Gas and Electric: Understanding Hybrid Cars
For a long time, most cars ran solely on gasoline, but that has changed. Petroleum as a fuel is a limited resource, and many engineers, researchers, and designers of vehicles are working to find ways to reduce the usage of this fuel with either alternative methods or fuel. For example, some cars run strictly on electricity; however, these vehicles are hampered with ineffectiveness on the road in comparison to gas-powered cars and availability of power sources during long distance drives. Many people still choose these cars over gas-powered cars because they release less environmentally-damaging fumes than their predecessor, and do not tap into the limited resource that is petroleum. However a new breed of cars has emerged that not only utilizes gas but also electricity, known as hybrids. Hybrids use much less gas than regular cars, which saves money and is better for the environment. Unlike electric cars, hybrids are not hampered with the inefficiencies that weigh down their electric counterparts. To simply describe hybrids, they are “the best of both worlds”.
Full and Mild Hybrids
A full hybrid, in comparison to a mild hybrid, provides the most fuel efficiency. A full hybrid contains both an electric motor and a rechargeable battery, which can either work together or separately. This gives full hybrids better gas mileage, as they can run solely on the electric motor during light driving. Whenever full power is needed, then the gas-powered engine is utilized. This can double a full hybrid’s fuel efficiency over standard cars. Mild hybrids have a large starter engine that turns off during coasting, breaking, and stopping and restarts quickly afterwards. Unlike full hybrids, their used engines cannot solely propel the car forward. While not as fuel-efficient as a full hybrid, usually obtaining 10% to 15% more fuel efficiency than standard cars, it does provide more fuel-efficiency than gas-powered vehicles, is easier on the wallet than a full hybrid, and weighs less.
Hybrid Fuels (Dual Mode)
These vehicles are a little different than other hybrids. Rather than utilizing two different types of propulsion devices, these vehicles can utilize different types of fuels that are more environmentally friendly and cost efficient. These can be described as hybrid fuel vehicles or dual mode vehicles. Some vehicles called flexible-fuel vehicles can run with several types of fuels mixed into one tank such as gasoline and ethanol. Other substitutes for ethanol can be methanol or biobutanol. Some vehicles are called bi-fuel vehicles which utilize two fuel sources such as petroleum and natural gas but because the two cannot be mixed together (in comparison to a flexible-fuel vehicle) they utilize two separate but parallel fuel systems that feed into one engine. This sacrifices space in vehicles but also adds to an increase in range and flexibility. Some vehicles have been modified to run off of alternative fuels if they are available, such as autogas, which decreases exhaust emissions, or even vegetable oil.
Fluid Power Hybrids
These vehicles fall into two subcategories of their own, petro-air and petro-hydraulic hybrids. Petro-air vehicles utilize a mixture of highly compressed air and gasoline to power the car by releasing this air to move pistons in the engine. These cars are extremely fuel-efficient as air is the primary source of powering the engine which also makes fuelling these kinds of vehicles very cost effective. Air is certainly a cheaper fuel than gasoline. A company in India is working on working on designs for these vehicles to put into the Indian market; however these kinds of vehicles may take a while to be introduced into the United States as they will have a hard time meeting U.S. safety regulations.
Petro-hydraulic vehicles have existed for a very long time, being used in large vehicles such as trains. At first, many were uncertain about the cost efficiency of building these kinds of systems in smaller vehicles for the average consumer, but after they were found to be useful in a smaller engine as well, engineers began working on designs that could propel the average car in the United States. They found that this could be done efficiently and began working on making more cars like this. While most of these kinds of vehicles are designed using the mechanics of normal engine setups which is somewhat restrictive, some companies are working on making such engines for large passenger commercial vehicles such as a minivan.
Here are some additional resources for those interested in learning more about hybrid vehicles:
- Hybrid Electric Vehicles
- A Student’s Guide to Alternative Fuel Vehicles
- Green Student U: Hybrid Car
- Hybrid Cars
- Hybrid Car Information
Written by: Milan Alcot