced systems to alternate between powering the engine through a battery and burning fuel. The traditional starter and alternator design is replaced by a single system. These are called Combined Motor Generators or M/Gs.
Once a hybrid’s engine is initiated, an automatic system takes over in order to minimize fuel consumption. M/Gs create an electromagnetic pathway to the wheels which means electrical energy stored in a battery can be used to drive the engine. Alternators and starters are combined in a reactionary, automatic system to ensure that batteries never run out and fuel is only burned when the battery is recharging.
Car manufacturers are designing more and more efficient systems in this way to lower carbon emissions and reduce the running costs of an automobile.
As car design progresses so rapidly, traditional automotive parts that originally worked independently of one another are being incorporated into a holistic system for efficiency and convenience.