Get 100 miles per gallon (mpg) in your next car. If you are now only getting 20 mpg, getting 100 mpg would cut your gasoline bill 80%. Several future plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) will get over 100 mpg. If you own a Toyota Prius you can buy a conversion kit today and make your car a plug-in hybrid.
PHEVs look and drive like regular hybrids. They have large hidden battery stacks that capture braking and downhill energy. Like hybrids they have computer chips that decide when to run only the electric motor, using no gas, and when to run the gasoline motor. When running the gasoline motor, extra energy is sent to the batteries. Most plug-ins can drive a number of miles only on the electric motor. A PHEV20 can run 20 miles in electric only; a PHEV40 can run 40 miles. You get the idea.
The beauty of a plug-in hybrid is that most of the time the gasoline engine is never used to recharge the batteries. The batteries are recharged by plugging the car into a standard 110 volt outlet. For example, the car could be plugged-in while in the garage each night. An added benefit of plugging-in at night is that electric rates are low because excess power is being generated in comparison to daytime peak electric demand.
80% of US daily car use is less than 50 miles. With a PHEV50, gasoline would not be used for those 80% of all daily uses. 50% of all our daily vehicle usage is less than 25 miles. PHEVs have enormous potential. Most commutes would cause zero emissions and use no fuel. You save a bundle. The country no longer needs foreign oil. Plug-in hybrids are estimated to provide these benefits over normal hybrids: 35% – 50% reduction in NOx and ROG; 45% – 65% reduction in petroleum; 30% – 45% reduction in greenhouse gases.
Toyota will build future plug-in hybrids. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe spoke about his dream of building a car that could cross the United States on a single tank of gasoline. My wife and I share two cars. On a given day, one of us never drives over 50 miles alone. With plug-in hybrids, one of us would travel all day on electricity from the grid that is stored in batteries. When we occasionally need range, a plug-in hybrid would automatically engage the engine if the batteries got low.
At South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), Dr. Matt Miyasato reported excellent results with their early tests of four plug-in hybrids. AQMD converted four Priuses to PHEV using a kit that included Valence Lithium-ion batteries. AQMD achieved 99.9 mpg, saving a fortune in gas. When required, each Prius can still go hundreds of miles between gasoline refills.
Plug-in hybrids are also great for larger vehicles. AQMD is also testing two PHEV20 Sprinter delivery vans, one using lithium-ion batteries and one using nickel-metal hybrid batteries. AQMD has future plans for expanded use of PHEV vans, including passenger vans.
Because major auto manufacturers lost billions on electric vehicles, they are cautious about bring a PHEV to market. PHEVs require more battery power, adding cost and weight to vehicles. If customers do not bother to plug-in and recharge, actually mileage would be worse than today’s hybrids.
The nickel-metal hydride batteries in current hybrids cost thousands. Because of that cost, customers want 100,000 mile warranties. To achieve this long-life, auto makers use a narrow state of charge. Plug-ins demand more batteries that are used aggressively than in normal hybrids. This creates two problems: weight and shorter life for expensive batteries. To reduce weight and added power, PHEVs may predominately use lithium-ion batteries. Early conversion kits are unlikely to offer 100,000 mile warranties.
Writing for Green Post, Dania Ghantous raises several important points: “What about safety? What happens in a car accident? After all, there’s a lot of energy stored in lithium-ion batteries and it’s all packed in a relatively small area inside the vehicle! And what is the reliability of these batteries when subjected to extreme cycling conditions? Let’s take a closer look at some of the design criteria for a PHEV battery: 1) high storage capacity to increase range and acceleration; 2) long battery life to last more than 100,000 miles; 3) less weight to increase acceleration; 4) heat management as battery temperatures tend to increase during charging; 5) safety when in use and 6) low cost. That’s a tall order for today’s battery technology as there are serious concerns about the safety and lifetime of larger battery packs.” Full Article
Plug-in hybrids do have a big future. The plug-in hybrid design could work with any fuel including ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. A PHEV running on E85 ethanol would potential only use one gallon of gasoline every 500 miles, with the rest of the mileage being fueled by electricity and plant-fuel. Such PHEVs would make us free of oil dependency and national security problems that result from sending billions to the wrong countries. The plug-in hybrid design could work with any fuel including ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. The large public transit operator AC Transit has three plug-in hybrid hydrogen buses. The plug-in design allows AC Transit to save millions with smaller hydrogen fuel cells than in the plug-in design were not used.
John Addison publishes the California Hydrogen Report (www.cah2report.com). His firm, Optimark Inc. conducts market intelligence and market development for cleantech and information technology corporations.