Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Customized hybrid cars get up to 250 mpg, but you can forget getting one

Cool article about people modifying their hybrid cars to achieve marked gains in mileage. I admit it first caught my eye because of where the dateline places it: Corte Madera, CA, borders my hometown, Larkspur (a bucolic paradise in my childhood; it has since been horribly overdeveloped).

Anyway, back to the story. By adding extra high capacity batteries, these tinkerers are able to boost car mileage significantly over short distances. The batteries allow the electrical motors to run longer, thus using less fuel over short distances.
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. [...]

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 [the town lies some 15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge] -- all for about a quarter. [...]

"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."
At the moment, most of the action takes place in home garages, although Daimler-Chrysler is dipping a tentative toe into the market.

Since hydrogen-powered cars are still many years away, it's nice to see possible alternatives that will lower petroleum use.

For all it's promoise, the technology is unlikey to take off. Few people are willing to give up enough trunk space to install the batteries, the electricity comes from the inefficient burning of oil or coal, one must plug it in daily. Equally troubling for me is that proponents continue to make pie-in-the-sky sorts of claims such as solar power will take over the production of electricity from carbon-based fuels.

Get over it, guys. Production of solar panels produces a deadly set of heavy metals, costs too much--both in fuel and money, and requires enormous amounts of land if it is to replace coal or oil fired plants.