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Plug in hybrids

Updated on August 7, 2007

Plug-in Hybrids are making news. What is a plug-in hybrid? Why should we care? Are our cars not sufficient?

Hybrids have long been around, using a variety of schemes to try and stretch gas, break dependency from gas, and to be more efficient. Reasons for this include environmental protection, independence from foreign oil, and cheaper transportation. The combustion engine has been around for over 100 years, and during that time, the principal still remains the same. Gas has long been the most efficient of these means, but the affects on the environment, price of oil, long term forecast that we are running out of oil have brought about a change in the way the automotive industry thinks.

Hybrid electric vehicles or HEV's achieve their high gas mileage through an electric engine, smart electronics, and gas. Some achieve over 60mpg, compared to their counterpart non HEV's of 25mpg. There are tax incentives to purchase these as well, making them an attractive option. They are never required to plug into the wall and for all intents and purpose behave the same as non-HEV's. They incorporate new technology to save fuel, use battery when applicable.

Now the push is on for Plug in hybrids (PHEV). These differ from HEV's in the fact that they are required to plug into a wall for re-charging. Currently they can get around 8 miles before requiring a charge, which takes around 2 hours. Not very efficient, not even practical, but it is a step in the right direction.

Currently battery technology is holding this back. Toyota is once again leading the charge for this by introducing a new version of the Prius. The Prius has extra nickel-metal hydride battery packs, to increase the distance it can travel on a charge. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are large, heavy, yet reliable. They are rather antiquated, compared to lithium ion batteries. Lithium Ion batteries are the next generation of batteries to be tested and used in these new vehicles. The problem with Li batteries is during testing, several have caught fire.

With Ford, GM and Chrysler jumping on the HEV/PHEV technology, it shouldn't be too much longer until they start making their ways into more homes, reducing our dependency on oil, and helping the environment as much as possible.

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