Hybrid Electric Vehicle – Down to the Parts

With all the great news from the auto industry introducing another hybrid vehicle or another electric vehicle, this article explores a bit what such vehicles are made of. What are the differences with the conventional petrol car and what might the future hold for them?

The first difference you see these days is that both the electric vehicle and the hybrid vehicle come with a plug to charge it at home; the conventional vehicle has not. The conventional vehicle also has no electric engine to power the wheels or a large battery to power this engine. The conventional car of course does have a battery, but that is just used for starting the internal combustion engine and it acts as a buffer for the electrical systems used. Power in the conventional vehicle is generated by the combustion engine.

For an electric vehicle, there are two main components: the electric motor and the battery. The electric motor is the one to power the wheels of the vehicle and the battery is used to bring along energy for the trip. They almost all have the option of regenerative braking, which allows one to recover energy when slowing down and charging the battery a little while doing so. This is a great method to increase the overall efficiency for a vehicle! Further more there is often a special battery management system (BMS) which ensures the battery is kept at the right temperature and is not charged or discharged in a way that can damage the battery.

For a hybrid vehicle there are a few more main components: besides the electric motor and the battery, there is also an onboard power source like the conventional combustion engine (but also a fuel cell is used for example). Additionally, there is a system that somehow connects the power from the battery and the for example combustion engine and gets it to the wheels. There are many ways to do this last step, the simplest being that the combustion engine would be used as a generator to power the electric motor with electricity. Excess electricity is stored in the battery for future use. Another method is to have a special gear set combine the mechanical power from the combustion engine and the electric engine and get them to the wheels. There are also manufacturers who power one set of wheels with the combustion engine and the other set of wheels with the electric engine. A big advantage of the hybrid vehicle is that it can use the very efficient electric engine at lower speeds (for example urban areas) and the combustion engine for extra power on the highways or for extra range.

To sum it up, an electric vehicle consists of:

– Electric Engine
– Battery

A hybrid vehicle consists of:

– Electric Engine
– Battery
– Energy source (internal combustion engine, fuel cell, etc)

The disadvantages of the electric vehicle and the hybrid are mostly the cost. Compared to the conventional car they can cost more to purchase. This has two main reasons; the first being that the conventional car is mass-manufactured which makes it cheaper (compare one million units produces versus one thousand units produced) and the second is the current price of batteries. Batteries at the moment are the biggest cost within the vehicle, the larger your battery is, the larger the cost is in the total price of the vehicle.

Another disadvantage which currently mostly applies to the electric vehicle, is the range it can cover. Current vehicles are of such a weight and their batteries can only hold a certain amount of power. Comparing the electric vehicle to a conventional petrol car they can cover a lot less ground on a full charge or tank. The first argument to counter this disadvantage is that most people do not drive distances that can not be covered by an electric vehicle. Current electric vehicles can cover about double or four times the daily distance required by many people! However, there are three movements currently helping to overcome the range anxiety problem. The first is the battery manufacturer, which improves the technology so that the battery will weigh less and can contain more power. The second is the charging industry, where solutions are found in fast charging. Conventional charging can take up to eight hours to charge your vehicle. The goal is to reduce this to an acceptable amount of mere minutes. The third force is heading for battery swapping; much like a petrol station, an electric vehicle can swap the empty battery for a fully charged one.

For the future of the electric vehicle and the hybrid there are many options, the most popular ones are:

– Fuel Cells
– Fast Charging of batteries
– Better batteries that weigh less and hold more power
– Battery swapping stations
– New car design options

Lots to expect from the electric vehicle and the hybrid vehicle!