[Paleopsych] 250 miles per gallon? They're doing it
shovland at mindspring.com
Tue Aug 16 00:31:59 UTC 2005
Tinkerers fiddle with hybrids to increase efficiency
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CORTE MADERA, California (AP) -- Politicians and automakers say a car that
can both reduce greenhouse gases and free America from its reliance on
foreign oil is years or even decades away.
Ron Gremban says such a car is parked in his garage.
It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an
80-miles-per-gallon secret -- a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that
boosts the car's high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can
burn even less fuel.
Gremban, an electrical engineer and committed environmentalist, spent
several months and $3,000 tinkering with his car.
Like all hybrids, his Prius increases fuel efficiency by harnessing small
amounts of electricity generated during braking and coasting. The extra
batteries let him store extra power by plugging the car into a wall outlet
at his home in this San Francisco suburb -- all for about a quarter.
He's part of a small but growing movement. "Plug-in" hybrids aren't yet
cost-efficient, but some of the dozen known experimental models have gotten
up to 250 mpg.
They have support not only from environmentalists but also from
conservative foreign policy hawks who insist Americans fuel terrorism
through their gas guzzling.
And while the technology has existed for three decades, automakers are
beginning to take notice, too.
So far, DaimlerChrysler AG is the only company that has committed to
building its own plug-in hybrids, quietly pledging to make up to 40 vans
for U.S. companies. But Toyota Motor Corp. officials who initially frowned
on people altering their cars now say they may be able to learn from them.
"They're like the hot rodders of yesterday who did everything to soup up
their cars. It was all about horsepower and bling-bling, lots of chrome and
accessories," said Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman. "Maybe the hot
rodders of tomorrow are the people who want to get in there and see what
they can do about increasing fuel economy."
Plugged or unplugged?
The extra batteries let Gremban drive for 20 miles with a 50-50 mix of gas
and electricity. Even after the car runs out of power from the batteries
and switches to the standard hybrid mode, it gets the typical Prius fuel
efficiency of around 45 mpg. As long as Gremban doesn't drive too far in a
day, he says, he gets 80 mpg.
"The value of plug-in hybrids is they can dramatically reduce gasoline
usage for the first few miles every day," Gremban said. "The average for
people's usage of a car is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. During
that kind of driving, the plug-in hybrid can make a dramatic difference."
Gremban promotes the CalCars Initiative, a volunteer effort encouraging
automakers to make plug-in hybrids.
Backers of plug-in hybrids acknowledge that the electricity to boost their
cars generally comes from fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases, but
they say that process still produces far less pollution than oil. They also
note that electricity could be generated cleanly from solar power.
Gremban rigged his car to promote the nonprofit CalCars Initiative, a San
Francisco Bay area-based volunteer effort that argues automakers could mass
produce plug-in hybrids at a reasonable price.
But Toyota and other car companies say they are worried about the cost,
convenience and safety of plug-in hybrids -- and note that consumers
haven't embraced all-electric cars because of the inconvenience of
recharging them like giant cell phones.
Automakers have spent millions of dollars telling motorists that hybrids
don't need to be plugged in, and don't want to confuse the message.
Nonetheless, plug-in hybrids are starting to get the backing of prominent
hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President
Reagan's undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a
group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on
plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil
Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy,
said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him
and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern
governments that support terrorism.
"The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent
on our destruction or helping those who are ... the more we are enabling
those who are trying to kill us," Gaffney said.
Now vs. later
DaimlerChrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said plug-in hybrids are ideal for
companies with fleets of vehicles that can be recharged at a central
location at night. He declined to name the companies buying the vehicles
and said he did not know the vehicles' mileage or cost, or when they would
Others are modifying hybrids, too.
Monrovia-based Energy CS has converted two Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by
using powerful lithium ion batteries. It is forming a new company, EDrive
Systems, that will convert hybrids to plug-ins for about $12,000 starting
next year, company vice president Greg Hanssen said.
University of California, Davis, engineering professor Andy Frank built a
plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others,
one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids,
including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban.
Frank has spent $150,000 to $250,000 in research costs on each car, but
believes automakers could mass-produce them by adding just $6,000 to each
vehicle's price tag.
Instead, Frank said, automakers promise hydrogen-powered vehicles hailed by
President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though hydrogen's
backers acknowledge the cars won't be widely available for years and would
require a vast infrastructure of new fueling stations.
"They'd rather work on something that won't be in their lifetime, and
that's this hydrogen economy stuff," Frank said. "They pick this kind of
target to get the public off their back, essentially."
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