Patterico's Pontifications


100 MPG Hybrid Prius

Filed under: Environment — DRJ @ 1:08 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Wheaton College sponsored a display of alternative fuel vehicles during a recent Earth Day event, and two brothers brought their Hybrid Prius that they modified to get 100 mpg:

“For some young men, the trunk is the perfect spot for a huge set of car speakers.

But brothers Andrew and Chris Ewert have put something far more powerful in the back of their parents’ Toyota Prius: a lithium-ion battery pack capable of dramatically boosting the hybrid car’s already impressive fuel efficiency.

Unlike a conventional gas-electric Toyota Prius, which gets about 55 to 60 miles per gallon of gas, the Ewerts’ so-called “plug-in hybrid” is capable of traveling about 100 miles per gallon.

And it only takes 35 cents’ worth of electricity from a standard power outlet to charge the extra batteries.

“We’ve gotten about a thousand miles off of one tank of gas,” Andrew Ewert said. “This is the future of cars. We strongly believe that this is where it’s headed.”

Here’s a video interview.

Pretty cool.


34 Responses to “100 MPG Hybrid Prius”

  1. It just pains me to think that good old fashioned ingenuity is going to help solve our environmental concerns and not massive government regulation.

    JVW (74e424)

  2. Wow, it’s weird to read a familiar name in the news. I attended Wheaton College, and I don’t know Chris Ewert myself, but he’s a friend-of-a-friend. And it doesn’t at all surprise me that he’d be involved in a project like doubling the gas mileage of a Prius.

    Robin Munn (fd52f9)

  3. Now can you imagine if those extra batteries were encased in a standardized container, capable of being removed and replaced with another container with a fully charged set of batteries?

    And that these containers were located at intervals along our highways at stations with charging facilities whereby people could stop, get something to eat, relieve themselves, and pay a fee to rent a fully charged container of batteries that would be loaded into the car by a machine designed for that purpose?

    And that as battery technology improved, the containers would not only pay for themselves through rentals, they would spread the costs of replacement or upgrade in proportion to their use, along with the benefit of being able to contain more energy in the same unit area?

    Maybe someday we won’t actually need the gas engine at all.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  4. “Maybe someday we won’t actually need the gas engine at all.”

    Whats going to charge the batteries?

    stef (b022b7)

  5. I don’t know the cost of lithium batteries big enough to to run a car, but the tiny ones I occasionally buy for a cell phone run 8 bucks. I charge them with a small charger for about 35 minutes. Charging the car battery for 35 cents????? But it’s not the cost of the energy it’s the amount used, and in test after test the energy used to charge a battery exceeds the energy saved. Popular Mechanics once ran a study that showed if half the cars in LA charged their batteries nobody else would have any lights. Besides the rubber band powered engine I see nothing on the horizon. BTW GM has been testing a lithium powered Volt for six months and is getting 100mpg. No word on speed or performance…yet.

    Howard Veit (cc8b85)

  6. The gas engine in the car stef – not all gas engines. Sheesh. There doesn’t have to be 100% elimination of something for it to be effective.

    If crime fell 88%, would you say “Ha! What a failure!”

    Apogee (366e8b)

  7. Howard – Right now in LA it’s about .11 per KWH. That’s 1000watts used for one hour. There are many improvements possible – for instance Pop Mech also highlighted an Volvo prototype that uses motors in the wheels, eliminating 10 to 20% of the energy lost by using a transmission.

    As for there being more energy used than saved. Of course. But it’s a different kind of energy, and doesn’t take into account the addition of other sources, (solar, etc.) all of which are improving their efficiency as discoveries and improvements are made.

    Just because it doesn’t happen today, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  8. Whats going to charge the batteries?

    Nukes, coal, wind, hydroelectric. There are lots of options that aren’t oil.

    Pablo (99243e)

  9. The Tesla Roadster is awfully interesting and is in production and available for sale. But as Howard notes, widespread use would require additional electricity production. So let’s build nuke plants and lots more Tesla type cars.

    Pablo (99243e)

  10. Pablo – Love that car. It’s just that, IMHO, the big barrier to electric cars is the changing battery tech, charge times, and cost of the large packs. Those three roadblocks could be removed by a system like I described in #3.

    Increased generating capacity. If there’s a profit to be made, expect even greedy uncle Al to go charging forward.

    Note: All puns in the preceding post were intentional.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  11. “There doesn’t have to be 100% elimination of something for it to be effective.”

    No but we may lose efficiency in the charge process. However we do gain one major benefit — the emissions get displaced to a different location.

    stef (b022b7)

  12. stef – read #8. To me, that’s everything, as emissions are far more containable in one area than spread out all over. It also allows us to substitute different generation methods as each method improves. There is an effort in SF bay that uses underwater turbines to generate power from the natural tidal flow in and out of the bay. The first units had to be replaced – the blades were ripped off by the tidal forces, which were much stronger than expected.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  13. However we do gain one major benefit — the emissions get displaced to a different location.

    Or, in the case of nuke power, there are no emissions.

    Pablo (99243e)

  14. “Or, in the case of nuke power, there are no emissions.”

    They’re neatly wrapped up forever in a mountain!

    stef (b022b7)

  15. stef – should we all just kill ourselves now? Because nothing will ever be perfected or invented in the future, and everything has some sort of negative to it that just makes it impossible to implement. Nukes have nuke waste, solar can’t replace everything, wind is unreliable, tidal isn’t perfected or in place, and any fossil fuels produce some sort of emissions and we’ll never be able to reduce that to an acceptable level!

    You need to turn off NPR.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  16. MPG figures like these are basically bullshit because they don’t take into account the energy/electricity from the wall plug. The energy/electricity has to come from somewhere and be paid for, whether it’s generated by the car’s gasoline engine or the power companies’ coal-fired (usually) generators.

    Jim C. (d32322)

  17. Aah, the ever moving goalposts of the environmental movement. So the car can only have a gasoline engine? A turbine say, that could burn biofuel, hydrogen and/or perhaps run on compressed air would be impossible? The thermodynamic principles of energy conservation and entropy are always hauled out (using more energy, I might add) to shoot down any and all ideas as not completely solving the problem. (similar to my post #6)

    “We’d just need to get the energy from somewhere else!” People yammer, as if there’s any system on the face of the earth that doesn’t have this issue facing it. Consider walking? Nope, your body needs fuel to move, and energy is expended in the cultivation and delivery of those crops. Local farming? Nope, you’d have to tear down most urban areas and spread everyone out to achieve the same level of production. But then you’re messing up the ecosystems!

    To the perennially negative, or many Democrats, crying that there might be some problems is equated with solving problems. Which explains most leftist political thought.

    Sit, if you want to, with the Paul Erlich’s of the world, I’m staying with the Norman Borlaug’s of the world.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  18. when you have a trunk full of lithium-ion batteries, what happens when the driver behind you fails to notice that you stopped and rear-ends you at 30-40?

    assistant devil's advocate (77788a)

  19. They’re neatly wrapped up forever in a mountain!

    Yeah! Except that’s not emissions and it’s no more troubling when you take it out of a reactor than it was when you put it in.

    Pablo (99243e)

  20. ADA – what happens is considerably less than when a liquid, such as gasoline, with the explosive potential of 14 sticks of TNT per gallon leaks onto the pavement and spreads throughout the area.

    Again, the fact that an accident may occur and that something bad might happen is not a reason for discarding an alternative source of transportation.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  21. 35 cents generally won’t get you more than 3 kilowatt-hours (less, where I live). A kilowatt, used with perfect efficient is about 1.34 horsepower. So the 35 cents will get you no more than 4 horsepower for an hour, or 8 horsepower for half an hour. I believe a small very aerodynamic car can go at 60 miles an hour with about an 8 horsepower input. But that gets you a half-hour range, or 30 miles, on the highway obeying the speed limit. (Power consumption goes up as the square of speed.) The car may have a 1,000 mile gasoline tank range, but to see awesome MPG ratings as claimed here — to get most of the energy from the wall socket, and not from gasoline — it would probably have to be charged on average about once every 50 miles; whatever this second “range” figure was, the story should have included it so that consumers could see how well such a car might fit their needs, as it might for a commuter car. (To be sure, as others have noted, electric production has various environmental pros and cons.)

    DWPittelli (2e1b8e)

  22. I dunno… All I can say is “There’s a backseat… I’ll toss my stuff back there…”

    Scott Jacobs (d3a6ec)

  23. Again with the bogus “100 MPG” claim!
    Heck, my unmodified Prius will get better than 100 MPG if I start driving at the top of a mountain and mostly go downhill. Get it to the top with a tow truck, don’t count fuel burned by the tow truck to get it there, and I can claim a 100+ MPG THEV (Towable Hybrid Electric Vehicle)!
    And then there’s the trouble with calculating energy costs based on the regulated price of residential electricity… I looked at the tariffs a couple of years ago and completely failed to get a handle on who was subsidizing whom, and what the true costs were.

    Eric Wilner (3936fd)

  24. ADA – took me a while but check here as another response for your earlier question

    Apogee (4e1b69)

  25. As mentioned in several preceeding posts, MPG is irrelevant (BS was the term used I think). Placing a bigger storage battery in an electrical system is no different than installing a bigger gas tank in a conventional one. That MPG was not infinite in the sample car merely means they outdistanced the batteries once in a while. There is no actual saving, merely displacement. A subsidized commodity was used in place of a taxed commodity, meaning others (You and me, perhaps?) paid part of the bill.
    By the way, electric transmission of power in moving vehicles is not a new development. Railroad engines have used almost nothing else since 1946, construction and mining equipment are usually diesel electric, most WWII submarines and many surface ships were diesel electric as are many current surface ships such as ocean-going ferries. (It allows you to park the engines anyplace and use the middle for cars and trucks instead of the center third of a ship being the engine room.) The sooner the swooning stops the better.

    Daniel O'Neill (289528)

  26. Daniel O’Neill, you’ll get a kick out of this:
    The new QM-II, uses gas-turbines to turn electrical generators, and the propellers are turned by electric motors – no drive shafts, the motors are contained in the struts that hold the props. Also, the two outer struts (there are four) act as the rudders and turn on their axis. There is no need for reverse gear, they just turn the props around on the two outer struts (though, I would think efficiency would improve if they were able to reverse the two center strut drives). Another benifit of this setup, is that with bow-thrusters and the movable strut-drives, they can move the ship sideways without the services of tugs.

    All modern (post-WW-2) railroad diesel locomotives are diesel-electric, using the “Prime-Mover” to turn a generator (now an alternator) and using traction motors (then DC, now AC) on the axels to propel the locomotive.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  27. The 100 MPG claim is BS.

    No it isn’t, and here’s why. Let’s start with the simple things. First, MPG means miles per gallon, and while many could argue endlessly about it’s real meaning (talk about BS…), when that term is used most of us equate it to a gallon of gasoline.

    A fully electric car, using batteries charged from a non fossil fuel source gets infinite MPG, as it doesn’t burn any gasoline. It’s not cheating. It’s using a different source for automotive transportation. What is the problem with this concept for so many?

    Yes, many things were invented in the past, or utilized previously discovered techniques. Electronics experienced a quantum leap by the application of an ancient technique called lithography. Electromagnetic waves were discovered long ago. That doesn’t mean that cell phones and computers are “old news” and that they haven’t had a colossal effect on mankind.

    Apogee (4e1b69)

  28. Apogee,
    You mistake my point. MPG is quoted as a measure of efficiency. An electric vehicle with a gas engine for emergencies SHOULD get infinite MPG unless the vehicle is operated beyond beyond battery capacity. This says absolutely nothing about efficiency. Of course MPG alone is a silly measure even on conventional vehicles, otherwise we would all be riding mopeds. Everybody knows this instinctively, but the true measure of what you get for your vehicle fuel is Miles x Gallons x Passengers (or Tons) x Hours. When the time comes that a battery worth the weight to carry it around arrives, you won’t be able to stop people from using electric cars. Until then, I wonder how the vehicles with a 50 Kw motor and a ton of batteries under the floor will perform on my drives between Phoenix and Albuquerque. Until then I wonder how one of the batteried up SUVs will cope with a horse trailer climbing the same mountains. Batteries are still a terrible way to carry a significant amount of power around, and their sheer weight would make most vehicles incapable of doing real vehicular work. Commuter cars for moral preening really don’t light the way to the future, at least not with any wattage to speak of! The electrics are not completely useless, but are so close to useless that a second car is needed if you do anything on weekends. Anyway, electric motor efficiencies are quite good, but motor/battery combinations don’t shine so pretty because while the motor efficiency giveth, the battery mass taketh away. Until actual efficiency improves, they’re eye-catching toys, like a motorcycle for guys with no ‘nads.

    Daniel O'Neill (289528)

  29. Daniel,
    We may be arguing cross purposes. Please re-read #3, along with #10 for more on what I’m talking about. Covers the Phoenix – Albuquerque issue.

    If we want to take a walk down efficiency lane, the internal combustion engine is located near the bottom, being that its thermal efficiency blows out any mechanical advantage to less than 20% for the fuel burned. Electric engines are much more efficient, and with the elimination of the friction of the transmission, bring much more of that battery energy/weight ratio to move the vehicle. Also, juxtapose the complexity of internal combustion with its coolants, oils and support systems against that of simple electric drive and the comparison changes somewhat.

    As for power – see post #26 regarding the movement of trains and cargo ships via electric motors. Especially the use of turbines, which can be adapted to burn many types of fuels while battery tech improves.

    I’m not saying electric vehicles are perfected – neither was the internal combustion engine when it was first implemented – but that people make improper comparisons between the energy efficiency of fossil fuels vs. batteries. At this point gasoline contains much more energy per unit than batteries do. If that’s all you believe you need to compare, then there’s no question. It would be like comparing a nuclear car to a gasoline engine and waxing poetic about the energy ratio of nuclear generation vs. internal combustion without mentioning any of the downsides to nuclear. They even thought about that one.

    However, charging is available everywhere, as electricity can be generated in multiple ways. Gasoline not so much, hence the latest price fiasco. My interest in electricity as a replacement for automotive transportation has more to do with elimination of the oil problem (at least for most Americans) than it does with the “eye-catching toy”ness of it all.

    I’m not talking about eliminating big rigs and cargo vans, just starting on a path that will give us greater choices, and I’m quite done with the idea that if it doesn’t exist now, then no effort should be undertaken until it’s a perfect replacement.

    Apogee (4e1b69)

  30. Apogee
    We are indeed as somewhat crossed purposes. Improvements are always good. Replaceable battery packs could indeed get some more range on an electric vehicle. I mentioned the Phoenix/Albuquerque run because there are several stout climbs on that route. Enough battery to make the climb will almost always be more that can be climbed with. Efficiencies of 20% are indeed common with internal combustion engine/transmission powertrains. Efficiencies of 25% are common for commercial powerplants. Electric motors can have efficiencies far beyond the I/C engine. Powertrains will exhibit similar efficiencies no matter the power source. Charging and discharging batteries is the part that is hugely inefficient. It is the hybrid part of the hybrid powered vehicles that excites us, but the tradeoff remains. The more battery you add the less useable the vehicle becomes. If you get rid of all but the starting battery, you have an I/C engine with an electric transmission, and overall, a better vehicle than the one with the humongous batteries. In an early GM experiment with hybrid power systems undertaken to explore such a system for use in NYC taxi cabs (Briggs & Stratton being the division involved!) a workable vehicle was developed. At the end of the day, all parameters, including fuel efficiency, were improved by the simple expedient of removing the (lead/acid) battery packs and just running with the engine-generator set. I agree that any progress with this whole idea is great. I state that you should never try to replace something with another something that does not work as well. I’m thoroughly convinced that electricity will have it’s uses as these ideas develop, but my core point is that: absent a battery with real energy density, all this buzz about hybrids is a shell game. Even replaceable battery packs are a waste of time in mountainous country. You mentioned that you didn’t seek to replace long haul trucks with hybrids and batteries. This is indeed looking in the direction opposite the approach of progress. Commercial road vehicles, railroad engine, and aircraft powerplants have always demonstrated the ultimate achievable efficiencies available at their time.

    Daniel O'Neill (e58892)

  31. Daniel,
    I appreciate your thorough responses. As for replacing something with another something that does not work as well, I don’t think there’s much of a choice there. (although many frustrated consumers would argue that there’s been an increase in planned obsolescence over the past several decades)

    I will also agree that battery energy density is not at replacement level with gasoline yet, although that’s changing pretty fast. However, my comment regarding turbines was meant to imply that the term hybrid could mean many things at this point. MIT has managed to make microminiature turbines that can run on methanol (I think) that they are trying to use to power laptop computers. Turbines are also capable of burning multiple fuels (methane from cows?) and as such, in my mind are superior to standard automotive I/C engines. Like electric motors, they’re also much simpler, and a simple vehicle is usually dependable and cheap to maintain.

    As for the replaceable battery packs: Yes, they increase range, but they also do something else – they free the electric vehicle from the leash of battery tech. As newer, lighter, more energy dense batteries appear, the turbine runs less, and the batteries run more, and nobody’s forced to fork out 20K for a new set of batts. That’s paid for by the charge fee at the switch station. The consumer is literally paying for improvements in battery tech by using the batteries, while deriving value from their investment. And it’s spread over all the people using the system. Your car is electric, and your electric range improves over time. Fossil fuels are increasingly expensive, and there hasn’t been an octane improvement for years. A gallon of gas today will most likely have the same energy density of a gallon ten years from now (as well as still occupying the same space). Not so for battery tech. With an electric car, you are investing in the future.

    As for mountainous terrain, you’re right – more energy needed. I’m not talking, however, of mandating this by government fiat. If you live in Phoenix or Albuquerque, you may wish to stay with your truck. There will be no “mass crushing” of I/C engined vehicles. By the way, ever been to Nebraska? Kinda flat – along with much of the US. Also, with a turbine generator, you may just haul over those stout grades.

    The electric grid has much higher penetration than the fuel delivery grid. Most buildings in the US have electricity. Given my link above where they estimate a possible 10 fold improvement in battery density, the added simplicity of electric drive, the existing electrical infrastructure, and the future value built into a system with almost no emissions that can be re-energized in multiple ways, your core point: absent a battery with real energy density, all this buzz about hybrids is a shell game, seems to ignore a great part of the picture.

    An aside: My point in purposefully leaving out Big Rigs and Cargo Trucks was to try and not confuse the issue, as the post dealt with passenger vehicles. The trade offs of cargo weight vs. battery tech, infrastructure and mission are different than passenger cars. One is professional and one is consumer. Changes in regulated pro gear are handled differently. I mentioned it only to highlight that I’m interested in an increase in choice, not mandates.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  32. DRJ – I think my last post was caught in the filter.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  33. Where I live, Gas taxes pay for roads. If we all drive 100 MPG vehicles like a prius. In 10 years we will all have to switch to SUVs just to make it down the road that has degraded and we no longer have funds to fix!

    TB (876481)

  34. TB, you’re a little late with a comment, but let me roll this past you. If you check, the Feds are rolling in Highway Trust fund dollars. The Congresscritters are drooling trying to figure out ways to divert that money to their supporters if not themselves.

    PCD (5c49b0)

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