Pulling the plug on hybrid myths

Nov 19, 2009 By Jared Sagoff
A highly instrumented 2004 Toyota Prius is tested at Argonne National Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Whether you call them myths, urban legends, fables or old wives' tales, there's a lot of misinformation out there about plug-in electric hybrid vehicles. These vehicles, abbreviated PHEVs, hold great promise as the key to weaning America from its dependence on imported oil, which represents nearly two-thirds of all the petroleum burned in the United States today.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory has taken a lead role in developing and testing plug-in hybrid technologies. At the lab's Center for Transportation Research (CTR), vehicle systems engineer Forrest Jehlik and his colleagues work to bring these cars to market quickly and cheaply. Here, he dispels some commonly held myths about plug-in hybrids.

Myth #1: A significant number of plug-in hybrids are currently for sale.

Although several major auto manufacturers — including General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, and Volvo — have plug-in vehicles currently in the development pipeline, the first wave of these cars is still at least a year away from officially hitting the market, Jehlik said. The first plug-in hybrid for sale will likely be the , which General Motors claims can travel up to 40 miles on a single charge. The and other hybrids currently on the roads are not plug-ins — their batteries are charged by kinetic energy transferred from the brakes and wheels.

Myth #2: Researchers can measure the fuel economy for a plug-in hybrid just as easily as they can for gasoline-powered cars.

Establishing standards — how many miles a plug-in can travel per gallon of gasoline burned — is a complicated question. The answer, Jehlik said, depends entirely on the driving and charging habits of the vehicle's owner. If a particular plug-in hybrid gets 40 miles on a single charge, then a driver who has a 15-mile commute each way to work and does 10 miles of additional driving each day before charging the battery overnight would, theoretically, use no gasoline at all. If the same driver had a five-mile-longer commute, she'd probably burn just over a gallon of gasoline per week, despite driving 250 miles.

Myth #3: Prices for plug-in hybrid vehicles are currently so high because manufacturers are trying to make a killing on them.

"The truth of the matter is that the components required to build a viable plug-in hybrid are still quite expensive," Jehlik said. In many cases, the battery for a plug-in vehicle by itself costs nearly $10,000. Because the price of petroleum remains relatively low, consumers may not yet be willing to invest the extra money in a plug-in vehicle — even with sizable government rebates.

Myth #4: The batteries in plug-in hybrid vehicles are unreliable, possibly unsafe, and require frequent replacement.

Most plug-in hybrids currently under development use lithium-ion batteries in their battery packs. Although complex chemical processes produce energy within the battery, vehicle system engineers have built in advanced control systems to prevent fires or other safety issues. "Researchers have devoted just as much time and effort to developing inner-pack safety systems as they have to the batteries themselves," Jehlik said. "Consumers don't need to worry about battery malfunction."

Jehlik and his colleagues in the CTR have also tested the current generation of lithium-ion batteries in what are known as "lifecycle vehicle tests," which take the car through its paces for more than 150,000 miles. Even at the end of the car's life, the vast majority of batteries still function quite well, Jehlik said. "When these cars become available for sale, the batteries are going to last as long as any part of them will," he said.

Myth #5: Scientists have identified lithium-ion batteries as the only battery technology that could work in plug-in hybrid cars.

Although lithium-ion technology came to replace nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries as the preeminent focus of electric vehicle development efforts, scientists at Argonne and around the world are currently investigating several different approaches for energy storage that could help to bring down the cost of plug-in hybrids. "Manufacturers are looking at these possible solutions not as silver bullets but as silver shotgun pellets," Jehlik said. "The organizations that hedge their bets among a number of different technologies will likely be the ones that bring vehicles to market the earliest and the most successfully."

Myth #6: America's electric grid can't handle the increased load caused by the charging of millions of electric vehicles.

According to Jehlik, the nation's current electric grid has the capacity to accommodate the imminent rollout of onto the country's roads. "If everyone were somehow able to buy a plug-in hybrid tomorrow, that would probably present a problem as far as the supply of electricity is concerned," Jehlik said, "but given the pace that they are likely to enter the market, we won't face a system-wide failure."

However, Jehlik noted that the country's electric infrastructure would need to change eventually—not only to keep up with added demand, but to ensure the smarter transmission, distribution and consumption of electricity.

Provided by Argonne National Laboratory (news : web)

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User comments : 31

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Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (4) Nov 19, 2009
Look! Hanging off the back of the illustrated Toy Piouses are 1800 Watt cables. Who fails to do arithmetic is doomed to nonsense. Believe nothing you read or hear without verifying it yourself unless it fits your preexisting worldview.
Yellowdart
2 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
Anybody know how much it costs in electricity to charge your plug in hybrid? Is it noticeably more than a television?
Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
Well, one watt-hour is equal to 0.001341 horsepower-hour.

Electricity is typically sold by the kiloWatt-hour, say, for about US$0.25 with infrastructure costs or about US$0.10 for just the electrical power.

Gasoline specific power is 45000 watt-seconds per gram. Gasoline weighs six pounds per gallon.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2009
California regulates televisions.

Under the rules adopted Wednesday, all new 42-inch TV sets must use less than 183 watts by 2011 and less than 116 watts by 2013.

A 42-inch Hitachi plasma TV sold in 2007 uses 313 watts, while a 42-inch Sharp Liquid-crystal display, or LCD, TV draws 232 watts, according to the Energy Commission.
dtxx
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 19, 2009
How about the myth that paramedics won't extract you with jaws of life for fear of shock? Too bad it's not a myth :(
Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
Like the myth of exploding gasoline tanks that has also been overcome?
Parsec
5 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2009
To Doug Huffman - I suggest reading the caption. It says these are experimental cars, not commercial ones. I cannot speak for anyone else, but my 'Toy Piouse' has performed remarkably well as long as I have had it (4 years) and I am very happy with it just for the driving experience. The great gas mileage is simply a bonus. Estimates I have heard are that filling your car with electricity will cost less than $1.00 per gallon of gas equiv. Not free, but far less.
ac04605
4 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
I must say I have never heard any of these myths about hybrid cars. The concerns I always had is whether or not using hybrid cars will reduce our dependency on oil. It seems we need to worry about where our electricity comes from before worrying about how easily replaced the cars' batteries are. Also, shouldn't we be concerned that hybrids don't actually get amazing gas mileage? Diesel cars can already out-perform hybrids... Just some more ideas on the subject.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2009
I drive a 120,000 mile and six year old TDI Jetta. I got two tanks with >50 mpg this past summer. Notably good compared to what I usually get here on a 23 square mile island where it takes a special trip to drive more than ten miles.

What difference does production or 'experimental' make to the observation of a too small charging cable or to the physics?

Who fails to do arithmetic is doomed to nonsense.
Ausjin
5 / 5 (4) Nov 19, 2009
How about the myth that paramedics won't extract you with jaws of life for fear of shock? Too bad it's not a myth :(


Well, it is a bit of a myth. I confess that I am only an EMT and not a paramedic, but I know a few safety procedures about hybrids and have seen them practiced. First and foremost, simply removing the key from the ignition interrupts most high voltage currents a rescuer must concern himself with. Secondly, most high voltage systems are easily exposed and marked with bright orange insulation. Lastly, this is nothing new as far as EMS is concerned. Undeployed airbags remain our biggest worry in vehicle extractions. It would take insanely severe deformities to a hybrid for us to be concerned with electrocution so long as we were provided even basic training.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (6) Nov 19, 2009
To Doug Huffman - Estimates I have heard are that filling your car with electricity will cost less than $1.00 per gallon of gas equiv.
My TDI holds more than 15 gallons of fuel and has traveled more than 750 miles on a tank of fuel. So lets use your $1/gallon equivalent to see 90 Hp x 10 hours = 900 Hp-hours (TDI rated Hp x time for a 750 mile trip) divided by 0.001341 Hp-hour per watt-hour times US$0.25 makes sense...nope, equals $167

Who fails to do arithmetic is doomed to nonsense.
ormondotvos
4 / 5 (2) Nov 20, 2009
What idiotic math. You don't use 90hp continuously. Everyone else just divides cost of fuel by miles driven to get cost per mile.

Are you doing satire?

There are real figures available. Rocky Mountain Institute.

The batteries aren't just charged by braking the car through the generator. That's just the main reason they get good mileage - other cars waste that energy in heat. It's significant, but my 2000 Echo easily does 40 mpg, fifty if I play games, 60 if I hi-mile it.

Of course my Helix scooter gets 80mpg at 65mph on the freeway. The Honda 50cc 4stroke gets 125 mpg at 40mph. Etc. My electric motorcycle, in 1981, got about 350 mpg equivalent.

It's really all about piggy stupid driving styles when you get down to it. Americans are totally spoiled.
Damon_Hastings
5 / 5 (5) Nov 20, 2009
Yeah, that 90 hp figure is bogus. At 65 mph, it only takes 22 hp to overcome wind resistance (see http://en.wikiped...sistance ). Plus a little more to overcome the rolling resistance from the tires. If this doesn't square with the amount of gasoline your car is actually drinking, then bear in mind that 70% of that gasoline's energy is wasted due to the inefficiency of the gasoline engine, and 10% to 20% of what's left is wasted in the transmission.

Also, average electricity cost is 12 cents/kWh, not 25 cents/kWh. See http://www.eia.do...6_a.html
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (2) Nov 20, 2009
zevkirsh
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2009
Smart for two diesel old design non hybrid car illegal to import or drive in the us but ok in Canada

diesel no hybrid 68 mpg AVERAGE mpg
above 70 mpg on highway

nuff said
david_42
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2009
Would it really be all that difficult to establish new rating guidelines for plug-ins? I doubt it, as the main questions were answered in the process of rating the Tesla Roadster. How about:

City miles for an 80% discharge, no engine use.
City mileage, where the beginning and ending discharge levels are the same.
Highway mileage - ditto

Driving 40.1 miles with a 40 mile battery and claiming 400 mpg only makes a company look ridiculous.

The biggest problem with current plugin designs, the engines are far too large. They are scaled to provide nominal acceleration without any battery use. They should be scaled for steady-state highway operations.

And diesel, of course.
Husky
1 / 5 (1) Nov 21, 2009
Hybrids seem like a stopgap solution attempt until more affordable batteries arrive that can pack more juice for all electric cars. Ironically drivers of gasguzling SUVs can enjoy hybrids, not from a green perspective but from having high torque at low RPM
Shootist
1 / 5 (2) Nov 22, 2009
Anybody know how much it costs in electricity to charge your plug in hybrid? Is it noticeably more than a television?


The fact of the matter is North America does not have the electrical infrastructure to support electrical grid (battery) powered cars.

Another pig in a poke brought to you by International Communism (or Barack Obama and the demorat party. same same).
ormondotvos
not rated yet Nov 22, 2009
Anybody know how much it costs in electricity to charge your plug in hybrid? Is it noticeably more than a television?


The fact of the matter is North America does not have the electrical infrastructure to support electrical grid (battery) powered cars.

Another pig in a poke brought to you by International Communism (or Barack Obama and the demorat party. same same).


The real danger to the safety of the world is brainwashed rightwingers who make comments like that.

An actual scientific response is that there are several good things about the switch to electric cars, one of which is that they produce LESS carbon dioxide, NET, because even with line losses, less fuel is used. Electric motors are seriously efficient.

It is expected, planned and legislated that the electric grid will be augmented and modernised with renewable sources as the demand increases.

Dear shootist, your target is in the mirror.
plasticpower
1 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2009
Our electricity comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable sources. I don't think very much actual oil is getting burned to produce electricity.
ormondotvos
not rated yet Nov 22, 2009
Our electricity comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable sources. I don't think very much actual oil is getting burned to produce electricity.


The figures are available for pollution reduction. The oil not burned is the transportation sector where ICE (infernal combustion engines) are replaced by electrics.

Of course conservation is the real big winner in any comparison, changing the energy gluttony of Western nations, especially the USA.
Slamshift
5 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2009
Wow. On a forum where fact is supposed to be ferreted out of a blend of myth, worldview, and random data floating about I see generation of of still more myth, worldview trumpeting, and even more random "data".
Hybrids/ plug-in hybrids the redeemer of mankind? Probably not, but another element in the pot of solution development and diversity in this area is a good thing. Caveat: battery and electrical infrastructure tech bring with them their own special hurdles.

Electric motors not efficient? Compared to what, nuclear fission? Equivalent Power input/ actual mechanical output for electrical motors vs. power input (work value of the fuel) to ACTUAL mechanical output of an ICE makes ICE look very very bad. And this is coming from a guy that enjoys big,loud, nasty ICEs and owns several. Any wonder why trains are powered buy diesel engines driving electrical generators for electrical motors? (That is what I am basing the electric I am building on.)
Slamshift
5 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2009
Then there is the whole "magic bullet" thing everybody seems to be searching for. There is a reason it's called a "MAGIC" bullet. There is no panacea. To presume that is as misguided as believing that "things the way they are/ no need for interim development of other ideas" route is also a good idea.
And the political commentary being put in place of actual data and discussion is nothing more than what we have on any given day on any talk radio station. If you think political jockeying is a reasonable substitute for rational input, save it for Fox.com or msnbc.com.

But have you really looked deep at the core of this issue? The discussion here takes the automobile as written. No notion of alternative infrastructure, no discussion of different ways of moving from one place to another. Thus, the notion of you developing your own system of transport is replaced by being a consumer and waiting for a large company to tell you when and what you will have access to in the future.
Slamshift
5 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2009
Would be kinda nice to see travel by train come back again. But rail travel would have to add more independent lines outside of the existing commercial rail lines (AmTrak has to lease right-of-way from rail company owners so that their trains get get from one place to another...and they are second tier to freight haulers and will be moved out of the way accordingly). Probably never happen for a myriad of reasons.
Don't want a plug-in hybrid? Don't buy it. Sound like a good idea? Get one.
Think a technology is a bad idea? Come up with something better...save the rhetoric. Think something is the absolute truth? Pro or Con, save the rhetoric. Instead, actually try to prove your theory false or allow others to test your hypothesis. The data that turns up just in the testing process is worth the effort even if the overall theory fails.
Lastly, diversity needs to be fostered in technology. Monoculture kills... be it in biology, computer science, or product development.

doctorwho9001
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2009
It's funny because in the area where I live, we don't burn coal to make electricity. Over 60% of the electricity in the country I live in comes from hydroelectric power. Also, I am wondering why "liberal" is a dirty word in the US? In my country, the Liberal Party is the only group of people fit to govern (they're not in now, and it's starting to fall apart), with the exception of the Green Party. If you're going to argue with me angrily, be warned: I am immune to right-wing propaganda, and I will insult your grammatical and spelling skills (in more than one language if needed), so please don't try, unless you want to amuse me.
patnclaire
1 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2009
Doug_Huffman wrote back on - Nov 19, 2009
Well, one watt-hour is equal to 0.001341 horsepower-hour....Gasoline weighs six pounds per gallon.

HELLO!! Illiterate & Illnumerate...
1 pint = 16oz (“A Pint is a Pound the world around.”); 2 pints = 1 quart = 32oz; 4 quarts = 1 gallon = 128 ounces = 8 pounds…
MORAL is?: DO NOT believe everything you read until you check it out yourself.
This faulty calculation brings all his other figures into doubt.
Grun4it
5 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2009
Doctor Who: Liberal or conservative are terms used by people who want to immediately and comfortably discredit any ideas without bothering to review them for merit. Labeling is a tool used by groups that want to hijack rational public thought to drive their self-promoting agenda, which often is diametrically opposed to the greater good. Fear and emotionally charged talking points are used to create an us vs. them mentality. Many would rather kill and/or clinging to fringe thinking than admit they were wrong.
ormondotvos
not rated yet Nov 23, 2009
http://en.wikiped...Gasoline

gasoline 6.07 lbs per gallon.
ormondotvos
not rated yet Nov 23, 2009
Well, I'll leave this discussion depressed at the usual low level of thought.
bhiestand
not rated yet Nov 23, 2009
Would it really be all that difficult to establish new rating guidelines for plug-ins?

I don't like any of those systems. The only HONEST mpg rating for plug-ins requires educating the consumers. We need three ratings:

* distance capable on a full charge
* mileage per kilowatt hour
* mileage per gallon of gasoline or diesel

All three of those are fundamentally critical stats to determining the mileage of the vehicle. It's also the only way to properly rate electric-only vehicles which are coming out in California shortly.
Royale
not rated yet Nov 25, 2009
patnclaire. While I agree with you that Doug_Huffman is an idiot, the weight of gasoline is accurate. Remember, fluids weigh different amounts. One pint = 16 fl. oz. (that's actually a volume measurement, not a weight). Think about it: maple syrup and water in a snapple bottle. Same fl oz, different weight.

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