The world of electric cars is split into two groups — those who favor all electric cars with batteries and those who prefer electric cars with range extender engines. Think of it as Nissan LEAF versus Chevy Volt. From a purely philosophical point of view, a battery electric car is the preferred way to go. After all, why have electric cars at all if you are going to still use fossil fuels to help them get from Point A to Point B?
That’s an excellent question. But as it often the case, there is big difference between the ideal and the practical. Electric cars today require large, heavy, and expensive batteries if they are to have more than a modest amount of range. It’s one thing to prefer battery operated cars; it’s another to be able to sell them at prices that will attract mainstream buyers. Throw in a confusing hodgepodge of battery chargers and a lack of charging station infrastructure and you have a situation in which many car buyers prefer to just stick with their tried and true conventional cars, at least for now.
Purists hate the idea of range extender engines but they make remarkably good sense for today. They are cheaper and lighter than batteries and they eliminate any range anxiety concerns for drivers. Just drive on battery power as far as it takes you, then let the gasoline engine take over. That’s what the Chevy Volt does and it works brilliantly.
Peugeot is considering a new range extender engine design from Israeli start-up company Aquarius Engines for its plug-in hybrid cars. “We are evaluating the technology,” said PSA Research and Development Director Gilles Le Borgne. “Nothing has been decided yet.”
The Aquarius engine is a single cylinder design with no valves. The piston shuttles back and forth inside the cylinder, generating power from electromagnetic coils with each stroke. The company says its engine is more than twice as efficient as a typical internal combustion engine. That claim is accurate, according to simulations by German engineering firm FEV.
The Aquarius design is an engine and generator in one, rather than a gas engine driving a separate generator. Its primary advantage is low cost. Peugeot is seeking ways to build affordable electric cars for the masses in developing markets. Will the idea ever catch on in America? Certainly not because of anything Peugeot does. It has no presence in the American automotive market.
Another French company, Renault, has looked into the range extender idea and decided to pass. It developed its own two stroke range extender engine but won’t be using it in its cars. Senior Vice President Arnaud Deboeuf said recently his company will rely instead on future improvements in battery performance and cost. “We’re going to extend their range,” Deboeuf said. “But we’ll do it without range extenders.”
But others might be interested in a range extender engine that is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than a traditional gasoline engine. Until battery technology and charging infrastructure catch up, cars that are partially electric with range extender engines will be an important part of the automotive market worldwide.