The development of Williams Hybrid Power is proof of that policy. Back in 2006, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for world motorsport, announced its intention to allow kinetic energy recovery systems (Kers) to be used in F1. Kers was to be used to allow cars to store energy through a flywheel, battery or supercapacitors. That change in regulations was the starting point for Williams’ engineers to develop a novel, patented electromechanical composite flywheel system that provides a high-power solution for mobile or stationary energy recovery and storage. Williams Hybrid Power was then established to commercialise the technology.
“We saw the commercial potential of the application right at the outset,” says Burns. “We’ve been working away at it now for four or five years, and Williams Hybrid Power has grown to become a company of almost 40 people with a reasonable turnover. The flywheel is particularly suited to mobile applications installed on a vehicle where it is stopping and starting, delivering frequent high- power flows. That’s when its particular characteristics are, in our opinion, much better than the alternatives such as chemical batteries or supercapacitors.”
The greatest potential for the technology, therefore, lies in public transport such as urban buses. Williams says their high mass and stop-start nature means the flywheel has the potential to deliver improved fuel economy and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for much less cost and weight than with the equivalent in battery cells. The flywheel’s design also enables it to be retrofitted into existing manufactured vehicles: on a bus, there is ample room for the flywheel to be fitted and used without the need to encroach on passenger space.
As a result, Williams has announced a tie-up with passenger transport provider Go-Ahead to develop and produce six prototype buses with a retrofitted hybrid flywheel system. “Typically, a bus will come to a complete stop every few minutes as passengers board and alight, and it’s the perfect environment in which to use the flywheel energy to accelerate the bus and save fuel,” says Burns. “It’s a heavy vehicle, and even at relatively low speed it has the same kinetic energy as an F1 car at relatively high speed – the technology therefore reads across easily from F1 to a city bus.”
Other applications might follow. Hybrid light rail trains with a capacity for energy storage can provide a cheaper and more viable solution for discontinuous rail electrification. One of the major problems with moving rail networks away from the dependency on diesel power is the cost of electrification of remote or physically challenging areas such as tunnels and cuttings. Williams says that by using electric flywheels, energy can be stored and then used in these areas, propelling the train along the track.
Slightly closer to home, Williams is also applying its motorsport expertise in the automotive sector. The clearest illustration of this is its joint development with Jaguar of the C-X75 hybrid supercar, which will have CO2 emissions of less than 99g/km while being able to achieve speeds of more than 200mph. Williams is providing expertise in areas including aerodynamics, carbon composite manufacture and hybrid technologies, with the car available in 2013.
Burns thinks the supercar is a landmark project for Williams. “We are starting to be able to take on major projects such as the C-X75, which features a complex hybrid powertrain. We have a large project team that combines Williams and Jaguar employees. We are jointly developing that car.”
Other diversification plans are afoot. Williams is exploiting its F1 simulator technology to provide road safety training for bus and taxi drivers in Qatar. Williams also sees potential in the fleet sector and for the emergency services. “The challenge is to bring out that potential at the right price,” says Burns.
One step lower down the motorsport supply chain from Williams is Xtrac, the Berkshire developer of transmission systems, which was set up in 1984 and employs around 275 people. Over the years, the company has carved out a strong reputation in the motorsport sector, providing its technologies to race teams competing in F1, IndyCar and MotoGP, among others. But it hasn’t rested on its laurels: it was one of the firms that worked closely with the MIA to meet new contacts and implement its diversification plans.