What would it take to cut petroleum use by at least 85 percent in the near term? What vehicle powertrain can use two renewable sources of energy and on one fill provide a range greater than 450 miles? It’s the plug-in flex fuel hybrid vehicle.
As California and other states, including Minnesota, explore the role of ultra low emission vehicles in cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions, it’s time for a closer look at the plug-in flex fuel hybrid, which is built on existing powertrain technology.
This vehicle is comprised of three key components.
The plug-in component enables this vehicle to charge a traction battery and operate in electric vehicle mode. An electric vehicle range of approximately 30 miles, according to research from the University of Southern California, Davis, is sufficient for commutes in certain metro areas. To make the EV power component truly green and low emission, the electricity used for charging the battery should be generated with only renewable energy sources such as that from wind or solar photovoltaic systems.
Then there is the flex fuel component of this vehicle that can use E85. When a driver exhausts the EV mode, the flex fuel powered engine operates the powertrain. This dual energy combination (from the plug-in and ethanol) significantly extends the range of travel. The dual energy arrangement is especially well suited for those climate zones where greater amounts of energy are required to provide vehicle cabin cooling and heating.
The hybrid component mirrors that in vehicles with traditional hybrid powertrain systems. In typical braking systems, the brakes convert vehicle momentum into heat which is lost to the environment. A hybrid system, however, captures the energy from braking to charge the traction battery.
Moreover, as noted above, carmakers won’t have to make significant investments to offer plug-in flex fuel hybrid powertrains in their vehicles. Plug-in hybrids and flex fuel vehicles already exist in the market. In fact, in 2017, Toyota introduced a flex fuel hybrid vehicle in South America.
With the right signals from regulators and consumers, carmakers will be compelled to offer plug-in flex fuel hybrids to the market in the near term and improve energy security by cutting dependence on one energy source and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.