Hybrid Electric and Fuel Cell Vehicles

Written By: John Linden

The moment Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest strapped a steam-powered engine to a toy vehicle for the emperor of China in 1672, the automobile industry was born and it’s been evolving ever since. By the 18th century, steam power could transport people. In the 19th century, steam was replaced with the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine. The 20th century fueled the drive for speed and power.

In the 21st century, the quest is to find a way to keep the speed and power we’ve come to rely on but replace the gasoline with a cleaner, more sustainable fuel than petroleum-based products. Leading the search is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), headquartered in Golden, Colorado.

Federal Government Initiatives

At the forefront of 21st century automotive technology is the development of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). Researchers at the NREL have already seen the introduction of small HEVs, commonly referred to as hybrids, hit the roads all across the US and they’re become a great success. Hybrids in actual use on America’s roadways were once met with awe and intrigue and perhaps even a little good-natured teasing but they’ve become common-place today.

Proven performance has spurred legislation, presidential initiatives, and research involving a number of federal agencies. The collective quest is to improve performance of the hybrid cars already on the road but expansion is vital, too. The greater goal is to improve HEV and FCV performance enough that it can power the nation’s heavier vehicles such as buses, trucks, and military vehicles.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

42 USC 16122 - Federal and State Procurement of Fuel Cell Vehicles and Hydrogen Energy Systems (US Code) / Legal Information Institute / Cornell University Law School

Alternative Fuels Data Center / Hybrid Electric Vehicles / US Department of Energy

How Hybrids Work

Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Vehicle R&D: FreedomCAR and the President’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative / University of North Texas

Interim Guidance for Electric and Hybrid-Electric Vehicles Equipped with High Voltage Batteries / US Department of Transportation (pdf)

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Label / US Environmental Protection Agency

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory / Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program

US Department of Energy / Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

States Interest

As federal research and regulation are evolving, individual states are embracing the technology and adapting their own policies, research centers, and plans for a gasoline-free future. Some states are issuing consumer incentives to encourage citizens to think twice about vehicles that consume fossil fuels and they’re making the ownership and use of hybrids much more attractive at the local level. As one state after another has mobilized the drive for vehicles using alternative energies, the movement is gaining popularity all across the nation.

Roadmap for the Coming Hydrogen Fuel and Fuel Cell Vehicle Rollout in California / Institute of Transportation Studies / University of California - Davis

Professional Organizations

An automotive industry going green is important news in private and professional circles, just as it is within the government. The technology is complex, involving every element of a vehicle, so research councils, professional associations, and scientific institutes across the nation are joining forces to develop clean, energy-efficient FreedomCAR technologies that will eliminate the current dependence on toxic carbon-rich fossil fuels that are in diminishing supply and polluting the environment in soon-to-be avoidable ways.

American Petroleum Institute / Environment, Health & Safety: Freedom Car and Fuel Partnership

US Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR) / R&D News Highlights

Academic Collaboration

Many of America’s sharpest minds are found in the academic community and the NREL works closely with college and university research programs that specialize in energy, the environment, automotive technologies, and alternative sources of fuel. Degree plans and individual courses focusing on alternative energies are some of the most in-demand studies on college campuses today.

Cost-Effectiveness of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Battery Capacity and Charging Infrastructure Investment for Reducing US Gasoline Consumption (pdf) / Carnegie Mellon University

Finding Ultimate Limits of Performance for Hybrid Electric Vehicles / Stanford University

National Fuel Cell Research Center / Federal Initiatives: FreedomCAR

Optimal Design of Hybrid Fuel Cell Vehicles / Pennsylvania State University

The Ultimate Challenge: Developing an Infrastructure for Fuel Cell Vehicles / Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan

FreedomCAR and Military Applications Power Fuel Cell Research / University of Michigan

Industry Involvement

The ultimate goal, of course, is to perfect FreedomCAR technologies that can be taken from the research and development laboratories to the streets. Once out of the lab, the automotive industry is needed to produce and sell these hybrids to private individuals and the industries who rely on automobiles small and large to conduct business efficiently and economically. Automotive industry involvement in the R&D phase of development is as important as it will be when full-scale production makes these modern marvels available to one and all.

APEP Deploys Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicles to the Irvine Company / Advanced Power & Energy Program (APEP) / University of California - Irvine

Ford / Fuel Efficiency / MPGs Your Way

Ford Motor Company / Green is the New Black

Public Input

The ultimate end user is the American public so public input is an important aspect of the research and development process. Many Americans can’t imagine life without an automobile. We’ve come to rely on them so heavily that it’s impossible not to form an opinion on the car or truck of the future. Change is difficult for some people to embrace while others welcome it.

Freedom Car Plan a “Fig Leaf” or US Automotive Future? / Salt of the Earth

A Gasoline-Free World

The global reliance on the automotive industry is just as pervasive as it is in the US. The interest in finding clean, efficient, sustainable fuel to power the world’s many automobiles is just as important here as everywhere. Fortunately, the sharing of knowledge is global, too.

Fuel Cell Vehicle World Survey 2003 / Breakthrough Technologies Institute (pdf)

Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Implementing Agreement / International Energy Agency

Hybrid Electric Vehicles: An Overview of Current Technology and Its Application in Developing and Transitional Countries / United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (pdf)

Technology Roadmap: Electric and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (EV/PHEV) / International Energy Agency

SAE 2013 Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Technologies Symposium / SAE International (formerly Society of Automotive Engineers)