Thursday, January 27, 2005

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).

Hybrid Consortium

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

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13 Comments:

Blogger Geoffrey Styles said...

Plug hybrids are a great idea, with two caveats:
1. Utilities would need to move to time-of-day pricing, to encourage those with plug hybrids to recharge with off-peak power. That way they wouldn't create a need for new generating capacity, at least until they became widespread.
2. As we learned in L.A. when the EV-1 was being touted for its environmental benefits, how the electricity is generated determines how green the electric car is. If it's coal-based, then you are doing better for the environemtn running on gasoline, in terms of both air pollution and greenhouse gases.

7:22 am, March 01, 2005  
Blogger stomv said...

As for (1), I think perhaps the converse is true... plug-in hybrids, a higher density of programmable thermostats, etc., might in fact help induce the utility companies to begin offering time-of-day power. In fact, I could envision a time where the electric company uses something closer to real-time pricing and chargers would optimize their charge vs. the market price. Heck, if the price was high enough, batteries could discharge into the system, thereby acting as a distributed load balancing system.

As for (2), that's true -- but as the RPS numbers increase and expand across more states, you'll see the amount of coal (and oil) decrease in percentage terms. Check out this map I made using 1999 data. Specifically, hover your cursor over the third category, (Oil+Coal) percent electricity generation. Over 122 million people live in the "light states" on the map: CA, OR, WA, AK, ID, TX, LA, SC, SD, IL, NJ, NY, CT, RI, NH, VT. So, while some states would shift nearly all oil savings to coal consumption (one pocket near the East Coast, another near the West Coast; see map) -- if the program rolled out in the "greener elec generation" states first, I think it would be a positive net outcome. Besides, it's not all about the short term pollution measurements. Oil consumption reduction is also about better foreign policy, a reduction of the environmental impact of drilling, and about shifting the money in the oil economy toward American jobs instead of Saudi Arabian princes.

What I don't understand is this: how much would it cost the consumer if the Prius et al came with a plug that a consumer could choose to plug in if he wanted to? I mean, my Discman runs off of batteries, but I can plug it in if I want to... why not my hybrid?

8:02 am, March 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea of plug-in hybrids is great. It would save the buyer money in the long run from gasoline and would create far less polution. With the growth of technology they should be able to continue to make them better and better. All of this would lead to cleaner air and less use of natural resources that should be conserved.

9:16 am, May 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would it take to use roof top solar to charge the plug in Hybrid? Talk about low emissions!!

9:28 pm, May 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if you really want to a cost efective PHEV you should be looking at an aerodynamic 65MPH scooter modification. A company (to remain nameless) did a study showing that a plug in scooter using lithium Varta bateries would add 80lb to the Motocycle/scooter and reduce it's diesel fuel consumption to >230mpg with very nice performance. all at an additional cost of only $2K. The very low fuel consumption makes Bio Diesel practical and the urea based emisions reduction system would make this vehicle the cleanest and most efiecient on earth! Oh and you would even stand a chance of charging it off of Wind or PV if you really wanted to since it only requires about 14KWh per gallon and a gallon should last you a week. Yes that's only 2KWh per day!

Trade in my SUV for a scooter are you Mad!!!

Well maybe not as mad as the mothers of all the Iraqi and american boys who wont celibrate their next birthday!

Or maybe not as mad as the 45 year old man who just had his job outsourced to another country because energy costs are rising here.

Or maybe not as mad as the asthmatic who left LA for Phoinix and has now been told that they must yet again move to escpe the polution that is killing them!

5:05 pm, February 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm working a car design that uses alternative energy sources, but I need to know just how much electricity it will take to run a car. Does anyone have any idea?

9:13 pm, May 22, 2006  
Blogger R.Dress said...

I think that we have the technology to do just about anything we want with the cars. Fold them up and put um in your briefcase at the end of the day. This is not my concern. My concern is if we have the technology, what's the hold up?

There is no doubt in my mind that if these manufactures of conventional cars knew they could make triple the profits by creating smart cars, we would have these cars on the road and on every TV station in every living room in every neighborhood in the U.S. as of yesterday.

Why don't these car companies show some balls? Who will be the first to say, you know what, we are fucking are selves along with the entire planet so lets just stop making conventional cars across the board! What is the obstacles? Greed? Going from billionaire to multi millionaire? These people have families. Don't they care about their children?

And if they know we don't need all that oil in the middle east, then what the hell are we doing there? We still don't know how much oil they have and we will never know. We do know how ever that it's smarter to run are vehicles on alternative methods. So why not build on logic and move forward, rather than on speculation? The world's shame is on us. When I travel abroad I feel compelled to let people know that yes I am an American but however I did not vote for Bush.

So what is America's response? We make Block Buster films and low budget TV shows about natural disasters. We launch some programs with grim music to scare us about how "weather strikes Back." How many more Katrina's?

It's a comfort zone that we are not willing to give up. I think alternative cars are a step in the right direction, but it's going to take a global mind change. Check out Al Gore's documentry.

7:48 pm, July 15, 2006  
Anonymous Debbie said...

We are in the market for a hybrid, so anyone not selling a hybrid has lost a potential sale. Sorry guys, you snooze, you lose. You better get on the bandwagon. Debbie in Georgia

6:18 am, July 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Electric Car Idea

Here is a kernel of an idea I want to put out there. The idea is based on toy slot cars. Long highways can be installed with electrically charged tracks embedded in the road. Electric cars would drop an electrode that would use the electricity. Electric cars could go longer distances and even charge while they drive. As cars enter the highway ramp they would get tickets like on a toll road and pay as they exit.

There is also the possibility to drive on auto pilot on these highways. The car would use the track to steer. Distance could be maintained with sonar and speed control. Passing would still be possible by lifting the electric electrode and driving normally.

12:22 pm, January 04, 2007  
Anonymous madashellqueer said...

Popular Science magazine in 1974 showed how to make an electric car with a lawn mower engine to charge the battery. The only reason these vehicles are not available now is because the oil CEOs sit on the boards of GM and Ford and they are deliberately keeping us on arab oil for a very good reason. They want to keep this current situation going so that the war machine also makes a profit in Iraq.

3:16 am, December 02, 2007  
Blogger Russ said...

Electricity is not an energy source. Its source is overwhelmingly coal - meaning a giant step backward with regard to pollution if electric-cars replace cars running on gasoline.

And, as token investment in hydrogen power can be a distraction from the electric-car option, so the electric-car option is a distraction from much more effective and needed solutions:

Drive slower. Drive less, especially alone. Bike more.

The herd needs to change direction. It has way too much momentum toward the cliff it can't see.

8:38 am, April 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an idea how for a energy reclaim system that would be adaptable to existing trucks or cars.A friction wheel run against your drive wheel and effects a motor generator charging batteries or a compressor with pneumatic storage .The friction wheel could either free wheel or discharge the energy storage when accelerating and charge it while braking all according to commands from a cruse control style buttons.Simple adaptable and may reduce fuel usage 10 to 20% ?

6:50 pm, June 12, 2008  
Blogger Jay Draiman said...

You must serve as an example in implementing energy efficiency.

I think if corporate America is serious about energy conservation; it must start with people at the top and roll down from there to the rest of the executives and employees.

In order to accomplish such an important mission as energy conservation every executive and employee has to believe that what he is doing is the right thing.

They must practice the same attitude at home and implement energy conservation at home. This attitude will carry on to the workplace.

First thing that must be done is, each employee should be asked what has he/she done in their own lives to conserve energy, and than if the answer is positive advance the initiative from there, if not an education process must be implemented to drive the process home once this process has been achieved, it will be easier to get everyone to participate in energy conservation.

The motive and behavior has to come from within each individual person – it must become part of a routine practice – it must become a way of life – reducing waste in any form.

In today’s rising cost of energy – conservation must become a national theme.

Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst

7:45 am, June 22, 2008  

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