While our fearless leaders in Washington have put our money behind hydrogen fuel cell technology that is likely decades away from commercial viability as a replacement for the internal combustion engine, WorldChanging points us to another option for which we already have the technology: the gas-optional hybrid. I haven’t given this development nearly enough space, but its an exciting option.
Unlike current hybrids, gas-optional hybrids would add the ability to plug them in when parked, drawing power from the grid. Gas-optional hybrids have much larger batteries than current hybrids, and can go quite a ways on electric power, only switching over to the gas engine if the batteries are drained or when going onto the highway. They have a far better range than electric cars, get better mileage than traditional hybrids, and are far cleaner than old-style gasoline-only cars. What’s more, gas-optional hybrids can also serve as “mobile generators,” putting power back in to the grid if the batteries are full when plugged in. Best of all, gas-optional hybrids are possible now, and some people are even retrofitting Priuses to gas-optional function.
Jamais goes on to provide comparisons of the conventional hybrid vs. the gas-optional model in terms of CO2 emissions: as you might expect, the gas optional version performs better, even when electric generation comes primarily from fossil fuels. And while carmakers are still a bit skittish about the market potential for this technology, Jamais notes that its possible, if you desire, to convert current Toyota, Ford and Lexus hybrid models into the greener gas-optional versions. Two questions come to my mind immediately: 1) Couldn’t automakers play a role in creating demand for these products? What’s that word… marketing?? 2) Wouldn’t putting the money that we currently spend on hydrogen fuel cell research into gas-optional hybrids also spur demand by bringing prices down? Sure, it’s a subsidy, but one that invests in proven clean technology as opposed to big hopes for fuel cells? Couldn’t have anything to do with the role the oil and gas industry have in our governance, could it…?