How several types of hybrid automobiles really work

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Welcome to SHIFT Basics, a collection of tips, explanations, guides, and advice to keep you up to date on mobility technologies.

When it comes to low-emission vehicles, there are broadly three categories: battery-electric, alternative fuel and hybrid-electric.

Today we’re going to look at hybrid electric vehicles, what they are and what types they are because they aren’t quite as simple as they sound.

There are three types in the world of hybrid vehicles: mild hybrid (MHEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and regular hybrid electric (HEV).

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Despite the major differences between the different types of hybrids, they all have one thing in common: They use an electric motor alongside a combustion engine to support the vehicle’s engine performance.

This is where the similarities end, however, as each hybrid type implements the engine differently.

Where it started, Hybrid Electric

When it comes to hybrid vehicles, there is one thing that will be remembered like a thorn on a rose: the Toyota Prius. As the first series hybrid electric vehicle, it is the one that everyone knows.

Hybrid electric vehicles like the Prius are what chic people refer to as parallel hybrids. They are so named because they can obviously use their electric motors and combustion engines in parallel.

Photo credit: Wikimedia CC The Toyota Prius can probably be credited with turning the world’s eyes to more conscious driving. It’s now a plug-in hybrid.

In simple terms, these hybrids have an engine and a motor both of which are attached to the wheels of the car. There are many ways to implement and improve this principle, but one version of this idea was patented by a Soviet engineer in 1994. This engineer happened to be suing Toyota for patent infringement, but that’s another story – read about it here.

These types of hybrids have fairly small batteries, typically under 5 kWh. They are not designed for long distances with battery power, but the electrical components are used to take the load off the internal combustion engine, to improve its efficiency and to reduce tailpipe emissions.

These types of hybrids charge their batteries when they are driving a generator powered by the wheels or when the car is slowing down with regenerative braking. Some automakers, as you can see Lexus, call these “self-loading” hybrids. This is misleading and kind of wrong. Read why here.

norway, green car reports, driving sekf, cars, future, electric, phev, hevCredit: Green Car Reports – ScreenshotNorway, a leading global supplier of electric vehicles, is taking action against companies that advertise hybrids as “self-charging”.

The advantage of this type of hybrid is that it is very accessible. I mean that in the sense that it’s not a huge departure from conventional driving. These types of hybrids are powered and fueled just like a normal combustion vehicle. The car takes care of mixing its internal combustion engine with electric motors to deliver power and efficiency. It doesn’t require any habitual changes from the driver.

The fact that these hybrids run on gasoline like a normal vehicle helps with this Alleviate range anxiety. This is also a major disadvantage: you cannot charge the battery from renewable sources. To charge the batteries, you need to burn fuel. It’s not perfect.

Scheme, hybrid, phäv, diagramPhoto credit: Wikimedia A schematic for a hybrid drive. Note: Motors and generators are connected to the drive shaft between the motor and the wheels.

They do help to reduce tailpipe emissions and are a step in the right direction towards more environmentally friendly driving. Over the years, however, they have been the focus of criticism, largely because they don’t quite live up to what manufacturers said in the real world. However, we should be grateful for cars like the Prius as the world thought about how our driving habits affect the environment.

A plug-in hybrid is the best hybrid

According to mechanical principles, plug-in hybrids are similar to normal hybrids. They use parallel motor and motor settings to drive the wheels.

The main difference is that plug-in hybrid vehicles have larger batteries and can be charged from the mains. If you wanted, you could drive a plug-in hybrid without ever using the engine. You couldn’t go very far before needing to recharge, but at least your emissions would be low.

How far plug-in hybrids can travel on battery power alone varies from vehicle to vehicle, but is typically between 10 and 50 miles. The Lynk & Co. 01 PHEV SUV should have a range of approx. 70 km with electrical energy alone.

lynk & co.  Auto, future, ev, phev, hybridCredit: M BeedhamObscured in a cage, the Lynk & Co. 01 sits for people to look around. Test drives will also be offered soon for those who want to buy the car right away.

Plug-hybrid vehicles are still not the perfect solution when it comes to low-emission driving, but they are the best when it comes to hybrids.

As with normal hybrids, the plug-in versions have also been criticized for not being quite as efficient as the manufacturer claims. As Ashley Fry, Loughborough University lecturer in vehicle electrification, writes in The Conversation, PHEV emissions can vary depending on how the vehicle is driven.

Someone who drives hard and fast and does not make optimal use of the car’s electrical elements emits far more CO2 than someone who drives calmly and considerately and uses the engines as often as possible. It’s pretty easy.

Mild hybrids, the new kid on the engine block

While they might have hybrids in their name, mild hybrids are quite different from the other types of hybrid vehicles. The main difference is that the electric motor that is used to assist the internal combustion engine is not connected to the wheels.

Mild hybrids also use tiny, low-power batteries compared to traditional all-electric vehicles – usually it’s a 48V system. The batteries are charged with energy that is recovered when braking.

In a mild hybrid, a starter generator is used to directly assist the engine. In simpler terms, an electric motor is connected to the engine in order to provide additional power when starting, taking off or driving other vehicle components.

Mazda, m, 3 future, hybridPhoto credit: Mazada Mazda does not currently have plug-in hybrids but does have mild hybrid powertrains.

You see, the thing is, while the main job of an internal combustion engine is to propel a car forward and drive the wheels, it also has to power a number of ancillary components that suck all of the energy and reduce the engine’s efficiency. In other words, the operation of the air conditioner decreases the economy and increases the emissions.

Using a 48V battery system to remove these tasks from the engine and provide assistance when accelerating can reduce a vehicle’s emissions. However, the reduction is small compared to plug-in hybrids.

In reality, mild hybrids aren’t the best solution for reducing emissions, but they’re better than nothing. The advantage of mild hybrid systems is that they are typically the cheapest hybrid options, are lighter, simpler, and easier to assemble, so they can be added to vehicles with relative ease.

There you have it, now if someone starts chewing their ears off about the new hybrid they bought, you have an idea what it’s about.

SHIFT is brought to you by Polestar. It’s time to accelerate the transition to sustainable mobility. That’s why Polestar combines electric driving with state-of-the-art design and exciting performance. Find out how.

Published on December 11, 2020 – 14:21 UTC

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