Some Plug-In Hybrids Can Cut Emissions As Much As Pure Electrics

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This story about plug-in hybrid emissions was first published by Gas2

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 pure battery electric cars (think Chevy Bolt).

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-extending 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 a website that allowed drivers to manage and monitor their vehicles. The results of the study have been published by the journal Nature.

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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 as 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 C-Max Energi — really are poseurs unworthy of being called electric cars.

In reality, if the car you drive has enough battery 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.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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