Are Extended Range Electric Vehicles the Way to Go?

Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREVs), or Range Extended Electric Vehicles (REEVs) like the Chevy Volt, may be the up-and-coming, but are they the answer in the high-efficiency vehicle race?

The Challenge: Find an alternative fuel vehicle that is cost effective and efficient.
The Contenders: the fully electric vehicle (EV) and the plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
The Problem: traditional EVs have a limited range, usually 100 miles or less, requiring extensive highway and city infrastructure to support longer trips.
The Solution: Integrate another fuel source to supplement and extend the range of the EV.
The Caveat: The need for additional infrastructure for the supplemental fuel source.

Obviously the infrastructure for gasoline as a fuel source is already established, so that is the logical choice. However, while the gasoline-based PHEV may reduce consumption, it doesn’t eliminate the use of polluting, petroleum based substances. You’ll notice that I am not even discussing typical hybrids, because, as I have said in other articles, they are not an alternative fuel vehicle. They run on gasoline only. You Entergy can’t supplement them with any other form of energy. They merely use the electric drive system to reduce fuel consumption (which is, incidentally, a testament to the fact that electric motors are highly efficient). Thus the rising popularity of enthusiasts who convert their Prius’ into PHEVs. Therefore, the PHEV seems a good intermediate solution to weaning us from the oil companies. But it comes at a price. While retail prices have not been released, most experts are anticipating plug-in hybrids to cost between $30,000 and $40,000. You can add a Hymotion plug-in kit to your Prius today for around $10,000.

The electric hydrogen hybrid seems a good candidate for extending range. Hydrogen cell vehicles use an electo-chemical reaction within the fuel cell as the hydrogen is mixed with oxygen to make water to create a powerful electrical current. However, most hydrogen fuel cell vehicles being produced and slated for production use only the single fuel source, requiring a hydrogen infrastructure to support them. It has been shown that hydrogen can be easily produced with domestic sources, but fueling stations must be implemented or they will run up against the same problem as the EV – short range travel only — albeit a bit longer than the EV (200 miles or more). Even to make a plug-in hydrogen vehicle wouldn’t address the range/infrastructure problem. But it would make it more versatile.

There are a myriad of other combustible fluids that could be used as an alternative fuel source. Some examples: compressed natural gas (CNG), Propane (LPG), ethanol, methanol (and all the other ‘anols), ammonia — keeping in mind that hydrogen is also a carrier for combustible fuel and a usable supplement when mixed with one of these other sources, making it a diverse flex-fuel and fuel-efficiency option as well. Each has their own advantages and drawbacks. When each solution is considered against public goals of pollution control, independence from foreign oil and improving domestic economy, each of them ranks differently for each goal. Alternative fuels are the future. It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.” Which car you will be driving in the next 10 years will likely come down to regional availability of fuels and which option your community and region embraces.

But electric cars have a universal advantage: Electricity is everywhere. There is already an infrastructure in place that is easily accessible at small capacity and requires only the “fueling” facilities and the “quick-charge” technology to scale up to larger capacity. Granted, you can’t take a cross-country trip in your electric car today. But tomorrow is approaching faster than you think. The initiatives are already in place in many states to launch the infrastructure that can handle larger capacity electric driving. As it catches on, it is only going to be a matter of time before you can drive across country in your EV.

Buy a PHEV if you must, but first consider the alternative: convert a car to electric for short range driving and keep a gas or diesel powered vehicle for longer trips. Or, even rent a vehicle for longer trips. That’s something you can do today, and then you will be a step ahead of tomorrow.

“To reduce oil dependence, nothing would do more good more quickly than making cars that could connect to the electric grid.” – David Sandalow, U.S. Department of Energy.