Monday, March 11, 2013

Hybrid Technology

Today in America fossil fuels are used as the primary source of energy for our homes, offices and cars. By far one of the larger contributors to the environmental problems caused by fossil fuels consumption is our cars. This is because they are designed to use these fossil fuels for power. In addition, to contributing to greenhouse gasses and other environmental concerns like global warming, the use of fossil fuels to power our cars has an adverse effect on one’s health and even on the economy. According to an evaluation done by the National Research Council (2009) the non-climate related damages associated with the emissions in 2005 amounted to $56-billion in just in health costs (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 9). Clearly to continue to use fossil fuels with such disregard for our world and health is not in our best interest, and amounts to self destruction on a large scale. One of the many things that have to change to in order for us to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions is our cars. In this article, we will give an overview of the technology that drives our five most popular modern hybrids available today, pick a modern hybrid for my family based on my research, and take a look at how this technology affects foreign trade policy of oil and rare earth materials.

 As early as the 60’s, the government recognized the importance of reducing deadly emissions from cars burning fossil fuels and saw potentially the solution was an electric car (Gerstenfeld, 2010, p. 6). In an attempt to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and emissions from cars, everyday scientists all over the world work diligently to produce new solutions that reduce our need for these deadly toxic fuels. Thus far, the solution to the fossil fuel consumption and motor vehicle crisis is a Hybrid car. Interestingly, hybrids today resemble the original first modern hybrid system patented in 1971 (Gerstenfeld, 2010, p. 6). The whole design of a Hybrid is meant to maximize its fuel economy,  plus decrease dependence on toxic emissions that lead to global warming. While each hybrid sports its own set of impressive features the underlying technology that these new cars utilize is very similar in the sense that have some similar key features.

A Hybrid Electric Vehicle or HEV is a vehicle that utilizes a combination of a high voltage battery, an electric motor and your conventional internal combustion engine to achieve double the fuel economy than a non Hybrid vehicle (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 1). These vehicles utilize regenerative braking technology that maximizes the energy potential by recovering the energy that is used to stop or slow down (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 2).  Featuring lightweight materials, and lightweight engines that are designed to carry the usual load rather than peak load, these key features reduce energy lost and fuel consumption by reducing load overall (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 2). Using a Hybrid Electric Vehicle has several advantages for the consumer and the environment. Not only do these vehicles utilize gas more efficiently, requiring less tanks of costly gas overall, but they can also run on alternative fuels, and emit fewer toxic emissions that lead to global warming (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 1).

The Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) utilizes the propulsion capabilities of a traditional combustion engine in combination with an electric motor and larger high-voltage battery (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 1). However unlike your HEV that recharges solely by the use of the internal combustion engine, the PHEV is also recharged by the use of an external power source (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 1). While similar technology is utilized in the alternative to a HEV, the PHEV features a plug which the HEV does not have. In other words, the PHEV must be plugged in to recharge completely. PHEV’s design allows for a longer all-electric range than HEV’s; which means these vehicles ultimately use less gasoline because they can go further without using the combustion engine (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 1). It is also indicated that a PHEV can be less expensive to operate than a HEV because buying electricity from your home outlet is substantially cheaper than buying petroleum from your gas station (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013, para. 1).

The PHEV is at a glance deceptive in regards to how much fossil fuel consumption is really reduced with the use of a PHEV, rather than the HEV. While it appears that the car is using less fossil fuel and thus having a better impact on the world, some research at the Electric Power Research Institute (2007) suggests that the additional emissions created from power plants that are fueling the PHEV can in some examples cause them to have higher emissions than HEVs (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 9) This is of course dependant on the type of power plant that powers the outlet in which the PHEVs are plugged into. For example, in an area where the majority of power is coming from a renewable source such as solar, wind, or geothermal the impact would be nil, but if the power plant is using fossils fuels like coal, oil, or natural gas the environmental benefits are thus impacted negatively.

According to HybridCars (2013), the top 5 best-selling hybrids vehicles are the 2013 Toyota Prius Lilftback, the 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid, the 2012 Ford C-MAX, the 2012 Toyota Prius c, and lastly the 2012 Toyota Prius v. With only one Ford in the top five, one could pretty accurately infer that Toyota is the leader in the sales, production and manufacturing of hybrid technology. Recently Ford announced that all the parts in their hybrids that were previously being made out of the country would now be made within the country, so an increase sale of American hybrids would of course be good for our country. Understandably so, many Americans feel that buying foreign is unpatriotic. Certainly, Americans buying hybrids made from a foreign country is not exactly beneficial for the American economy, and this contributes to the growing trade deficit in the United States (Nevins, 2011, para. 5). It is said, that for every American car bought 7-10 job are created for American workers (Nevins, 2011, para. 8). Therefore, I do feel that Americans relying on foreign companies to manufacture our hybrids completely would be bad for our economy, however ultimately it comes down to the buyer’s choice. Yet, overall the increasing number of hybrid vehicles on the road is good for the environment because it takes us closer to sustainability and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  

Hybrid nay-sayers often are say things like “it takes more energy to produce a hybrid therefore the gain is lost before the car is even sold” and “the parts are expensive to fix so the fuels saving are also lost”. However, as with all new technology, as our ability to reproduce technology reliably advances prices of parts and cars will drop significantly. As we can see from our recent advancements made from the push in 1976 by the government, the more demand there is for new and better hybrids, the better our new hybrids will become. One concern of many is that if we use PHEV’s that we could put too much stress on the grid, however researchers predict estimates of only an increase between 0.57- 2 % (Gerstenfeld, 2010, p. 10). Because America primarily uses coal power production there would some adverse aspects to the use of PHEV’s alone, until of course we make the switch from coal to primarily renewable energy. The main component that causes environmental harm in a hybrid car when not recycled is the battery. However, Hybrid Battery manufacturers say, the battery in your modern hybrid is not only better for the environment than your traditional battery if not properly disposed of, but it is also 100% recyclable (Gerstenfeld, 2010, p. 22). Additionally, for those hybrid owners who recycle their battery properly the manufacturer will even offer a $200.00 rebate (Gerstenfeld, 2010, p.22).  


2013 Toyota Prius Lilftback

Miles per gallon: 50

Price :$24.200

Type : Hybrid

A very attractive quality of the Toyota Prius Lilftback is that it is EPA-rated to go 50 miles per gallon combined, or 51 miles per gallon in the city and 48 miles per gallon on the highway (Cobb, 2013, para. 2). Another admirable quality is that this car doesn’t require to be “plugged in” like the Ford C-MAX Energi, yet can deliver max horsepower from the start of a full tank to its end (Cobb, 2013, para. 4). Under the hood, this car features a “1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine plus electric motor, and nickel-metal hydride battery” (Cobb, 2013, para. 4). This car uses propulsion energy that is directed to the front wheels by the “continuously variable transmission” (CVT), so it behaves like an automatic engine. Additionally its gasoline engine delivers “98 horsepower at 5,200 rpm”, while the electric motor adds an additional 80 horsepower (Cobb, 2013, para. 4). However, because the two different power sources put out maximum output at different intervals the peak horsepower is stated to be 134 (Cobb, 2013, para. 6). Additionally, this cars exterior features aerodynamic body lines that offer “a slippery 0.25 coefficient of drag”, which is reportedly better than many sporty vehicles (Cobb, 2013, para. 7).

2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Miles Per Gallon : 41

Price : $26,140

Type : Hybrid

Toyota’s 2013 Camry Hybrid hasn’t changed much over the years, yet is still holding it second best selling hybrids available. The Camry hybrid has an evolved Hybrid Synergy Drive System and uses regenerative braking system to recharge the battery (Cobb, 2013, para. 6). The Hybrid Synergy Drive System is the computer controlled gas-electric power train that has been the heart of the Camry hybrid for seven generations (Cobb, 2013, para. 6). Under the hood of the Camry Hybrid is the a “four-cylinder, 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve Atkinson-cycle engine with alloy engine block and cylinder heads  that contributes 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque at 5,700 rpm and 4,500 rpm”(Cobb, 2013, para. 7). EPA rated the Toyota Camry Hybrid Lx regular-grade fuel burning achieves 43 miles per gallon in the city, 38 miles per gallon on the highway, and 41 miles per gallon combined (Cobb, 2013, para. 3).

2012 Ford C-MAX

Miles Per Gallon :40

Price : $25,995

Type : Hybrid

The Ford C- Max is the American made hybrid, and comes as an HEV and PHEV (Hall, 2011, para. 1). This means can you can opt for the plug-in version or the non-plug version of this hybrid. The Plug-in version is called the C-Max Energi (Hall, 2011, para. 3). The C-Max Hybrid features lithium-ion battery technology which is a notable 25 to 30 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter than a typical battery in a hybrid (Hall, 2011, para. 7). The lithium-ion battery technology can be “tuned to either increase power to boost acceleration, or to increase energy to extend driving distance (Hall, 2011, para. 7). The C-Max’s has a drive train that has a “high-voltage electric traction motor generator” that propels the front wheels and recharges the battery, and an Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine (Hall, 2011, para. 8). Ford hybrid features a power split architecture design that allows one to use either the gasoline engine or electric motor together in a blended mode, or individually to maximize efficiency (Hall, 2011, para. 8).

2012 Toyota Prius c

Miles Per Gallon : 50

Price : $ $18,950

Type : Hybrid

According to Toyota, C stands for city, as its design is best for city driving (Hall, 2012, para 4). The Prius c is quoted to go 53 mile per gallons in the city, 46 mile per gallon on the highway and 50 mile per gallon combined (Hall, 2012, para 1). The main difference under the hood of the Prius C when compared to other hybrid is the smaller size of its components. This car sports 1.5-liter four cylinders Atkinson cycle engine that is 0.3-liters smaller than the usual, with only 48 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of engine torque (Hall, 2012, para. 5). The smaller electric motor, integrated into the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also scaled down; 60 horsepower, and torque production 125 pound-feet, with a total combined output of 99 horsepower (Hall, 2012, para. 5). Even the nickel-metal hydride battery has been scaled down with only 120 cells and 0.87 kilowatt-hours in the Prius c - this car certainly meets the description of compact (Hall, 2012, para. 5). Other than its remarkably compact dimensions this Prius operate with same technology, behaviors, and basic functions as the other Prius models.

2012 Toyota Prius v

Miles Per Gallon : 42

Price : $26,400

Type : Hybrid

The V in the name of the Toyota Prius V stands for versatility (Hall, 2012, para. 2); as this is said to be their most versatile of Toyota Prius Hybrid models. Under the hood the Prius V is the same technology, hybrid system, and drive train as the Toyota Prius Lilftback listed above, but this car is has 60 percent more cargo space, and is bigger, wider and taller (Hall, 2012, para. 3). However, the extra space cost Prius V owners in miles per gallons, the EPA estimate an average of 44 miles per gallon in the city and 40 miles per gallon on the highway (Hall, 2012, para. 4) The larger Prius V is also considerably more expensive than the Liftback with a starting price tag of  $26,400 (Hall, 2012, para. ). According to Toyota, the 0-to-60-mph time is 9.8 seconds for the Prius Liftback  and 10.4 seconds for the Prius V (Hall, 2012, para. 9), so that extra size also impacts its acceleration.

For a person like I, who drives a truck that only goes 12-17 miles per gallon of gasoline any of these nice hybrid would be an extreme upgrade for me and the environment. The Toyota Liftback would probably be the best for me because it is large enough that I would feel comfortable in, yet not so large that I am losing miles per gallon. I would also be looking for a car that would fit my family, including my nephews which I have with me quite often. I also would need one that would drive smoothly over hills and in the city because where I live its very city like, with lots of hills. Fortunately, I don’t usually drive far on the highway, but since it is often the fastest way between two places around here I would also want one that could travel at highway speeds and distances without too much effort. Some of the hybrid cars, like the Prius C are great for the city, but reportedly not so great for hills and highways. I think that the Liftback would suit all my needs, but I probably would still buy the Ford- C Max because I am an American girl who loves her current Ford.

One thing that consumers perhaps mistakenly think when buying thinking about hybrid technology is that if all Americans have hybrids that we will no longer need foreign oil. Professor Arthur Gerstenfeld (2010) from Worcester Polytechnic Institute writes in his article “Environmental and Social Issues Concerned with Hybrid Cars” that hybrid technology alone will not even dent Americans oil dependence from foreign countries (p. 16). Quoting that, American import was just over “11.1 million barrels of oil per day, which amounts to 57% daily of the daily use” (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 9).

According to Gerstenfeld (2010) report, In terms of barrels of oil per day they were using 19,498,000 barrels per day (bbl/day) (p. 16). Of these 19,498,000 bbl/day, 57% or the equivalent to 11,100,000 bbl/day is imported, which leaves us at 43%, or 8,348,000 bbl/day to use in our vehicles (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 16). Of our 19.5 million barrels 29%, or “5,654,420 bbl/day”, are used in the making power and other petroleum based products like plastics”, so that leaves only 2,729,000 bbl/day available for the transportation consumption (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 17). Of that 71% which was used for transportation, only 65 % was used in gasoline production; which means that 13.8-million bbl/day is used in transportation total (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 17). Additionally of that 13.8-million, 4.85-million bbl/day were used in large trucks, boats, trains and planes rather than cars (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 17). So technically we could almost completely support all of the transportation needs of our everyday drivers on 8.95-million barrels of “home -brew” because reportedly America at this time was producing 9.3-million barrels per day (Gerstenfeld, 2010. p. 17). However, that leaves all our other oil needs unattended for, so to think that hybrid is the complete solution to our dependence on foreign fossil fuel is false. Despite many wishes, hybrid technology should not actually impact our dependence on foreign fuel completely and much work will need to be done to achieve this feat.

A potential conflict with Hybrid technology and foreign trade is the trade of the rare earth used in many commercial products. The Council on Foreign Trade (2012) writes that China restricted the trade of such rare earths, quoting "concerns over long-term supply and the environmental ramifications” as the reason to support China’s limitations on the trade of these rare materials (para. 1). Elizabeth C. Economy, CFR's director of Asia Studies (2012) says, “many countries that rely on rare earths believe China is attempting to use its dominance as a rare earth supplier to force companies that need rare earths to manufacture in China” (para. 1). After these suspicions were aroused about China trying to execute control over the manufacturing of green products by exercising control over the trade of these rare materials the United States, the European Union, and Japan filed a “request for a consultation”(Council on Foreign Trade, 2012, para. 1). While previous consultations about policy with China have always been successful because of the WTO's adjudication system (Alessi & Economy, 2012. para. 1), the real concern is that China possess 90% of the world's supply of these rare earth and if foreign policy is disregarded the price of these materials will become too costly and severely impact our economy.

After reading the facts, one can see that there are many sides to the hybrid story but overall hybrid technology is a step in the direction away from wasteful fossil fuel consumption. After examining all the nice components and different technology in each car it is easy to see that they follow a similar trend. Smaller and more efficient engines; regenerative braking- which utilizes the electric motor that drives the hybrid to slow down the car and recovers the energy to recharge the battery. When idling, the engine will shut off automatically and restart when it is in gear and the accelerator is pressed. Narrow, harder, resistance tires and aerodynamic bodies that reduce drag, and light weight materials that improve the efficiency and performance. All the fancy wording means essentially the same thing, more mileage per gallon than your conventional combustion engine and less deadly carbon emissions. Most of the technology is remarkably the similar in the hybrids, and all of them are designed to maximize the amount of miles per gallon one can get while driving. There are plenty of myths surrounding hybrids, and plenty of truths for those willing to look. The fact are pretty simple, fossil fuels consumption is bad for the world and hybrid technology is aimed at reducing smog, haze and deadly toxins from polluting our air. Recent advancements in technology have made hybrids reliable, recyclable, and in most cases after rebates they are equivalently priced to your non-hybrid models. The message is clear: Buy Hybrid, and join the effort to save the world, and Americans, buy an American car and join the fight against economic depression.


Alessi, C. & Economy, C, E. (2012). Challenging China’s Trade Practices. Council on Foreign Trade. Retrieved from

Cobb, J. (2013). Toyota Prius Lilftback. HybridCars. Retrieved from

Cobb, J. (2013). Toyota Camry Hybrid. HybridCars. Retrieved from

Gerstenfeld, A. (2010). Environmental and Social Issues Concerned with Hybrid Cars. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved from.

Hall, L. (2011).  2012. Ford C-MAX.  HybridCars. Retrieved from 

Hall, L. (2012). 2012 Toyota Prius v  HybridCars. Retrieved from