PLUG OK license plate
EV World launches pathbreaking Electric Hybrids Department
Apr 5, 2005 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
Want more? Become a subscriber to CalCars-News:

Please forward this information broadly. has just created a new feature and news Department devoted exclusively to track the development of what it calls "Electric Hybrids" -- a name it's trying out for plug-in or gas-optional hybrids. It's Open Access so anyone can read the content. Thanks to Bill Moore for his tireless dedication, for running this service on a shoestring and for his technical innovation (the site now has RSS feeds and many audio interviews).

We STRONGLY encourage anyone with an interest in GO-HEVs / PHEVs / Electric Hybrids, advanced technology, electric vehicles, alternative fuels, global climate change and energy/transportation policies to subscribe for $29 a year. You'll get full access to mp3 audio, advanced search and the archive. And you'll support the continued expansion of Subscribe at­general.cfm?section=ecommerce&page=subscribe (and if you're involved in a related business, advertise on the site.)

Here's my guided tour to:­electrichybrid.cfm

  • Permanent links you'll find on the page:
    • Organizations
      • California Car Initiative
      • Energy Control Systems
      • Institute for the Analysis of Global Security
      • Electric Power Research Institute
      • UC Davis Hybrid Team
    • Forums
      • Electric Hybrid Forum
  • Significant stories that will remain on the page:
      • Valence Technologies On A Roll
      • Meet the World's First 150 MPG Plug-In Prius
      • So You Want a Diesel-Hybrid, Do You?
      • Set America Free
      • Set America Free - Part 2
      • Plug It In, Plug It In...
      • Visions of a New Power Future
      • Plugged-In Vision - Part 2
      • Andy Frank's Plugged-In Vision
      • Making the Case for Grid-Connected Hybrids
      • Making the Case for Grid-Hybrids - Part 2
  • Current stories:
      • Now Who's Blowing Smoke?
      • Getting 500 MPG Would Certainly 'Set America Free'
      • Plugging In Could Give Hybrids A Real Jolt
      • Hybrid Car Hackers Ignore No-Plug-In Rule
      • Hydrogen or Electricity: A Nuclear Fork in the Road
      • US Team Unveils Plug-In Hybrid-electric Prius at Monte Carlo Exhibition
      • Forks in the Road for Clean Air
      • 'Set America Free' Plan Includes Plug-in Hybrids
      • Analyst Urges Cure for Oil-Import Addiction
      • SULEVs, Plug-In Hybrids and Oil Independence
  • Introductory editorial:

Electric Hybrids

Why No Plug Required
Plug in your hybrid car? Why, you ask?

The reasons are simple and the technology doable today, but first let's make one thing clear. The current crop of hybrid cars from Toyota, Honda, Ford and Lexus do not need to be plugged in to recharge their batteries. In fact, they can't be plugged in. Anxious to not have their cars confused with pure electric cars, carmakers have gone to great pains and expense to reassure potential buyers that their products have none of the limitations associated with battery-only cars, including having to plug it in at all.

Instead, the batteries in today's gasoline-electric hybrids are kept recharged by an engine-driven generator. In addition, hybrids can also make use of the vehicle's own kinetic energy. Apply the brakes on your Prius or Insight or Escape and you actually engage the generator, which not only makes electricity, but actually helps slow down the car. You get back some of the energy (between 10-50% depending on how "mild" your hybrid is) you expended to move the car down the road and save wear-and-tear on your brakes at the same time.

Cool, huh?

Electric Hybrids -- An Idea Whose Time Has Come What we call an Electric Hybrid, also known as a plug-in hybrid, grid-connected hybrid, gasoline-optional hybrid or just PHEV, works pretty much the same as your conventional hybrid, but with one big exception: it has a bigger battery pack.

Take the much-in-demand Toyota Prius, for example. It has a 201 volt, 1.3kWh battery pack mounted under the rear passenger seat. It is a technological marvel all by itself. If the battery is fully charged and the engine warmed up, you can drive around the block without the gasoline engine turning on at speeds up to 42 mph. In effect, you're driving an electric car, and it's great for creeping along the congested 405 in Los Angeles. But wouldn't it be great if you could go further than a kilometer or two?

We could if we replaced that 1.3kWh, Panasonic NiMH battery pack with sometime a bit larger, say 9kWh? What would that -- and some nifty computer code hacking -- do for the Prius?

That's exactly what a California non-profit and small R&D company wanted to find out. The California Car Initiative and Energy Control Systems, Inc. have built prototype Electric Hybrids; CalCars building the first prototype, which they call "PRIUS+", with affordable, but heavier, low-energy density batteries, which will be replaced with NiMH; and Energy CS, using lighter Lithium-ion batteries.

In the case of Energy CS's Electric Hybrid Prius, the engineering teams estimates that the car, if carefully driven, can get between 120-to-180 mpg; while using only 115-150 Whr per mile. The last part, Watt hours per mile, is important. Here's why.

The 9kWh Lithium-ion pack provides enough energy to propel the car at freeway speeds for about 60 miles or so -- a really exciting improvement. At that point, the car returns to normal hybrid operation, running the gasoline engine for most of the time and getting about 50 mpg.

In effect, you didn't burn a little over one gallon of gasoline for the first 60 miles or so. Instead, you consumed something less than 9kWh of electricity. Why less than 9kWh? It's a safety and durability precaution so you won't fully discharge the battery and shorten its life. So, let's say you used 80% of the 9kWh. That's 7.2 kiloWatt hours.

Now comes the fun part. Let's say you live in a city where electricity costs you 10 cents a kilowatt hour. To travel that 60 miles, it cost you 72 cents compared to the current national average price of gasoline at about $2.20/gallon in the US (as of April 2, 2005). In effect, for the same $2.20, you could drive up to 180 miles -- on three successive days, of course -- giving you the equivalent of 180 miles per gallon.

Nifty, don't you think?

Better yet, you generated no smog-forming tailpipe emissions and used American-produced energy including renewables, nuclear, coal, and natural gas, and virtually no imported oil. Can you start to appreciate the economic, environmental and national security implications here?

Do I Have to Plug It In?
Of course not. That's the point. You get to choose which energy source is right for you. If there's not enough energy in the battery pack, no problem, you can drive on gasoline... but at about three times the cost, remember.

Like a battery electric car or your cellphone, when you get home at night, you'd plug the Electric Hybrid into a standard 110 or 220 outlet; the latter allowing you to recharge the car a bit faster, in case you care. Unlike most fully-electric cars, a night's charge from a 110V outlet is sufficient, and if not, it's not a problem.

So, while you sleep, the power company uses cheaper, off-peak electricity to recharge your car, saving you even more money and helping them get more efficient use out of their investment. You'd wake up each morning with a "full tank" of "fuel". And depending on how much you use the gasoline engine for longer trips, you might have to refuel at a gasoline station maybe once a month, if that.

Need to drive further than 60 miles in a day? Again, no sweat. The car will operate just like any other hybrid using a mixture of both internal combustion engine and electric motor(s) to wring out the most efficient performance from the car.

When Can I Buy One?
You can't... not yet, at least. The cost of the batteries is a stumbling block, though even at current prices the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has shown that the total lifetime cost of an Electric Hybrid is lower than that of a non-hybrid and not merely lower than that of a conventional hybrid. And as more hybrid cars are built, the cost of batteries should continue to come down. A bigger impediment may be the belief by many, especially auto industry leaders (who are now acknowledging they were wrong about hybrids) that there's no market for these vehicles.

The appearance of this new EV World section reflects a shift in perceptions about these cars. Institutions ranging from utilities to state governments to environmental, national security and other groups are starting to call for the production of these vehicles. Meanwhile, small groups like CalCars and Energy CS hope to offer installed "kits" until the car companies come around.

Eventually, EV World expects carmakers to offer an electric hybrid option that will let you choose which fuel you prefer to use: gasoline, biofuels or electric power.

That's when we'll have real choice.

Copyright 2003-08 California Cars Initiative, an activity of the International Humanities Center | Site Map