Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Nov 07

Solid Tech Improvements Advance Practical Hybrids

Posted in Hybrid Cars | Transportation

Practical Hybrid Although the idea of driving a hybrid vehicle (and getting a better car insurance rate for doing it) has become increasingly common for the automotive public, designers are still hotly contesting the best form “alternative” fuels should take and happily experimenting with everything from electrical and hydrogen-powered cars to those that run on compressed air or draw power from solar cells. With the venerable Toyota Prius now an everyday sight on American streets, the two most productive areas of improvement for currently available and soon-to-be introduced models can be found in battery tech and the changed view of driving underlying the interest in plug-ins.

Better Batteries

A major step forward in hybrid technology is the move away from first-generation nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries to lithium ion, which hold twice the energy per pound of convention lead-acid batteries. For their day, NiMH batteries were a significant improvement, but this is an area where research will continue at a fast pace. Consider that in 1997 when GM produced the now legendary EV1, the lead-acid battery it used was 8 feet long and weighed 1,200 lbs. The much anticipated Chevy Volt, on the other hand, will be equipped with lithium-ion cells that store an equivalent amount of energy in a five-foot unit weighing 400 lbs. As developments in this area continue, it’s going to be all about less weight and more energy storage.

Making the Jump to Plug-Ins

Plug-ins are all the rage these days, with private enthusiasts and specialty garages already converting the popular Prius and other hybrids for plug-in capacity. In addition to the much-hyped Chevrolet Volt, GM is also working on a plug-in Saturn Vue and both Nissan and Toyota have vehicles set to debut late in 2009 and early in 2010. This represents a significant shift in how people think about their daily driving that is hugely beneficial to the progress of wide-spread hybrid adoption. Studies have shown that most people drive 40 miles or less in a day, therefore a hybrid with an all-electric range of 40 miles that can also be plugged in to a regular outlet and recharged at an equivalent cost of about $1 a gallon would largely eliminate the idea of “pain at the pump” on a daily basis while dramatically reducing greenhouse gases.

Relatively “simple” advances of this nature are serving to put working, efficient hybrids on the road today while engineers continue to grapple with thornier questions like finding a way to construct a catalyst for a hydrogen fuel cell car out of something a little less pricey than platinum, which hovers around $1,000 an ounce.

  • Earl Adair

    It’s not the fossil fuels that it takes to manufacture the vehicle although it is a concern, but its the same old fossil fuel techniques that are being used to produce the electricity to recharge the vehicle that really concerns me. Lets get alternative electricity production up and running at least at the same pace that we are producing vehicles the run on electricity. Swapping one pollution source for another is not going to make much of a difference from my point of view.

  • Wayne Checker

    Earl I share your concerns, from the big picture they are very valid in my opinion.

    I would add that at least these vehicles (Prius and similar) have good goals in site; the development of alternative power and minimisation of fossil fuel consumption. So it is a move in the right direction.

    We should not however loose sight of the fact that there is also at least one non-hybrid on the market that uses less fossil fuel at the pump than all the hybrids and its made by Fiat. Furthermore is is much cheaper to purchase so their is a financial advantage as well. There is so much hype about the hybrids that we too easily ignore the fact that the same or better fuel consumption is available the conventional way.

    Finally, I believe we must reduce our dependency on cars by way of better urban planning and improved public transport capacity that better meets the need of people to name just a few.

  • James Fountain

    Has anyone ever thought about an electric motor driven car with a small (100cc) gas engine, running at it’s most efficient speed, used only to turn a generator for the batteries? This would require a lot less battery size and weight and provide constant recharging on the go.

  • MEK

    The idea has been put forward however a 100cc engine would not provide sufficient electricity. That size engine maxes out around 9hp and most aerodynamic cars need about 11 hp for long distance cruising at highway speeds. Thus the little engine would not be running in it’s sweet zone but running it’s heart out. Idea’s good just needs a bigger engine. I believe the chevy volt is looking at using this method.

  • go go

    My understanding is that, at highway speeds, most cars are using from 5 to 10 horsepower. if you are making 9 hp, and needing 11, then batteries that would last 10 minutes will suddenly go for an hour (55 minutes in this example). Batteries that can only last 10 minutes would be a huge savings. In urban driving, no problem at all. On long trips, a small percentage of driving, you might need to slow down a little or take a few more breaks. It would not be ideal for this purpose, but maybe the cost savings could sway you.

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