Hybrid vs. electric

| 08 Mar 2012 | 02:44

Hybrid Imagine driving for 40 miles without using a drop of gasoline or producing any tailpipe emissions, and then not worrying about traveling another 300 miles to your ultimate destination. Hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt, “2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year,” combine the efficiency of an electric car with the long-range capabilities and convenience of a traditional vehicle. Most people think of the Volt – which plugs into the standard wall outlet in your garage – as an electric car, but technically it belongs to a new age of hybrids.

The onboard gas generator provides electric power to maintain the charge in the lithium-ion battery pack, eliminating a newly coined human condition called “range anxiety,” or the fear of getting stranded because your electric car ran out of juice. The Lithium-ion cells provide twice the power of the similar weight batteries found in yesterday’s hybrids.

Unprecedented efficiency is built into the car’s every aspect. Wind tunnel tested mirrors, sheet metal rocker panels, and low rolling resistant tires all help the Volt slice through the air as easily as possible. The regenerative braking system recycles energy by capturing the car’s forward motion, converting it into electricity that powers many of the onboard systems. Heated front seats can be programmed to turn on when the interior temperature is low, keeping the passenger warm using less energy than a heater.

More car than electric, the Volt shares suspension components with the Corvette, accelerating to 60 miles an hour in well under nine seconds.

Frank Petrucci, Country Chevrolet, Warwick

Electric Although electric vehicles are a novel technology at the moment, they will most certainly be a dominant mode of transportation in the near future. Of the handful of commercially available EVs, the typical ranges are on the order of 100 miles, with the Tesla Roadster leading the pack with nearly 250 miles on a single charge.

Electric vehicles are much more energy efficient than a comparable gas engine car, because they do not have to first convert energy into heat. The Nissan Leaf averages about four miles per kilowatt-hour, which in gasoline terms is equivalent to 148 miles per gallon. This boost in efficiency means that even when electric cars are charged with the dirtiest grid electricity (100 percent from coal), they produce about 40 percent less carbon dioxide per mile than an average gas-powered car. Electric cars can even be charged with solar or wind energy, which will result in practically zero greenhouse gas emissions. This is exactly the purpose of our Solar Journey USA trip: to drive across the country by charging the battery in the electric car with solar power.

One advantage of EVs that tends to get overlooked is the fact that even when they’re charged with a dirty electricity mix, the nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matter emissions are produced in a location away from people, i.e. at the power plant, rather than deposited in the middle of cities where the most people can be negatively affected by them.

Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren, PhD candidates at Columbia University in Earth and Environmental Engineering, are planning a solar-powered cross country trip. Solarjourneyusa.com.