Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Oct 02

Power Electronics could make Hybrid Cars Cheaper

Posted in Energy Inventions | Hybrid Cars | Transportation

Power Electronics Hybrid cars are often known as “cars of the era.” The main feature of the hybrid car is that when we start the car engine, electrical energy is used. This way it helps in keeping a tab on the tail pipe emissions. The use of automobiles is increasing in every part of the globe and so is the threat of toxic pollutants and global warming, thanks to their exhaust ingredients. But if we are using a hybrid car the decrease in the tail pipe emission will do a great service to the environment and society. After starting the engine of the hybrid car gasoline engine will take up the charge. If we want to increase the speed, gasoline is essential to attribute the pace for the drive. While waiting at the traffic signals, maneuvering your car in a heavy traffic and climbing on steep slopes, the electrical energy will be again activated. This way hybrid vehicle minimizes the use of gasoline. We should not forget breaking the notorious fuel consumer. In hybrid cars while we apply breaks it is re-channeled for the electrical battery charging, known as regenerative braking, and a separate energy for battery charging is not required.


Earlier hybrid cars were considered as rare breeds but presently we can spot more and more such vehicles on the road. But still they are not produced on commercial scale. Therefore they are costly. Not all that long ago, hybrid vehicles were still really exotic. Now, you see them more and more frequently on our roads. However, hybrid cars are not mass-produced as their production costs are still relatively high. Hanna Plesko – a researcher from ETH Zurich – has given this problem a serious thought. Currently she is doing her doctorate at Power Electronic Systems Laboratory. She is developing a new concept as part of her doctoral thesis that integrates power electronic functions and an electric motor. This combination has the ‘power’ to reduce the costs of hybrid cars.

Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz are doing their bit by raising awareness about clean and green vehicles. They had proudly strutted their hybrid cars and driven up to the red carpet. Researchers are doing their work on making hybrid cars available to the commoner on the street. Hanna Plesko, utilizes public transport everyday to do her research on hybrid cars and the sweet irony is that she doesn’t have her own car!

Plesko is familiar with the ground realities as she says, “It’s rumored that hybrid vehicles can improve your image, but in some cases the automobile companies have difficulties to cover their costs.” The production of hybrid drives is still very expensive and the main culprits are the electric motor and the power electronic energy management system, in which inverters and DC/DC converters play a crucial role. They eat up the major chunk of money. Plesko is dealing with these two mechanisms. She is approaching the problem applying a new concept. She is focusing on the components, i.e. the power electronics and the electric motor. They might perform several functions simultaneously. The multiple uses of the electronic parts and the motor also save volume. This will help in reducing the costs.

Combination with motor has its advantages

In traditional hybrid vehicles, batteries are utilized to provide energy to electric motor, radio, ventilation and the lights. Unlike the electrical drive system, for which a high DC voltage of 200 – 600 V has to be converted into a three-phase AC voltage, a low DC voltage of 12 V is sufficient to power a car radio. Inverters are devices which convert the direct current into an alternating current. DC/DC converters transform the power between the two batteries for the two voltage levels. Therefore we can easily conclude that converters are significant power electronic mechanisms in hybrid or electric vehicles. These days converters are situated outside the electric motors.

A research group “Future Automotive Power Electronics” headed by senior scientist Jürgen Biela, is working towards the converters. Plesko is focusing on a mechanism that integrates the inverter, the DC/DC converter and the electric motor functionally. By combining the functions of the drive and the DC/DC converter, certain electronic constituents and the motor lamination stack can be shared. If we angle it from a manufacturers’ point of view we will see that large quantities of such functionally integrated systems will be cheaper as smaller number raw materials are required. Moreover, Plesko’s design is less complex, making it easier to produce.

  • Jen Peña Smith

    Hybrid cars are superior ONLY if the people who drive them charge them with some alternative means. If you charge them at home, you’ve gone from a gas powered car to coal-fired one.

  • Katarina Kostovic Gasperov

    I strongly support new technology helping cars shift to Green.

  • Maria Evangelineli

    Apart from that, car-indusrties don’t allow such technologies to be widely-used, for example somewhere in USA where people used such cars (electrically powered) with a hiring contract, they had to return them to the company, and so the people could not keep them not even if they paid the extra money needed. The company then destroyed the cars…

  • Christine Sharkey

    So stick some solar panels on your roof and power both your home and your hybrid car with sun power instead of coal power. There are also home sized wind turbines that are quiet and effective. You could combine both solar panels and a wind turbine and have the electric company pay YOU each month. Yes, they are expensive to install, but they’ll power the home for your grandkids, too.

  • Anand Perala

    Overall reduction in fuel consumption is more important. Most people, especially younger people, don’t need 4-5 passenger vehicles to get around. But go to a college campus parking lot and that is all you will see. Stick around and you will see that almost no one carpools.

  • Paul Mendes

    Wow, some people who have commented above have no idea what they are talking about. Hybrid cars do not need to be “charged” or “plugged in”. My parents own a prius and it gets a regular fill up of gasoline just like any other car. It does not need to be plugged in ever. while you drive it the car uses various energy recovery methods to charge the electric batteries and it runs on electric power whenever possible. This enables the car to get about 60 miles to the gallon, which is better gas mileage than my scooter had. It’s not perfect but it’s substantially better than any other car on the market.

    Also, FYI during the summer I commute on a 125cc Honda CBR125R motorcycle. It is fuel injected which means it is remarkably efficient in it’s gasoline use, and uses a catalytic converter to reduce emissions (rare for a motorcycle of that small size). This bike gets up to 100mpg depending on how I ride it. It is probably the most fuel efficient means of highway capable transportation available in canada and it will carry a passenger as well. Once again, not perfect as it uses fossil fuels but still much better than a full sized car.

  • John Boston

    Paul, You’re the first person I’ve heard of who knows of a Prius actually getting that kind of mileage. The Prius owners I know say they rarely top 40 mpg. The turbo diesel VW Jetta consistently beats the Prius in mpg, and blows it away in performance.

    As for not plugging the Prius in, modifying it to allow charging it from a power outlet, thus making it a “Plug-In Hybrid” is the single most popular modification to the Prius, as well as other hybrid cars. It’s so popular, in fact, that Toyota is going to start selling them as plug in hybrids from the factory:
    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/07/plug-in-prius-2/

  • Marcelina Sosa-Mcgirr

    I don’t own a Prius, but if people don’t get the high mileage out of it is b/c of the way they drive… speed etc…

  • Amy Wagner

    How about attaching a wind turbine to a vehicle somehow and using the power generated as the car moves to charge a battery? Probably crazy, but crazy can be the mother of invention!

  • Joseph Moniz

    The Prius with 1 person on board isn’t as efficient as the 6 seat SUV with all seats filled. It’d be hard to beat a Prius or Insight with all 5 seats filled.

    Unfortunately most of the cars in LA have only a driver in them, including the cars in the carpool lanes ( which tend to be mostly hybrids, CNG, and flex-fuel vehicles.)

    Again, a variation on the theme of if you’re using the vehicle wrong isn’t not as green as it could be.

  • David Eldon

    @Amy

    Putting a turbine on a car with the hopes of recovering energy from wind is ultimately going to cost more energy because of added drag. The source of the wind is the car’s engine, so harnessing it will be working against the engine.

  • Soesilo Pn

    Therefore we can easily conclude that converters are significant power electronic mechanisms in hybrid or electric vehicles. These days converters are situated outside the electric motors… I think it’s a good solution.

  • joann jenkins

    Thank you for the interesting articles and challenging topics you provide. As a school teacher who requires her students to do in-depth research projects, your site has made it possible for us to pursue something contemporary as well as fascinating to do! Thanks again.

    ms. jenkins

  • Jos Conil

    A small step towards a great future for eco friendly cars. Hats off to madam Hanna Plesko!

  • Sameera

    I wish I could join Ms. Plesko in her research. Anyways I wish her all the very best.


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