Green Car Company Rides Wave of Plug-in Hybrids, Battery Technologies

8/10/09

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Green Car Company is having an event on August 22, and will offer a raffle prize of an electric bike for those who average the highest miles-per-gallon on their test-drive. Of course, the main difference compared to a regular Prius is not so much in the driving as in the charging of the battery. Driving the modified car is not really different from driving a regular Prius, although the extra battery weighs about 200 pounds. Green Car Company can install improved suspension for the Prius when they put in the battery so that the weight doesn’t cause problems. It’s not difficult to plug it in, and there’s a helpful flash of the brake lights when the car is charging. Even better, the car cannot turn on while it is plugged in, eliminating the possibility of unfortunate mishaps like driving away while still plugged in.

The standard Prius battery is a nickel metal battery, which is capable of being recharged via braking. But this kind of battery can lose some of its ability to hold a charge from repeated charging and have a higher rate of self-discharge, further decreasing its shelf life. Lithium ion batteries don’t have that charging issue and tend to be lighter than nickel batteries. There are some regenerative lithium ion batteries, but they are prohibitively expensive for most cars, making the plug-in option a viable compromise between the two types of batteries by having the more efficient lithium battery without the higher cost of making it rechargeable from braking. It only costs 16 cents in electricity to charge the battery from empty to full, according to the Green Car Company employee who showed me how to drive and charge the car. From my own driving experience, even a whole day of driving did not deplete the battery entirely to empty.

The other main reason people buy hybrids is, of course, the lesser impact they are supposed to have on the environment. The Prius is already one of the cleanest vehicles sold in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Green Car Company says even if the electricity for the car comes ultimately from coal power plants, there is still a 50 percent reduction on carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere compared to a regular car.

There’s no denying the growing trend toward greener vehicles, but at the moment, with so many different types of alternative fuel vehicles, it’s uncertain which, if any, of the options will have the greatest success. At the moment, the plug-in modification seems like a good choice if you buy a hybrid car for the long haul and travel in a way that maximizes the efficiency of the battery. It may just be that the technology for hybrid and alternative-fuel cars in general needs advancement, something the industry is finally getting funding for. But plugging in a car may soon become just as common as plugging in any other appliance.

Eric Hal Schwartz was an intern in Xconomy's Seattle office. Follow @

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