PLUG OK license plate
Popular Science Ranks PHEVs #3 on 10 Energy Technologies
Jun 16, 2006 (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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Increasingly, popular media energy coverage focuses on renewability and the kind of "all factors considered" approach that economists and environmentalists welcome. In the wake of TIME's excellent overview of global warming is an inspiring roundup of energy options from Popular Science, in the July issue, -- $4.29 on news-stands now. PHEVs are #3, behind wind and distributed power generation; ethanol is 4; solar is 5. Hydrogen clings to #6 -- but uniquely among the ten technologies, its potential contribution and benefits are "unknown" because it's "someday". Rounding out the list are tidal/wave power, geothermal, gas from trash and conservation.

In addition to nearly a page and a half on PHEVs, a bonus later in the issue is a half-page feature on CalCars' plans for do-it-yourself Prius conversions.

The online version­popsci/­energy is sponsored by Toyota Here's an inadequate text presentation of an impressive production.

Cover: Popular Science: THE FUTURE NOW The Future of ENERGY 10 Technologies to End Our Oil Addiction 300mpg Cars, Flying Wind Farms, Tidal Turbines and More

Story Page 47-61:
PopSci Proposes The Energy Fix
10 Steps To End America's Fossil-Fuel Addiction
GRAPHIC: two oil pump handles, one points down
into a noose; one points up into a bright lighthouse-style bulb

First, the good news: America is poised for an energy renaissance. We already have the technology to begin seriously shifting away from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable power that can give us all the energy we crave while weaning us off foreign oil.

You know the bad news. The U.S. consumes a quarter of the planet's daily output of 84 million barrels of oil, up to a third of that imported from unstable corners of the world. Meanwhile, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing permafrost to melt, ice shelves to collapse-and climatologists to warn that if emissions continue at their current rate, the next generation will be subject to unprecedented environmental devastation.

There are no silver bullets here. Rather, a suite of new technologies, assembled with the help of dozens of scientists and energy experts, shows that by 2025 we can cut our oil consumption in half, and slash our reliance on electricity-producing fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas, almost entirely. Added to our portfolio of existing nuclear and hydroelectric power, renewable energy sources can virtually eliminate our need to rely on greenhouse-gas- producing fuels to run our homes and economy.

Of course, there will be misses along the way. Maybe you'll gaze out from your airplane seat 20 years from now at flying windmill farms-or maybe you won't. What you can bet on is that researchers and companies will compete to find the best technologies to harness renewable energy sources.

The major roadblocks to this new energy era are no longer technological; they are political and bureaucratic. If we can overcome them, the payoffs are huge: We'll reduce trade deficits, enhance national security, and create millions of non-exportable jobs. We'll ease an overwhelming array of environmental problems and make America far more competitive and self-sufficient in the process. Head to to see how we'll do it...

Step 3: Rev Up Our Hybrid Rides: Ultralight parts and a plug could double America's mileage

GRAPHIC: The PLUG-IN HYBRID CAR Trading more socket for less pump. Today's hybrids get 55 miles per gallon. That will seem like gas-guzzling if plug-in technology is widely adopted. Cars that plug into a home socket at off-peak hours shift the energy draw of the nation's vehicles to power plants that generate electricity overwhelmingly from domestic sources. Plus, they run quieter and cleaner. Best o fall, technology could be used now.

Never mind the movie stars pulling up to the Oscars in their Priuses. When the U.S. Army announces, as it did recently, that it is developing a new hybrid Humvee to save fuel and extend range, you can be sure that hybrid technology has arrived.

Hybrid vehicles improve efficiency by integrating a combustion engine with an electric drive train-a combo that recaptures braking energy, stores unused idle power, and reduces engine weight to increase mileage. But as today's generation of hybrids flies out of showrooms, the stage is set for the next fleet, which will slash gas use and emissions much further. They're called plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and they recharge overnight in home garages to take advantage of low off-peak electric rates.

"The implications for our national oil addiction are profound," says Daniel Kammen, director of the University of California at Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. "If the current U.S. vehicle fleet were replaced overnight with PHEVs, oil consumption would decrease by 70 to 90 percent, eliminating the need for oil imports and leaving the U.S. self-sufficient in oil for many years to come." Even if the electrical power for those vehicles were drawn from coal-fired power plants, CO2 emissions would drop by more than half. If the power were produced by renewable energy sources, and the fuel in the tank were biodiesel or ethanol [facing page], the proposition gets exponentially better.

Clearly, though, it's not going to happen overnight. With the exception of DaimlerChrysler, which has built a plug-in prototype based on its Dodge Sprinter cargo van, automakers have been slow to get into the plug-in hybrid market. Aftermarket conversion kits will hit the streets for the first time later this year [see "Can I Plug In My Prius?" on page 84], tempting mileage-obsessed Prius owners like David K. Garman, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. "Like most Americans," he says, "I drive less than 40 miles a day, back and forth to work. If I'm able to drive in all-electric mode, I won't need to use the gas tank. That, to me, is a game changer."

It may not be the only agent of change. Whether cars are run by hybrid or conventional drive trains, the fuel-saving potential of reduced vehicle weight is often overlooked, says Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a natural-resources think tank in Colorado. "By substituting high-strength, lightweight composite materials for steel," he says, "automakers could roughly double the efficiency of hybrids. In terms of fuel-efficiency, that's by far the most effective and doable approach."

Moreover, sometimes the simplest tweaks can have big effects. A recent study by the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that if every car and truck on America's roads was equipped with ventilated seats, air-conditioning-related gasoline consumption could be reduced by 7.5 percent, dropping fuel intake by 522 million gallons a year. Now, there's a cool idea.

The 300mpg drag racer
CAPTION: POWER PROF: Andrew Frank with his newest
plug-in car (looks like he's holding the vehicle up)

In the late 1940s, Andrew Frank was a hot-rodding teenager who mounted a Cadillac V12 engine in his 1936 Ford. By the 1990s, he was a mechanical-engineering professor at the University of California at Davis who pulled big engines out of SUVs and swapped them for smaller ones boosted by plug-in electric motors. His first "plug-in hybrid" got 68 mpg without sacrificing horsepower. Frank is now fielding a student team for the U.S. Department of Energy's clean-vehicle competition, Challenge X. The group is building a 300- mpg plug-in hybrid with an ethanol-powered gasoline engine and a solar-powered electric motor. Sounds responsibly efficient. But the professor is still a hot-rodder at heart: "Last year we had a Ford Explorer that we converted into a plug-in hybrid, and it had so much torque that we couldn't keep the axles from snapping. With six of my students in there, it could still burn rubber."

Balance of story only online: He is now fielding a student team for the U.S. Department of Energy's clean-vehicle competition, Challenge X.

"We were getting 64 miles per gallon without sacrificing anything on the power side," Frank says. "But I saw that the most important thing is that energy for cars could be supplied by solar energy and wind using existing technology."

Page 84 HOW 2.0 SECTION
Ask a Geek: Can I Plug In My Prius?
[NOTE ON SECOND ARTICLE: we're still some months
away from a do-it-yourself kit, and like our
existing conversions, the batteries fit under the
carpet, so shoppers will still have plenty of space.]

The short answer: Why bother? The shorter answer: Why not?

Toyota says the Prius is neat because you don't have to plug it in -- it charges itself when running on gas. But what if you _could_ plug it in? If you could fully charge a set of supplementary batteries overnight from household current and do the next day's errands purely on volts? (The gas engine will stay off under 35 mph if you have enough battery life and you're gentle on the throttle.)

CalCars, a California eco-car consortium that has converted a handful of Priuses to plug-in models, is about to issue a free do-it-yourself instruction dossier with photos, a video and shopping list of all the components you need. The hardware will cost you about $3,000, a third of it for a trunkkiad of lead-acid electric-bike batteries (so Costco runs are out). It's not a weekend project, but anyone comfortable working with high voltages can do it. The mod won't void your car's warranty entirely, but don't expect the dealer to help if you screw it up.

So for the price of a perfectly good used Corolla (plus the Prius's $22,000 price tag), you can have a Prius that can take a trip of less than 10 miles on electricity alone. But you can still go as far as your gas engine will take you -- averaging as much as 75 mpg, according to CalCars. Is it worth the bother? That's up to you.

Stephen Wilkinson is the contributing auto editor for Popular Science.

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