Thursday, March 3, 2011

Plug-in Hybrids Better than Gasoline Versions

So plug-in hybrid vehicles, aka extended range, are very appealing to a lot of people. There aren't too many on the market, the Chevy Volt being the symbol, and many are in the works. Here's why people are looking forward to it:

1. Much of the time you're on battery power, freeing you up from OPEC-controlled, smog spitting, ridiculously expensive, gasoline.

2. When the battery runs out, the gas engine kicks in, reducing your range anxiety and giving you a lot more miles to cover before charging up your battery again.

So what if there were a way to move beyond battery and gasoline in a PHEV? Wouldn't that be the coolest thing? Here's a few thoughts on that subject...

1. The Algeus is being driven around by "Fuel" director/star Josh Tickell, a big believer in biofuels and freedom from oil. It's a Toyota Prius converted aftermarket into a plug-in hybrid version, and its gas engine has been taken over by algae biofuel. Very cool! The problem is there's only one of them out there now, and algae biofuel has some big stumbling blocks to surmount before making it to your nearest gas station.

2. Peugeot finally took the wraps off the look-awaited 3008 Hybrid4, the first diesel-electric vehicle in the world. This model will be available in a limited edition of 300 units, which will be ready to hit the market in the fall. According to the Detroit News, the 3008 Hybrid4 is equipped with a 163 horsepower 2.0-liter HDi diesel engine driving the front wheels. Not a plug-in hybrid vehicle - a regular hybrid running on diesel instead of gasoline, but a step in the right direction.

Ok, this is very cool but only 300 of them are coming out. And how many come to the US from Europe? Probably zero to a couple, as it's most likely launched in France. The good news here is that diesel is much cleaner these days because of government restrictions on what's sold (ultra-low sulfur), and diesel engine technology is way more efficient and cleaner than it used to be. So a diesel hybrid will probably be better than a gas engine hybrid - more miles per gallon and a bit cleaner. The downside is that diesel is a bit more expensive than gasoline, but if it's more fuel efficient, that could balance it out.

And what about any other fuel combinations? Natural gas or propane and plug-in hybrid? Flexible fuel version of a plug-in hybrid marrying ethanol and battery power? And what about this hydrogen hybrid I've heard about? 

All of this new vehicle technology is exciting, even though it can stir up fears stemming from 1950s sci-fi/horror flicks where scientists screw up and accidentally produce humongous ants, turtles, rats, etc., that eat us alive. It's good that there are strict safety requirements on vehicle these days (thank you, Ralph Nader), and that Society of Automotive Engineers and Underwriters Laboratories are extremely cautious and addicted to testing before they endorse new technology and vehicles.


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