Technology – How Hybrid Cars Work

5 05 2009

HowStuffWorks “Gasoline Power vs. Electric Power”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_vehicle

A hybrid vehicle is a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move the vehicle.[1] The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors

The hybrid is a compromise. It attempts to significantly increase the mileage and reduce the emissions of a gas-powered car while overcoming the shortcomings of an electric car.

To be useful to you or me, a car must meet certain minimum requirements. The car should be able to:

  • Drive at least 300 miles (482 km) before re-fueling
  • Be refueled quickly and easily
  • Keep up with the other traffic on the road

A gasoline car meets these requirements but produces a relatively large amount of pollution and generally gets poor gas mileage. An electric car, however, produces almost no pollution, but it can only go 50 to 100 miles (80 to 161 km) between charges. And the problem has been that the electric car is very slow and inconvenient to recharge.

A gasoline-electric car combines these two setups into one system that leverages both gas power and electric power.

Gasoline-electric hybrid cars contain the following parts:

  • Gasoline engine – The hybrid car has a gasoline engine much like the one you will find on most cars. However, the engine on a hybrid is smaller and uses advanced technologies to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.
  • Fuel tank – The fuel tank in a hybrid is the energy storage device for the gasoline engine. Gasoline has a much higher energy density than batteries do. For example, it takes about 1,000 pounds of batteries to store as much energy as 1 gallon (7 pounds) of gasoline.
  • Electric motor – The electric motor on a hybrid car is very sophisticated. Advanced electronics allow it to act as a motor as well as a generator. For example, when it needs to, it can draw energy from the batteries to accelerate the car. But acting as a generator, it can slow the car down and return energy to the batteries.
  • Generator – The generator is similar to an electric motor, but it acts only to produce electrical power. It is used mostly on series hybrids (see below).
  • Batteries – The batteries in a hybrid car are the energy storage device for the electric motor. Unlike the gasoline in the fuel tank, which can only power the gasoline engine, the electric motor on a hybrid car can put energy into the batteries as well as draw energy from them.
  • Transmission – The transmission on a hybrid car performs the same basic function as the transmission on a conventional car. Some hybrids, like the Honda Insight, have conventional transmissions. Others, like the Toyota Prius, have radically different ones, which we’ll talk about later.
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