Introducing the Plug-In Hybrid

When the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles were first introduced to the American market, their manufacturers were quick to point out that they never had to be plugged in.  Since the plug-in General Motors EV-1 was a dismal failure in the marketplace, the fact that the Prius and Insight never had to be connected to a receptacle was seen as a major plus.  But now Valence Technology Inc., a leader in the development of large-format Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and EnergyCS, developers of integration control systems, have just showcased a new concept "plug-in" hybrid electric vehicle.

The vehicle, which ironically is based on a 2004 Toyota Prius, was just introduced at the 21st Worldwide International Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium & Exhibition (EVS 21.) The highly modified Prius, dubbed a "plug-in hybrid electric vehicle" or PHEV is a fully functional concept car powered by the Valence U-Charge Power System.  Because the Valence battery offers much more energy than batteries traditionally used in hybrid vehicles, it allows significant amounts of zero-emission driving with the concept PHEV. This answers one of the unasked questions about current hybrids, which still use fossil fuel and still emit quantities of internal combustion engine exhaust and so-called "greenhouse gases." 

The use of the more efficient, high storage capacity battery also results in phenomenal fuel economy.  Valence claims fuel efficiency that can reach up to 180 miles per gallon for an average commute of 50-60 miles per day, about triple the claims for a conventional Prius.

Because of the fuel economy, the PHEV also offers incredible range, which means fewer trips to the gas station. Using the U-Charge (plug-in) system, the PHEV offers a zero-emission electric mode in city and suburban traffic (up to speeds of 33 mph) and an efficient gasoline engine for long, higher speed trips.

The secret of the modified Prius's success is the high-tech battery design. Valence's phosphate-based Lithium-ion batteries have substantially higher energy density than competing batteries for hybrid electric vehicles.

"Unlike other types of Lithium-ion batteries, our Saphion technology offers the longevity and safety needed for both hybrid and pure electric vehicles," said Stephan Godevais, president and CEO of Valence Technology. "The Valence-EnergyCS plug-in hybrid vehicle is a breakthrough in the industry. It allows renewable energy to displace gasoline, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, which is increasingly important given today's environment and economic concerns."

Of course, a significant percentage of electricity that could be used to re-charge the vehicle is currently being generated using fossil fuels, but some argue that it will be easier to convert generating plants to renewable fuels than the automobile fleet.
 
The U-Charge battery system used in the Valence-EnergyCS PHEV is based on Valence's Saphion technology that replaces toxic heavy metals in batteries with phosphates, creating an energy storage battery that is chemically more stable, and therefore safer, than traditional oxide-based Lithium-ion batteries. The manufacturer claims the technology's chemistry yields a battery that is not only environmentally friendly, but requires virtually no maintenance and offers long life and low total cost of ownership.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini, who is based in Cleveland, has long been a fan of alternative-fuel technology.