Any vehicle that uses electric power from a battery—in addition to conventional fossil fuel-powered engines—to run is known as a hybrid vehicle.
Mobility has been the most fundamental factor in all progress that humankind has ever made on the planet. Humans first began to move around on foot, and then came the most significant turning point in human existence: the wheel. By connecting two of these circular discs with a fixed rod, humans were veritably sprinting along the path of progress. They would later go on to harness the power—first manpower and then animal power—to pull and push these contraptions to get work done.
This trend of utilizing muscle power continued until James Watt employed steam to move objects around, opening the necessary avenues for engines as we know them today. As we explored better alternatives for fuel, internal combustion engines that used petrol and diesel were invented.
The Turning Point
Fast forward to today. Fossil fuel has plenty of its own problems. Burning it generates a lot of unhealthy residues and is only available in limited quantities.
With an increase in our global population, the consumption of these fuels has increased, and consequently, so has the pollution, leading to a desperate search for more sustainable options.
Enter electricity. Batteries. Exactly like the ones in those remote-controlled toys you played with as a child (or adult). In pursuit of cleaner and more viable options, carmakers decided to keep electricity at the helm of those wheels.
However, if you remember, every now and then, your batteries would run out. You had to either recharge them or replace them. With a toy car, this was easy. You opened a panel, put in new batteries and set off zooming again. This would be significantly more complicated in a full-size car, given that you’d need a big battery, many tools and the knowledge of how to change a battery safely. Also, if you were to wait for your car battery to recharge at a charging station, imagine the long queues and traffic jams that might result!
Thus, two product philosophies arose: fully electric and hybrid electric cars. The former have rechargeable batteries, so you can charge the batteries from a wall socket and drive around until they run out. The Tesla Model S has an electric range of a whopping 600 km!
The latter comprises electrical motors powered by batteries and work in conjunction with conventional combustion engines, hence the term “hybrid”.
Types of hybrid vehicles
Hybrids are classified into two types based on how their recharging process takes place:
The first type is conventional hybrids. A moving car has an ample amount of kinetic energy that is wasted in braking. Conventional hybrids convert this energy to electrical energy, which feeds into the batteries, thereby recharging them. This phenomenon is called brake energy recuperation. A Toyota Prius is a good example of such a car.
The second type of hybrids are called plug-in hybrids. These take the best of all three worlds, as they have brake energy recuperation, socket-based charging, and a combustion engine. The BMW i8 is a prime example of this.
How do hybrid vehicles work?
As stated earlier, a hybrid car has batteries working in conjunction with combustion engines. The battery is an essential but secondary source of power and is usually delegated for light duty such as getting the car moving, cruising at a constant speed and the like.
Heavy-duty work, namely traveling up slopes or accelerating hard, is handled by the combustion engine. Sometimes, in order to achieve more performance, the electric motor kicks in along with the engine to help reach speeds that neither would be able to do alone.
So, we’re still burning fuel, but less of it, and we don’t have to worry about running out of battery in the middle of the road.
Any other benefit to these electrical gimmicks?
As of now, not much.
The batteries can only take a car up to a certain distance at a particular speed. Increase the speed, and you risk running out sooner.
However, there are many exciting developments in progress. One such interesting development is the elimination of the reverse gear from the gearbox. Yes, you read that right—no reverse gear.
You might be wondering why anyone would buy such a stupid car, but it would allow for something quite special. The car would move in reverse—not by means of a gear, but by those same electrical motors that have been accused of being gimmicks. When you select reverse, the motors would spin in reverse, taking the car in reverse. While this may not seem like much, it would shave off a lot of weight, making the car lighter, and consequently, more efficient.
Sure, but what are the numbers?
Those boys at the American emissions office did an end-to-end study, taking into account the fact that generating electricity also generates pollutants and greenhouse gases.
A 100-mile trip done in a hybrid resulted in 57 pounds of CO2 compared to 87 pounds of CO2 from a conventional combustion engine-powered car.
What does this all mean?
The current global scenario is such that the number of people driving around offsets any minimal measures to make combustion engines more efficient. While hybrids and fully electric vehicles are the future, the tech isn’t fully developed enough to be deployed as a mainstream option (cars still take hours to charge; you don’t want to be stuck at charging stations for that long, right?).
However, eventually, the fate of internal combustion engines is undoubtedly a glass case in museums. How and when that happens is going to be an interesting journey!