DIY Hybrids

DIY Hybrids

Will younger drivers embrace a more eco-friendly generation of cars?

By Jennifer Hadley 04/18/2013

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I think it’s pretty fair to say that, in general, Americans are becoming, if not eco-conscious, at least minimally aware that perhaps we should not continue polluting the bejesus out of our environment. However, we’re not particularly eager to make sweeping changes to our lifestyles, preferring instead to baby step our way toward a new eco-friendly consciousness. The popularity of the Toyota Prius, for example seems to support that hypothesis. We’re all for reducing our carbon footprint by buying hybrids. But eliminating emissions by buying an electric car? That’s too big of a big step. (See: lackluster sales of Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf).

So hybrids are a nice, safe compromise. We still have to put gas in them, but we feel good about ourselves knowing that we’re vandalizing the earth a little less than we were a decade ago. I think that’s a step in the right direction. But what if buying a new car isn’t economically feasible when inspiration suddenly strikes you to go green?  

Dr. Charles Perry, an engineering technology professor from Middle Tennessee State University, is working on a solution to your quandary. He’s developed a plug-in hybrid retrofit kit, which he claims will turn any car into a hybrid for the bargain price of roughly $3,000.

The “kit” involves installing electric motors in each rear wheel and a large lithium-ion battery, which is mounted in the rear of the vehicle. However, this is all done without disturbing the brakes, bearings or suspension. Instead, you just bolt the motors on and, according to the research team working with Perry, gas mileage increases anywhere from 50 to 100 percent. Perry expects that as technology improves, the battery size will be reduced.

The kit is not yet available to the masses, but with a little luck and a little funding Perry’s brainchild may soon help you to make your own hybrid at home in the future. Whether Americans will shell out $3,000 for the long-term savings, or just wait and buy a hybrid when they are ready for a new car, remains to be seen.   

But across the pond, hybrid automakers are considering doing away with the lithium-ion battery altogether. French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen is working instead on a gasoline/compressed air hybrid which they claim will be cheaper than a traditional hybrid and offer better fuel economy. Instead of getting roughly 50 mpg in city driving, the compressed air/gasoline hybrid is promising closer to 115 mpg in the city, making the car greener than a gas/electric hybrid. According to Karim Mokaddem, head of the Hybrid Air Project, instead of using an electric battery, the compressed air hybrid “allows the recuperation of energy from braking and slowing down.”

To put that in simple terms, every time you brake, you create energy. Normally, that energy just turns into heat and eventually dissipates. But in the French model, that energy is routed to the compressed air storage tanks in the car, refilling them with air. When you drop below about 43 mph, the French model uses the compressed air to power the motor, thereby allowing the gas engine to stop.  

Although the compressed air model is just a prototype, the French automaker intends to have them on the road in Europe by 2016. The automaker pulled out of the US market years ago. However, if the technology proves sound, there’s little doubt that the compressed air model will be mimicked by automakers in the US as well.  

But would we buy them? I’d like to think that younger generations of drivers will be a bit more willing to transition to greener solutions. Perhaps by the time these hybrids hit the market here, younger generations will be inclined to one-up their Prius driving parents by giving a compressed air hybrid a try. However, based on the snail’s pace toward going green we’re comfortable with in the US, I’m not planning to invest a bunch of money into PSA Peugeot Citroen’s stocks.

Contact Jennifer Hadley at jmhadley624@yahoo.com.

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