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Record-Setting, Energy-Saving Car Comes to Town

Wind Explorer, which uses turbine-generated electricity for power, could have applications for everyday vehicles, company officials say.

Can you imagine traveling in a vehicle 3,000 miles—roughly the distance between New York and Los Angeles—for a mere $15?

Evonik Corporation, an international firm whose administrative center is at 299 Jefferson Road, says it's not only possible—the feat has been achieved.

The vehicle capable of such economical and environmentally friendly travel is called the Wind Explorer. On Wednesday, the wonder car was on view at Evonik's Parsippany site just before setting off on a tour in which it will be displayed in different spots across the country.

The tiny, lightweight, electric car indeed crossed more than 3,000 miles of Australia using less than $15 of electricity, according to Evonik President Tom Bates.

The vehicle was piloted by German extreme sports personalities Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer. It was powered by a lithium-ion battery, developed from Evonik-created technology that allows the battery cells to store energy generated from a portable wind turbine. 

“The Wind Explorer demonstrates how environmentally-friendly automobiles can be today and showcases Evonik’s drive for sustainability,” said Bates. “The technologies in the Wind Explorer are examples of how our products can improve the resource-efficiency of automobiles.”

The Wind Explorer pilots set three world records during their coast-to-coast trip across Australia. Their trek was the first time a continent was crossed by a vehicle powered by wind and lithium-ion batteries. The Germans traveled the longest overall distance covered by an exclusively wind-powered automobile. And the distance they traveled was the longest ever covered in 36 hours by an electric- and wind-powered vehicle.

Bates said that while the Wind Explorer is a "concept car" replete with bells and whistles far too expensive to show up in everyday vehicles, parts of it would benefit garden variety cars and trucks.

"The battery, the tires and [Evonik product] Rohacell can be beneficial for everyday vehicles," he said. "The Explorer gives us the opportunity to showcase the technologies and what we're thinking of in terms of long-term sustainability in terms of our products." 

Bates said Evonik calls the tires "green tires." He said the chemicals used in the additives that go into the tires greatly decrease friction and rolling resistance while increasing the mileage by 10 percent. He said the chemicals are already being used for truck tires, and they're being extended to passenger cars.

"Ten percent is a lot," he noted, adding that boosting mileage helps reduce fuel costs.

Rohacell, Bates explained, is a foamed polymer used in the body of the car that is light—just over 440 pounds—yet strong, and also flame retardent.

"It goes into a lot of aerospace and airplanes," he said. "You know the winglets on planes? A lot of them are made out of Rohacell. We've in the last few years built a plant in Mobile, Ala., and it's one of our major production sites that produces Rohacell."

He said the polymer can also be found in high-performance, high-end skis and tennis racquets.

Bates said the lithium-ion batteries employed in the Wind Explorer has great benefits for everyday vehicles as well.

"We went into a joint development effort with Mercedes Benz for the electric car, the e Smart, and that's using our batteries," he said. 

According to Bates, the green-focused company is focusing on "megatrends in sustainability" and on using resources efficiently.

"We're trying to make sure we stretch resources—renewable fuels, those sorts of things," he said. "This hits a lot of those items."

And it dovetails nicely with Evonik's overall mission—creating technology to make products already familiar around the world better able to help protect the planet.

While the Wind Explorer is purely a serious demonstration of those principles to show what can be achieved, there's no denying that this is one cool car.

"It really kind of captures the imagination," Bates said with a little boy's grin on his face. "Driving this thing across Australia with a kite and a windmill... 

"And [the energy] only cost $15. Can you imagine that?"

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