Plug-In Hybrid Emissions Same As Battery Electric Car — Sometimes


A joint study by the highly respected Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research finds that plug-in hybrid cars with at least 36 miles of electric only range (think Chevy Volt) are just as good at keeping carbon emissions out of the atmosphere as a pure battery electric car (think Chevy Bolt).

plug-in hybrid electric car

The debate rages among green car advocates, government regulators, and political leaders about whether a plug-in hybrid is a “real” electric car. The feeling in some quarters is that any car with a range extender gasoline engine is like wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo. You can go that route but it’s not quite right, is it?

The researchers gathered data about the performance of 49,000 battery electric cars and 73,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles in Germany and the US. The information came from fleet trials, auto manufacturers, and from website that allow drivers to manage and monitor their vehicles. The results of the study have been published by the journal Nature.

According to Patrick Plötz, of the Fraunhofer ISI, “Plug-in hybrid vehicles represent a good addition to battery electric cars in order to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. In the past, they were often judged too critically due to lacking empirical data. However, it is important that they have a sufficiently large battery with a real electric range of more than 50 km and, in addition, that the decarbonization of the electricity system is further advanced.”

Patrick Jochem of KIT’s Institute for Industrial Production adds an interesting detail. “When taking into account that production of the far smaller batteries of plug-in hybrids is associated with less carbon dioxide emissions than production of the larger batteries of electric vehicles, their carbon dioxide balance is even better,” he says.  “Moreover, hybrids can foster public confidence and prevalence of electric mobility, as they have the same range than cars with internal combustion engines, contrary to battery electric vehicles.”

Here’s another important consideration that the data cannot address. More plug-in hybrid cars on the road mean more drivers getting accustomed to plugging in their vehicles. Why is that important? Because many mainstream drivers still are not used to the idea. It’s a little weird and a little scary.

All new technology is greeted with suspicion at first. Think of the the townspeople carrying torches and pitch forks in Frankenstein. The more people who wrap their heads around the idea of cars with plugs, the sooner the EV revolution will be complete.

The takeaway from the study is that cars that call themselves plug-in hybrids but can hardly get to the grocery store and back without firing up their gasoline engines, cars like the BMW 330e, Audi A3 e-tron, and Ford Focus Hybrid, really are poseurs unworthy of being called electric cars.

In reality, if the car you drive has enough battery only range to meet your daily driving needs without using a drop of gasoline, then you are driving an electric car and can hold your head high. Go forth and spread the good word — the future is electric and you are part of that future.

Source: Science Daily

About the Author

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it’s cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • Arthur Burnside

    Calling an all electric car a “zero emissions” vehicle indicates massive ignorance about electricity and where it comes from. Lithium batteries are also being referred to as toxic wastes.

    • Tadeusz Piskozub

      Actually, li-ion batteries are safe enough to put them in landfills, although that would be wasteful, because the materials it’s made of are still valuable.

    • Steve_Ohr

      Coal supplied 30% of our total electricity last year. But even if our grid was 100% coal, a Tesla Model S would emit about the same amount of CO2 as a 45 MPG car.

      And the environmental damage from oil production is vastly greater than the damage from lithium.

      Your talking points are bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.

    • James Rowland

      Ignorance? Yes, that’s a big problem these days. Please, allow me to remedy a little of it:

      Li-ion cells are recyclable, with all the materials they’re made from recoverable at end of life. The cobalt content of high-performance cells makes this economically advantageous (making any waste issue from disposal irrelevant.)

      Obtaining lithium (for initial production) is one of the least environmentally troubling extraction processes. Most commonly, its carbonate salt is “mined” by pumping brines to the surface and allowing the water to evaporate; there’s no toxic tailings pile, just water vapor and a solid product you can handle safely with gloves and goggles.

      Emissions are a problem we must solve for all energy production, not just transportation. Only electric vehicles allow us to do this with the same solutions.

      Several generation methods have no significant emissions in operation, and some of these (such as photovoltaics) have already reached cost parity with combustion-based sources.

      Buffering energy from intermittent sources is of course required to avoid dependence on dispatchable generation for balancing. That’s where stationary batteries come in.

      • John

        Not to mention companies like Nissan are taking the old battery packs and recycling them as home storage units.

    • trackdaze

      Thought you could get lithium tablets from your doctor?

  • Juerg_U

    BMW and Audi have Hybrids for only one reason, comply the CO2 emissions test no matter how unreasonable they are in reality. To say it clear, they are cheating!

  • Marc P

    An imperfect car more people will buy is better than a perfect car less people will buy.

  • Beat Brunner

    I love the psychological part of their paper. In other words, if range extenders/plug-in-hybrids are a way to make people move to an electric car faster without buying highly-oversized batteries for a may-be-once-a-year real use and get that electrical plug installed in their garage, fine, go for it!

    The other thing that those studies usually ignore, is how much electricity has been used to bring gas from well-search to tank. According to DOE, well-to-gas is 6 kWh per gallon. Add well-search to well-exploitation and gas-to-tank and you get at least 3 kWh electricity use par gallon more, for a total of 9 kWh/gallon, or roughly 3 kWh/liter. With a liter bringing you 20 km in a modern 5 l/100 km car, which means 150 Wh/km. And that’s exactly the mileage a 2014 Leaf gives you on the same electricity, without the gas and exhausts. Conclusion: Electrifying transport will not use more electricity globally. Just remove gas from the equation!