Plug In and Fire Up the Engine

HEVs are the current iteration of greener transport, but the next step in greener mobility will undoubtedly be the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, also known as PHEV. The plug-in hybrid is different from the HEV in two fundamental ways. First, the PHEV's primary source of power is an electric battery. Yfes, it does have an internal combustion engine, but that engine is used mainly as a way to boost horsepower when needed. The second major difference is in the technology used in the PHEV batteries.

Unlike HEV, PHEV vehicle batteries can be recharged simply by plugging them into an ordinary 110-volt electrical outlet. With PHEVs, you can use the power you already get from your utility company to essentially fill your tank. The promise of plug-in vehicles is truly revolutionary. The widespread use of such technology to green our primary mode of personal transportation would likely take a big bite out of our dependence on foreign oil. It would also mean a significant reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

From a consumer standpoint, PHEV use would mean a huge reduction in vehicle operation costs. Because PHEVs will get much better fuel mileage than HEVs—some estimates are between 100 and 150 miles per gallon—the consumer would be able to go a lot further with a lot less out-of-pocket monetary green.

What's the problem with mass adoption of PHEVs? Why aren ' t automakers rushing to get these vehicles to the market pronto? Actually, many automakers are trying to get a viable PHEV vehicle mass produced. The problem with mass production of PHEVs at this stage is battery technology. Lithium batteries are currently the main technology for PHEVs. And yes, that' s the same lithium battery technology used in my favorite electronic gadgets such as cell phones. But this technology has the unfortunate side effect of creating a lot of heat. The tendency to overheat can be a danger, especially in a big mechanical device like an automobile.

I think once the technical challenges in developing the next iteration of lithium batteries is largely overcome, including the ability to reduce the overall cost of this sophisticated battery type, the floodgates are going to open up big time in terms of the move to PHEVs. I don't know about you, but I would love to just plug my vehicle into an outlet in my garage and basically be set to go about my business. Sure, with a PHEV I may still have to visit the gas station, but definitely not as frequently—and it would definitely cost me a lot less overall.

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