Alternative Fuel Cars: Plug-In Hybrids and Electric Cars
fueling by plugging in
The Christian Science Monitor has an article on plug-in hybrids.
Not long after Dan Kroushl got his new 2004 Toyota Prius, he began to wonder about the mysterious button on the dash. It didn't seem to have any function. Didn't boost the turbo or engage an ejector seat. In online discussions with other Prius enthusiasts, Mr. Kroushl soon discovered the button did have a hidden function: It could turn the gasoline-electric hybrid into an all-electric car - for a mile or so on limited battery power.
This "stealth mode" button works fine in Japan and Europe where it's handy for drivers to roll politely about densely packed subdivisions in the early morning and late evening. But the button has been disconnected for North America's Priuses.
Now, scores of Prius owners in the United States are activating the button on their own - despite company warnings that altering the car will void its warranty.
Some drivers, including Kroushl, are going even further: adding battery capacity - and a plug. The hoped for result: a high-tech commuting car that plugs into a socket at night and gets amazing gas mileage the next day.
In effect, these backyard mechanics have turned the hybrid car's appeal on its head. Instead of emphasizing gasoline over electric power and the convenience of today's cars, they're aiming to create less polluting higher-mileage vehicles that emphasize electricity over gasoline - even if it's a bit less convenient.
"One guy I know plugs his Honda hybrid into a windmill for power," Kroushl says. "It costs him practically nothing to drive."
Since before the Model T, electric cars have been among the most efficient modes of transportation. They made a bit of a comeback in the mid-1990s, when General Motors and other automakers reintroduced electric-only cars to meet a proposed California clean-air mandate. But with the weakening of that requirement, which called for some vehicles to be zero-emission in 2003, GM, Toyota, and Honda stopped production of their electric vehicles. Some automakers, which had leased the cars, began taking them back to be destroyed.
the discontinued Ford Think
Only the dedication of enthusiasts has kept them from disappearing completely. This past summer, after Ford Motor Co. announced it would send its electric Think vehicles to the crusher rather than sell them to buyers in Norway for a million dollars, environmental groups occupied the roof of the company's Norwegian offices and held a mock funeral at a San Francisco dealer. Within two weeks, following a protest by Greenpeace, Ford agreed instead to ship its vehicles to a Norwegian electric-car manufacturer.
Just last week, Ford also reluctantly agreed to let Dave Bernikoff-Raboy, a California rancher, buy the all-electric pickup truck he had been leasing. He was so devoted to the vehicle, which recharged off a solar panel, that he camped out near a Ford dealership in Sacramento, California, to protest that automaker's plans to dispose of its remaining electric fleet.
Neocon Green James Woolsey
The article contains some quotes from who some are calling the Neocon Greens:
"We're not talking about electric vehicles, but about plug-in hybrid vehicles that can be topped off with electricity for short trips," James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said last month during the unveiling of a report by the 16-member National Commission on Energy Policy. "The potential in terms of national policy, and in terms of global warming, ought to be focused on by anyone" concerned about terrorism or "paying over $2 a gallon."
"We think the transportation fuel sector should be diversified by utilizing more electricity as a fuel - plug-in hybrids that can get 100 miles per gallon and allow you to run on electricity alone for 20 to 30 miles, then shift to the combustion engine," says Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, an energy-security think tank in Washington.
Automakers however show little interest:
"Why would anyone want to do that?" wonders Sam Butto, a Toyota spokesman in Torrance, California, when told some Prius owners are creating their own plug-in Priuses. "One of the great features of the Prius is that you don't have to plug it in."
In my opinion they are failing to distinguish between having to plug it in and enabling consumers to plug-in their hybrids if they want to.
According to David Hermance, a Toyota environmental engineer there are a number of challenges in making a plug-in Prius including a "much, much, much larger battery" needed to increase range, which would add hundreds of pounds.
However as cellular phones have shown battery technology is improving all the time and the problems in mass producing plug-in hybrids may be insignificant when compared to producing hydrogen powered cars and the associated infrastructure.
And that's where plug-in hybrids have a major advantage. They can use the existing electrical infrastructure and be charged over night. Utility owned coal and gas generators cannot easily be shut down and therefore are run continuously even during the night when there is significant excess capacity. Therefore up to a certain level oil consumption could be decreased without any increase in electrical generation capacity. While in most countries the majority of electricity comes from polluting non-renewable sources this can be changed over time as more clean renewable power is added.
For those concerned about energy security it is definitely a step in the right direction. Less than 2% of U.S. electricity is generated from oil, so using electricity as a transportation fuel would greatly reduce dependence on imported petroleum. The Electric Power Research Institute projects that a midsize sedan PHEV with a sixty mile electric range would use fives times less gasoline a year than a regular vehicle of the same size.
The vast majority of journies in the United States are under forty miles and in European countries such as the United Kingdom the average journey is eight miles. Batteries have all ready been developed which can allow these trips to be completed solely on electric power.
According to Professor Frank from the University of California at Davis compared with conventional cars, the annual gasoline fuel consumption of the modified cars "is only about 10 percent, because you're using gas so infrequently," he says. "Our studies show [that] the average person would only go to the gas station six times a year compared with maybe 35 times a year."
The article continues:
Built on a stock Explorer platform, the hybrid retains all its original interior space. There is also more space in the engine compartment because the vehicle lacks moving parts like a fan belt, generator, water pump, and even a transmission. Because it has fewer than one-fifth the number of moving parts of a conventional SUV, the hybrid's weight, even with a heavier battery, stays the same. Assembly is simpler and reliability, better. In production, it might cost $40,000 or less, he says.
Ford Explorer Hybrid converted to be a Plug In Hybrid
Despite repeated presentations to the Big Three automakers in Detroit, Frank has received little interest from them. But last year, Toyota flew his Explorer to its research facilities in Japan so engineers could pore over the vehicle. "There's no question in my mind that Toyota has plans for a plug-in hybrid right now, but they aren't talking about it," he says.
Certainly, plug-in hybrids are for real. DaimlerChrysler is reportedly near delivery of the first batch of what is expected to be as many as 100 Sprinter delivery vans that permit travel of up to 20 miles on electricity alone. This will come in handy in car-clogged European cities currently considering bans or other limits on gas- and diesel-powered delivery vehicles.
AC Propulsion had demonstrated a converted VW Jetta with a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) system. Renault is offering its Kangoo PHEV that can go 60 miles on a charge before switching back to gas. Commuter Cars Corp. of Spokane, Wash., is offering a low-volume electric car called the Tango for $85,000.
Renault Kangoo + Scenic Lighthouse
Meanwhile, a not-for-profit outfit called CalCars in San Francisco is modifying two Priuses by adding more battery power and a plug. The group has discovered an empty space under the hatch near the current battery that looks almost as if Toyota intended to do this itself one day. "We hope to get significantly more miles per gallon with the additional battery power," says Felix Kramer, the group's founder. "Our purpose is to show Toyota that there is demand for this kind of vehicle."
Will Toyota - or Detroit - respond? Not without major breakthroughs in technology, says Dan Bedore, a Ford spokesman. "It's become pretty clear that our ... non-plug-in hybrid system is the direction we see the market going."
"The answer is they really don't want to do it," Frank says. "We're just a bunch of students. If we can build this with off-the-shelf technology, they can too - and do things better than what we do. If they really were interested in doing something in the short term, they could do it."
I would agree with this sentiment. The profits for major automakers like Ford are in building high-profit SUVs which are exempt from environmental and safety standards rather than building smaller efficient plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs).
The hype around the hydrogen economy allows many automakers to spend a few million on prototypes and avoid doing anything now to change the fuel economy of their best selling vehicles. Rather than waiting decades and spending hundreds of billions on a hydrogen infrastructure that may never materialise or mere billions of dollars in subsidies for corn based ethanol fuel which can never replace gasoline, we can instead use plug-in hybrids as a simple and cost effective way to reduce dependence on oil and reduce pollution using the existing electrical infrastrucutre to which we can continue to add clean renewable energy sources such as wind power.
To encourage this, I urge you to sign this online plug in hybrid campaign asking automakers to produce plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
Full Christian Science Article on Plug-In Hybrids
Mercedes-Benz prototype PHEV Sprinter Van with benefits and projections of PHEV use (pdf)
Ergosphere Blog with detailed technical analysis of the use of plug in hybrid cars
Ergosphere on Advances in Battery Technology
Geoff Styles on some of the challenges facing advocates of a Hydrogen economy