Idaho energy lab tests plug-in hybrid
cars in Seattle
Nov 6, 2007 - The Associated Press
Fill it up, plug it in, then drive. And drive. And
That's the dream, anyway, of an Idaho National Laboratory
program testing 13 Toyota Prius hybrid cars retrofitted
with mileage-boosting batteries that can be plugged
into a regular household electrical outlet when they're
not in use to give them more oomph on the roads.
It's part of a yearlong, $156,000 U.S. Department
of Energy demonstration project aimed at judging the
performance of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in
an urban area. Over the next 12 months, the converted
cars owned by the city of Seattle, King County, Port
of Seattle and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will
drive the streets of Western Washington under the
close scrutiny of INL researchers.
They'll be testing the car's performance, then sending
that information to the Department of Energy as it
tries to develop even more fuel efficient cars. So
far, the cars' mileage per gallon has about doubled
after being outfitted with lithium plug-in batteries,
to 125 mpg in city driving conditions.
"We've done some testing where we've seen over 200
miles per gallon" under laboratory conditions, said
Jim Francfort, who leads the INL's Advanced Vehicle
Testing Activity program. "Where you've got a lot
of city driving, we're seeing 125 miles per gallon,
Currently, there are 10 versions of hybrid cars available
in North America, with versions from Toyota, Honda,
Ford, Lexus, Mercury and Mazda. Hybrids generally
use power from their gas-fueled engines or generated
by braking to charge their batteries to propel them
in rush-hour and city traffic; in higher-speed situations
like highway driving, the engine kicks in.
That's why hybrids get better gas mileage in city
driving than at high speeds.
Plug-in hybrids can get even better mileage, but
they aren't cheap.
The Seattle agencies and the DOE are each paying
half of the $12,000 cost to outfit each of their Toyotas
with the new batteries, made by A123 Systems Research
and Development Labs based in Watertown, Mass. Still,
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said he hopes the demonstration
project will expand the promise of plug-in hybrid
technology, eventually helping reduce the cost.
"In King County, 52 percent of our greenhouse gas
pollution comes from burning oil in our cars and trucks,"
Nickels said in an Oct. 29 statement. "For the sake
of our economy, security and our climate, we need
to use fewer cars and greener cars for getting around."
The Prius comes from the factory with a 1.3 kilowatt-hour
battery pack. INL is testing vehicles that have been
given 5 kwh to 10 kwh packs. Scientists hope to reduce
the cost of a plug-in hybrid battery to just $3,000
Though the green aspects of the cars are nice, Francfort
say it's these cold, hard economics that will likely
drive whether plug-in hybrid technology becomes the
standard accepted by America's driving masses. General
Motors is developing a new car called the Volt - a
plug-in hybrid the manufacturer says will be available
"It's kind of a trade-off," he said. "What is it
going to cost you, versus how much gas you can save?"