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The future of hybrid vehicles

Tuesday, January 1, 2019 - 09:00
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An additional benefit of future hybrid car designs is a moderately sized battery, probably around 5 kWh, which will be able to be charged overnight from a standard household plug. In addition, the widespread use of hybrids will have a dramatic effect on consumer fuel purchases in the future. If gasoline prices start to increase, owners of hybrids can instantly start using more electricity and less gas reducing the demand for oil and lowering fuel prices overall. It will take a high percentage of hybrid vehicles to affect fuel prices but consider that through 2016, about 11 million hybrid cars have been sold worldwide with 36 percent of that total sold in the U.S. As the cost of hybrid vehicles comes down, and performance and efficiency goes up, sales will increase affecting fuel prices.

(Image courtesy of NetGain Motors, Inc.) The combination of a super-efficient gas or diesel engine, plus the power of a large electric motor will offer drivers of hybrids the best characteristics of both power sources.

Because power for acceleration will be provided by an electric motor, the engines used in hybrids will have small displacements and be more fuel efficient. On average, an ICE wastes around 50 to 70 percent of the heat energy stored in gasoline or diesel. Instead of providing power to turn the wheels, wasted heat energy is used by the radiator/cooling system, engine components like pistons, cylinder blocks and heads, and the exhaust system. Engines used in hybrids can run at steady speeds and will have higher thermal efficiencies that could reach 50 percent or more.

Small displacement engines that use turbocharging and Atkinson cycle designs will power the hybrids of the future. Diesel engines could be revisited for automotive applications because emissions can be more easily controlled during constant power output. A diesel hybrid could use all electric power for city driving and diesel power for rural areas where pollution is less of an issue. Atkinson cycle types of engines provide good fuel efficiency as a tradeoff for lower power-per-displacement, when compared to traditional four-stroke engines. Variants of this engine design were used in 1997 in the Toyota Prius. Currently there are over 40 OEMs that use Atkinson-cycle engine designs like variable valve timing. The combination of the Atkinson-cycle engine with a large electric motor provides the most efficient means of producing power for hybrid vehicles.

This drawing shows how hydraulic assist braking could be used in a hybrid car. During braking the hydraulic pump sends high pressure fluid to the accumulator. When accelerating the accumulator sends the high-pressure fluid to the hydraulic motor to drive the rear wheels. A computer would control hydraulic valves to operate the system (not shown).

Conclusion

Internal combustion engines operate best when under a constant load. Engines operating at their most efficient configuration will have increased longevity, be less complex, cost less to manufacturer and emit lower emissions. Hybrid drivetrains will combine the ICE and electric motor to take advantage of the best characteristics of both. The hybrids of the future will circumvent the trade-off between power and efficiency that current internal combustion engine powered cars are subject to. Hybrids have been sold in the U.S. for over 20 years and there is opportunity for many future refinements. Hybrid vehicles will bridge the gap between fuel-powered only to all-electric power. The hybrid of the future will be less expensive to own and operate, plus provide consumers with a fun, environmentally friendly driving experience.

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