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Wired Mag: Hacking the hybrid Vehicle
Nov 16, 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.
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This is the first print mention of the Plug-In Hybrid Consortium, whose tag line is "Accelerating Advanced Hybrid Technology into the Marketplace" and it provides the first public link to The article still uses the group's original name, Advanced Hybrid Vehicle Development Consortium.­news/­autotech/­0,2554,69519,00.html?
Hacking the Hybrid Vehicle
By John Gartner
02:00 AM Nov. 16, 2005 PT

Engineers are developing adapter kits for hybrid vehicles that will increase their efficiency to 100 miles per gallon by powering them solely on electricity during short trips.

Today's hybrid vehicles use electricity stored in batteries to assist the gasoline engine in acceleration and to completely power the vehicle while idling or at steady low speeds (generally less than 25 mph). Vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid include drive-train management systems that automatically decide when to use the batteries or internal-combustion engine.

Enter CalCars and EDrive, organizations developing modification kits that enable the Toyota Prius to be recharged from the grid. And a new group of automotive component suppliers, the Advanced Hybrid Vehicle Development Consortium, hopes to develop technology that enables hybrids to run without help from the gasoline engine for up to 50 miles.

Referring to "plug-in" hybrids, David West, vice president of marketing for consortium co-founder Raser Technologies, said that "80 percent of cars would be able to drive five days per week without using their combustion engines." West said consumers would save money since the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline costs just 60 cents in electric power.

Consumers have rejected plug-in alternative vehicles in the past. But with gas prices hitting record highs, members of the consortium believe the timing is right to try again with new and improved technology.

The consortium will develop a prototype hybrid vehicle within a year that includes more-powerful electric motors, longer-lasting batteries and ultracapacitors that can store electricity used for acceleration, West said. The prototype will cost about as much to build as today's hybrids, because some components such as the flywheel will be eliminated. Not only will the vehicle get more than 100 mpg, but consumers will save even more by tapping into the grid.

The group hopes to license the hybrid technology to auto companies that have yet to produce hybrids, which would "enable other automakers to jump in the game without having to do 15 years of (research and development)," West said. Other companies participating in the group include lithium-ion battery manufacturers Electrovaya and Enax, utility Pacific Gas and Electric and Maxwell Technologies, a company that wants to introduce its ultracapacitor technology into hybrid vehicles.

Richard Smith, Maxwell's executive vice president, said ultracapacitors -- which store energy by separating negative and positive charges along plates -- should eventually be included in all hybrids because they are 10 times more powerful than batteries at providing the bursts of energy needed to accelerate a vehicle. Ultracapacitors are 98 percent efficient when receiving energy from the regenerative braking systems used in hybrids, while batteries are 60 just percent efficient, according to Smith.

But ultracapacitors aren't nearly as efficient at storing energy, so cars traveling more than a few miles will need batteries as well, Smith said. Ultracapacitors haven't been practical until recent improvements were made in the technology.

Earlier this year, BMW introduced the X3 EfficientDynamics concept car, and students at Brigham Young University developed an electric drag racer, both powered by ultracapacitors.

Perry Carter, an associate professor at BYU who worked with students on the vehicle, said ultracapacitor technology is promising but not yet practical -- the drag racer used $22,000 worth of ultracapacitors for a 14-second run on a track.

The original Toyota Prius concept car included ultracapacitors, according Dave Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles, but they didn't make it into the production vehicle because of their cost and size. But those were previous-generation technologies, and Smith said the price of new ultracapacitors is now on par with batteries.

Hermance is still not convinced. In general, he said, ultracapacitors are better suited to large vehicles like trucks or buses that stop and start frequently, because their heavy loads generate a lot of energy when braking.

Plug-in hybrids "are not viable with today's battery technology," Hermance said. He said the Prius' power-management system keeps the batteries charged at 60 percent, plus or minus 15 percent to extend their life. Running solely on electricity would discharge the batteries beyond their optimal range and burn them out after approximately 2,500 cycles, or about six years of use, he said.

Selling plug-in hybrids will also cause confusion with consumers and could hurt sales, Hermance said. Most people don't want the responsibility of recharging batteries every day. Plus, he said, manufacturers spent years convincing consumers that hybrids were not like the electric vehicles that failed to gain commercial acceptance.

But Raser Technologies' West said powering a vehicle with electricity will cost about a quarter the price of using gasoline, which he believes offsets any inconvenience from having to charge the vehicle overnight.]

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