Neil Young tests hybrid car at VIR's VIPER facilitySearching for a “Heart of Gold?” That’s just what Neil Young found when he stopped in Halifax County in March. Famous rocker Neil Young visited VIR to have testing performed on a hybrid 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible at the state-of-the-art chassis dyno located at the Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research (VIPER).

Young says the huge 1959 Lincoln was selected for the project because “it doesn’t go against the flow…my theory is if you go with flow and then the change will happen quickly. People want big cars. Let’s build a big, smart car.” The big “American Car” as Young refers to it will go down the road in comfort and safety while delivering up to 100 miles per gallon. Using VIPER's instruments to fine-tune the single-rotor Wankel engine driving the generator, the stop helped to improve the car's efficiency. Dyno staff led by Victor Seaber helped the team test the generator engine and electric motor output on the chassis dynamometer at VIPER's lab in VIR's North Paddock.

Young said that with Compressed Natural Gas (CNS) "we got 65 miles per gallon; we switched to gasoline to see what we could do with gasoline." After the engine is warmed up, "we introduce the vaporizer - the vaporizer injects hot fumes into the rotary and since the rotary doesn't go up and down, it goes around, once we get it going on vaporized gasoline fumes, we get better efficiency out of the fumes." To generate hydrogen, LincVolt uses a water-cooled electrical control box to manage the electrical demands. The single-rotor engine drives a 75 kiloWatt UQM electric motor running in reverse, generating power to charge the batteries as neded. LincVolt's engine "runs at only one rpm - it runs at a sweet spot," explained Young, a feature that enhances engine efficiency. The engine is being tested to run on multiple fuel sources, with gasoline, CNG, plus "water gas" -- hydrogen produced via electrolysis from water carried on board.

Pointing to a water-cooled cylinder under the vast hood of the LincVolt, Young described the hydrogen generator: "this thing called a ‘slog' - this converts water to a gas through electrolysis. We're working with this gas made from water, which you don't have to refill. It just creates a gas out of water. It's displacing an unknown amount of fuel at this time and that's one thing we're going to figure out here [VIPER]. We've had estimates that it's displacing up to 70% of fuel at this time, but we really don't know. But we know we can get more out of it than we're getting now," explains Young. "The big pie-in-the-sky goal is to eliminate the fuel. 80% of the cost of a gallon of gas comes from distributing and refining it. The cost of making oil to work in a car is what's expensive. So if people had something they could use from home, they wouldn't have to have this distribution system."

Young is not doing this project for commercial reasons: "commercializing is for other people," he says. The LincVolt is entered into the 2010 Automotive X Prize competition, where it must demonstrate fuel efficiency of 100 miles per gallon, Young's ultimate goal.

During their three-day stay at VIR and VIPER, Young enjoyed a lunch buffet with VIR Club members at club driving day. He also had a quiet dinner one evening at VIR’s on-site restaurant, the Oak Tree Tavern. While visiting, Young commented to VIR track General Manager Josh Lief that "a lot of love has gone into this place."