The Truth About Hybrid Cars and their Fuel Sources

We are all so accustomed to gasoline engines that we assume all cars work the same. The driver turns the key to start the engine, steps on the gas to inject more fuel, steps on the brakes to make the car stop and makes sure to visit a gas station before he runs out of gas. This is how all cars function – an electric car just uses different fuel, right?

Not so much. As bizarre as it sounds, most hybrids receive their energy when the driver steps on the brake pedal, not when he steps on the gas. To understand this, though, we have to start at the beginning, back before all this hybrid stuff.


Gasoline Engine

When you hit the brakes in a gasoline-powered car, the energy created by the friction stopping the wheels is given off as heat. The heat is the energy, which dissipates; therefore, the power that propels the car obviously has absolutely nothing to do with the brakes. The brakes are used for the exact opposite purpose. The single gasoline engine is responsible for powering the entire vehicle, from top to bottom – even the battery, which charges when the gas engine is running.

hybrid cars and their fuel sources

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Full Hybrid

A full hybrid is one that can use either its gasoline engine or its electric motor by itself – one being independent from the other. The kicker, though, is that when a hybrid is in EV (electric vehicle) mode, using only the electric motor, the majority of the brake work is performed by that motor. In a hybrid car’s regenerative braking system, the heat energy that is given off when a gasoline-powered car brakes is instead captured and stored in the battery. The motor is put into reverse to stop the car, running it backwards and slowing the wheels, and when this happens, it gives off an electric current, which is then fed to the battery. This gives the battery more life and allows it to run independently of the gasoline engine for a longer period of time. That being said, it is important to note that not all hybrids work the same.

Truth About Hybrid Cars

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Mild Hybrid

Take the LaFerrari. Yes, a hybrid Ferrari. This hybrid sports car is considered to be a mild hybrid system. Mild hybrids are generally gasoline cars with electric motors that run with the gasoline engines, combining forces for maximum power output. This is the same set up found in the Honda Civic and the Chevy Malibu. What’s different about the Ferrari is, of course, the Formula 1 turbocharger-style power output, appearing for the first time in a hybrid.

Truth About Hybrid Cars 2

Fully Electric

Then we have electric cars, which obviously have fully-electric engines. They receive their power from being charged at a power outlet. What about THAT power? Where is IT coming from? For example, electric car plug-in power comes from power plants burning fossil fuels. The above-mentioned increase in renewables, in addition to innovations like Geothermal and hydroelectric energy, still only comprises 14% of the total national output. The remaining 86% is oil. So, the electric car, green as it may appear, is still far from being petroleum-free.


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Chris Turberville-Tully, who works with, is an environmentalist who understands the need to capture energy and use it. Hybrid cars’ energy is no different. When not working, Chris can be found traveling abroad, spending time with his family or watching a game of rugby or cricket. Stay connected with Chris on Google+.

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