July 31, 2017 at 11:54 AM
Alternative fuel methods for cars have come a long way over the past few years. Just 25 years ago, the concept still seemed just that – a concept, something to be wheeled out at car shows as a possibility for the future, despite the performance that would just about get you to the shops and back after 12 hours of charging at a maximum speed of 20mph. You might as well have gone by bicycle.
Then, along came the Toyota Prius to change all that. The petrol/electric hybrid still relied heavily on fossil fuels, but here was something that used battery power and was actually a viable car for everyday use. It was not the first petrol/electric hybrid – that honour fell on the Honda Insight, but by offering more doors, more seats and more practicality, the Prius is the one that will go down in history as successfully bringing hybrid power to the masses.
Before long, the Japanese manufacturers were coming up with additional hybrid offerings, and then the all-electric offerings started to hit the forecourts. Today, charging points are sprouting up everywhere like weeds, Volvo is announcing that it will provide an electric version of every vehicle in its range by 2020, and France is saying that petrol and diesel cars will be consigned to history by 2040.
It has all happened so quickly that you can hardly be blamed if your head is spinning a little. So here’s a simple guide to the different types of hybrid out there today.
As the name suggests, a hybrid car uses two different fuel sources to maximise efficiency. This usually means a combination of electrical energy stored in batteries and combustion energy from petrol, diesel or LPG. Different hybrid systems have different ways of generating and conserving energy, for example through regenerative braking or by charging the batteries up from the mains.
They also vary in the way the different power sources coexist and complement one another. Let’s learn more.
This is the most economical version. Series hybrids are, to all intents and purposes, all-electric cars designed for short city journeys that also have an internal combustion engine as a back up to provide extra energy to the batteries on those occasions when you need to complete a longer journey.
The green credentials for series hybrids are high, but so are the costs, thanks to those hefty batteries and the complex charging systems.
This is the sort that made hybrids famous. Power is mostly delivered from the petrol engine, with the batteries there to deliver extra power when needed, thus saving fuel. Parallel hybrids can also run on electric alone, but not for long, as the range is relatively short due to the smaller batteries.
Similar to a Prius – or if you prefer, to a Formula One car, mild hybrids use petrol or diesel but have the electrical energy there to give a power boost. The result is that your heavy right foot burns less petrol.
This is the latest advance on the Prius-type parallel hybrid. It works on the same principle, but with bigger batteries and the option to charge them from the mains, not just the engine. This essentially means that the electrical side can play a larger role in powering the car.