Publication Detail

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles Help Towards a Zero-Carbon Emissions Future


Presentation Series

Plug-In Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center

Suggested Citation:
Frank, Andrew A. (2009) Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles Help Towards a Zero-Carbon Emissions Future. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Presentation Series UCD-ITS-PS-09-02

Presented at Plug-In Singapore 2009 Alternative Energy Vehicle and Infrastructure Conference & Expo, Nov. 20, 2009 in Singapore.

I have developed my career designing electric vehicles and electric grid technology solutions that can help reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels. built the first modern plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) back in the 1970s and my lab at University of California Davis has built more than 10 PHEVs in the succeeding years. I am continuing this work as CTO of Efficient Drivetrain Inc where we develop cutting edge technologies for all classes of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Singapore, as one of the region's foremost thought leaders, is poised to lead the rest of the region to energy independence and create a zero-carbon emissions future. Gasoline, oil, coal and natural gas (fossil fuels) cause 80% of the world's carbon greenhouse gas emissions. Transition away from fossil fuels for transportation will be most efficient if the existing energy distribution infrastructure can be used and if the vehicles provide equal or better performance. Vehicles fueled with electricity generated from renewable wind and solar energy have the potential for elimination of the majority of the carbon emissions from our vehicles. Our remaining transportation needs can be fueled with biofuels. These biofuels release carbon when they are burned, but their sources (plants and living matter) absorb carbon from the atmosphere when they grow. Burning of biofuels causes no change in the carbon in our atmosphere. Thus, vehicles fueled with electricity and biofuels can help towards a zero-carbon emissions future and a reduction in global warming.

Here are the vehicle technologies that we use today and their roles in a zero-carbon emissions future:

1. The internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle could use ethanol or biofuel instead of fossil fuels, but there is not enough land to grow sufficient crops both for food and for all of our current and future  liquid fuel needs.

2. The hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) has the same biofuel limitations as the ICE vehicles, since it only uses liquid fuel and cannot use off-board electric energy.

3. The battery electric vehicle (BEV) is limited to short range uses because of limits in battery and electric energy infrastructure performance.

4. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a high performance "dual fuel vehicle" that has no range limitations and can use of our existing electric energy infrastructure with little modification. PHEVs can use our electric grid infrastructure to fuel up to 80-90% of our current passenger car needs. Low power PHEV charging overnight would make efficient use of our existing electric grid. A smart electrical grid including vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology would enable electric vehicles to help improve grid stability and increase grid utility use factors. We can produce enough biofuel for the remaining long range 10-20% of our vehicle transportation needs. Our existing pipelines and gasoline station infrastructure can be adapted for delivery of liquid biofuels.  Their capacity will be reduced as the PHEV market penetration increases.

Thus, in conclusion, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are ideally suited to be the vehicles that are here and now, that can enable us to achieve a zero-carbon emissions future and help reduce the problem of climate change.