How Advanced Hybrid Systems Work

Image Gallery: Hybrid Cars Hybrid technology is getting better and better, forcing traditional hybrids to make way for more advanced hybrid systems. See more pictures of hybrid cars.
AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach

Hybrid vehicles are fairly commonplace on the roads now, and many automotive manufacturers have several lines of cars that include a hybrid version. In 2009 alone, even during an economic downturn, more than 290,000 new hybrid vehicles were sold in the United States [source: Hybrid Cars]. The demand for hybrids doesn't seem be dropping off, and as more manufacturers build hybrids, the technology is getting better and better, forcing traditional hybrids to make way for more advanced hybrid systems.

Advanced hybrid systems still take aim at achieving the best gas mileage and getting improved efficiency out of the vehicle, but they do so by incorporating new or improved technologies that traditional hybrids have yet to completely utilize. Advanced hybrids make more use of electrical engineering efforts and bring hybrids one more step away from the gasoline engine and just little a bit closer to an all-electric vehicle.

Advertisement

You can think of hybrid systems like math class. First, you have to learn the basics like addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. Then, you move on to more advanced mathematics like algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. Just like in math, hybrids build on the current information and then move into more advanced areas. For advanced hybrids, the benefits are more powerful batteries, longer range without gasoline, new ways of recharging the batteries and even new ways of harnessing power.

Hybrids that are just coming onto the market now may not look much different than previous versions, but they include advancements that have been made possible by the last few years of mass-produced hybrid technology.

On the next page, we'll take look at some of the new and improved technologies in advanced hybrids systems and see how they're changing our current definition of a hybrid vehicle.

Advanced Hybrid System Technologies

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) can store more power into smaller sized battery packs and automotive companies are starting to use them as a more advanced electrical storage system for their hybrids.
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) can store more power into smaller sized battery packs and automotive companies are starting to use them as a more advanced electrical storage system for their hybrids.
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Advanced hybrid systems function similar to many standard hybrid vehicles, meaning that they still use a small internal combustion engine, an electric motor and in most cases a set of batteries. But advanced hybrid systems go one step further and incorporate newer technologies into the vehicles.

One example of this would be the use of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries as opposed to nickel-metal-hydride batteries (NiMH). Lithium-ion can store more power into smaller sized battery packs and automotive companies are starting to use them as a more advanced electrical storage system for their hybrids. Li-ion currently cost more to produce, but they have more benefits that NiMH batteries do, In fact, many companies have invested a lot of money to develop sophisticated Li-ion battery technology. So, as the price of the technology has started to decrease, manufacturers look to Li-on as the dominant electrical storage for hybrids. Even though Li-ion batteries are becoming the battery storage of choice, some advanced hybrids don't use battery technology at all. Instead, they use a flywheel to store electricity for use later on. (We'll get into this topic a little later on in the article.)

Advertisement

Another major technology difference between traditional hybrids and advanced hybrid systems is the amount of electricity used for the vehicle's power. Yes, all hybrids use some sort of electric motor to assist the combustion engine, but advanced hybrids use the electric motor in ways that provide an alternative to the gasoline engine while commuting, rather than just assistance to the engine. In some advanced hybrids, like the Porsche 911 GT3 R, there are two electrical motors that power the car instead just one [source: Abuelsamid].

In addition to lithium-ion batteries and the use of more electric motors, advanced hybrid systems may also include plug-in technology for battery recharging. Not all advanced hybrids are plug-ins, but some, like the Toyota Prius plug-in, integrate the technology into the vehicle in order to provide an alternative means of recharging the batteries as opposed to only recharging them through driving and braking.

On the next page, we'll take a look at some examples of how these technologies are being applied.

Advanced Hybrid System Applications

Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid GT Race Car
Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid GT Race Car
PRNewsFoto/Porsche Cars North America, Inc.

On the last page we mentioned several different types of technologies that are being used in advanced hybrid systems that are similar to traditional hybrids, yet build upon current technologies and take them one step further. So why build on the current technology? What are the practical applications of an advanced hybrid system? Well, just like with a traditional hybrid, fuel efficiency is a major goal, but advanced hybrids have even bigger applications.

Let's start with storage capacity. We mentioned on the last page that advanced hybrids will use (and some already use) Li-on batteries, which allow the vehicle to have a more efficient battery lifespan than earlier battery types. The practical application of this results in drivers being able to go longer distances on electricity alone. For instance, the Chevrolet Volt will be able to drive up to 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) on electricity alone, and the plug-in Toyota Prius will have an electric range of about 13 miles (21 kilometers) [source: Thomas and Toyota].

Advertisement

The second application is customer convenience. Some advanced hybrid cars, like the Volt and the next generation Prius, have the ability to charge their batteries by being plugged into an electrical source. Instead of having to use the car itself to recharge the batteries, some advanced hybrids are able to recharge while sitting in the garage. So not only does the battery charge last longer and is able to be used for electric-only driving, but it can also be recharged at home at the end of the day and be ready to go the next morning.

One of the last major applications for advanced hybrids is their ability to create more power and use it in better ways than their predecessors. Like we mentioned on the last page, the Porsche 911 GT3 R hybrid uses two electric motors to accompany the engine. These motors capture kinetic energy during braking, convert it into electricity and then store the electricity in an electromechanical flywheel to be used at will. The two motors are used for the front wheels and provide the driver with automatic power to the wheels in normal driving conditions, or they can be used as a burst of power to the wheels by pressing a special acceleration button [source: Abuelsamid].

This form of advanced hybrid system can be used for power on demand whenever it's needed.

So, you can see that advanced hybrid systems build on current technologies of traditional hybrid vehicles, but then take it one step further by improving not only the battery power and fuel efficiency, but also on-demand vehicle output and driver convenience, too.

For more information about advanced hybrid systems and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Abuelsamid, Sam. "Porsche 911 GT3R to Run at Petit Le Mans." July 21, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://green.autoblog.com/2009/04/24/fiat-working-on-new-hybrid-system-for-small-cars-to-share-with-c/
  • Hybrid Cars. "December 2009 Dashboard: Year-End Tally." Jan. 20, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://www.hybridcars.com/hybrid-sales-dashboard/december-2009-dashboard.html
  • Chevrolet. "Chevy Volt." (Nov 1, 2010)http://www.chevrolet.com/volt/
  • Hybrid Cars. "Honda's Low-Cost Hybrid Strategy: Lithium Ion Batteries." March 18, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2010)http://www.hybridcars.com/news/honda-low-cost-hybrid-strategy-lithium-ion-batteries-27544.html
  • Hybrid Cars. "Lithium Ion Hybrid Batteries." April 3, 2006. (Nov. 5, 2010)http://www.hybridcars.com/technology-stories/lithium-ion-batteries.html
  • Thomas, David. "GM Raises Chevy Volt's Electric Range." Sept. 23, 2010. (Nov. 4, 2010)http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2010/09/gm-revises-chevy-volts-electric-range.html
  • Toyota. "Prius Plug-in Hybrid." (Nov. 1, 2010)http://www.toyota.com/upcoming-vehicles/prius-plug-in/