Frequently Asked Questions

The Mission: Why did we convert our cars?

I converted my Prius to a plug-in hybrid because I believe that continued use of oil causes economic, national security, humanitarian, health, and environmental issues, and as a Christian, I need to be concerned about those issues. While a single car will not make a significant difference, it does demonstrate that this technology exists and can be adopted on a larger scale. 

What is a Plug-in Hybrid?

Plugin Hybrids drastically reduce the need for foreign oil while providing a cheaper, cleaner, convenient, reliable and domestic way to power cars using today's technology and pave the path for a transition to solutions which do not consume any oil.

A plug-in hybrid is a normal gas/electric hybrid car with a larger battery and a charger so the car can be plugged in and charged from a standard household outlet. The plug-in hybrid operates on electricity for the first 20-100 miles (determined by the battery size) and then automatically switches to the gasoline engine with normal hybrid gas mileage for the remainder of the journey. Properly designed plug-in hybrids could reach in excess of 500 MPG for normal daily use.

Why Change?

Current levels of oil consumption are causing economic, political, security and environmental issues. Plug-in Hybrids offer a practical approach to reducing oil consumption without sacrificing performance or functionality which is available with existing technology. Here are oil related problems:

  • Economics: Annually, the US imports $300 billion more in oil than it exports. This is money spent, that we are not earning. Additionally, if peak oil occurs earlier than expected, a gap could emerge between the available supply and rising demand, causing an economic shock and soaring energy prices would cause havoc on markets.
  • National Security: Dependence on imported oil leaves the country open to both economic and political vulnerabilities. Additionally, many of the countries with large oil reserves support fundamental Islamic principals and our oil dollars are being used to sponsor terrorism.
  • Humanitarian: It is no secret that the United State's foreign policy is heavily influenced by oil. Wars have been fought over oil reserves and will continue to be fought as the supply of oil diminishes causing further humanitarian issues.
  • Environmental & Health: Regardless of whether tailpipe emissions are a leading contributor to global warming, they undeniably cause smog which in turn is causing health issues such as lung diseases. At one point in California 1 out of every 4 children had lung lesions caused by smog.

How does a Plug-in hybrid work?

A plug-in hybrid builds on existing hybrid technology but adds a plug and uses a larger battery capable of storing energy to propel the car for x number of miles (determined by the size of the battery -- typically between 20 and 60 miles, but could be more or less.) The car can then charge while parked at home or anywhere with access to a standard household outlet. The plug-in hybrid will operate on electricity for the range of the batteries and then when the battery is depleted, the car automatically switches to it's gasoline engine and achieves regular hybrid mileage (about 45 - 50 MPG in the real world for a Prius.)

What are the benefits?

  • Fuel economy: Vastly improved fuel economy reduces dependency on foreign oil and all the benefits that go with that. A properly designed plug-in hybrid could reach in excess of 500 MPG and the remainder could be powered by Ethanol, Biodiesel, CNG or another alternative fuel (including possibly hydrogen in the future.)
  • Transition: Plug-in hybrids can function as a transition to fully electric cars and provide a catalyst for developing and producing fast battery chargers, lowering battery production costs and building a national network of rapid charging stations that can charge cars as quickly as a gas pump can fill a fuel tank, eliminating the need for oil.
  • Cost: While the up front cost of the car is higher, electricity costs the equivalent of only 75 cents per gallon of gas.
  • Convenience: Plug-in hybrids are charged from the electric grid at home, meaning less trips to the gas station. For a car used mainly to commute to work, this may mean visiting the gas station only a handful of times per year.
  • Pollution: Overall reduction of CO2 and other pollutants which lead to smog, lung disease and are contributing factors to global warming (even on an all coal grid.) Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or geothermal power completely eliminate emissions from the electricity. Renewable electric sources are available commercially in Illinois and most other states.

Why electricity?

Each source of energy has it's advantages and disadvantages, and because of that, one source of energy can be more efficient at certain tasks than another. In the same way that propane is more efficient for heating houses, electricity is much more efficient with providing mechanical motion. The most efficient gasoline engines today are in the mid 30% to 40% efficiency range at their peak output. Gasoline engines, however only reach their peak efficiency when they are operating at full speed. An electric motor can reach efficiencies higher than 90%, but they can also maintain that efficiency at lower speeds. That means that electric motors provide more power when starting from a stop than gasoline engines and that a smaller electric motor can match the power output of a larger gas engine while at the same time reducing the amount of energy consumed. Additionally, when idling, an electric motor does not consume any energy, saving the 10-15% of energy wasted idling. Electric motors are also very reliable because they are not prone to the same mechanical failures which plague gasoline engines since they do not require gaskets, radiators, fuel pumps, injectors, timing belts, etc.

What about hydrogen?

First and foremost, hydrogen is not an alternative energy source, it is a carrier of energy, similar to a battery. There is no widely available free source of Hydrogen on Earth, and so it must be created, compressed, and shipped to fueling stations before being consumed by cars. Hydrogen is currently either generated from electricity (which can be from clean renewable sources) or from hydrocarbon fuels such as oil, coal and tar. Just like electricity, the method in which it is generated dictates how clean it actually is. Hydrogen can produce more or less pollution than a standard gas engine.

The problem with hydrogen is the efficiency in producing and using hydrogen. If hydrogen is generated from clean sources, it is less efficient than a standard hybrid car run off gasoline. Hydrogen only returns about 20-25% of the initial energy needed to create the hydrogen when created from clean sources (about 40% efficient when created from fossil fuels.) Compared to battery technology that is available today, lithium ion batteries can return about 70-80% of the energy stored in them. Hydrogen also has a low storage density meaning that more physical space is required to get the same range. Additionally, the safety of compressed hydrogen is a concern.

Today, hydrogen cars cost over $1 million each and get about 70-100 miles on a large tank of Hydrogen. For this to become a viable possibility, cost must come down significantly, an entire nationwide network of hydrogen stations and means by which to fuel them must be developed and a cheap and clean way to produce hydrogen must be found. Assuming all those problems could be resolved, hydrogen is still less efficient than battery powered electric cars. Barring unforeseen significant breakthroughs, hydrogen simply cannot compete with battery technology that already exists today.

What type of batteries do you use?

We use high power Lithium Ion battery cells in our conversion systems. These cells have a significantly higher capacity and power rating than the older lead acid batteries they replace. They also last longer and weigh significantly less.

NOTE: Lithium Ion batteries require the use of a battery management system to protect them from being over-charged or over-discharged. We recommend the Orion BMS (see below) for applications like this.

What battery management system do you use?

We use the Orion BMS in our vehicles to protect the batteries. A battery management system is very important in a conversion system because it prevents the high power lithium ion batteries from being damaged due to over-voltage or under-voltage conditions and many other conditions. The Orion BMS allows for powerful and precise control over everything we need and is easy to use / affordably priced.