Leader Blues

Monday, March 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Plug-in Prius uses less gas

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

First Electric Cooperative is on the cutting edge of electric automotive technology and higher fuel efficiency.

On Wednesday, the company’s 2009 Toyota Prius Hybrid was modified into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at First Electric’s fleet garage on 1000 South J.P. Wright Loop Road in Jacksonville.

Glenn Edmonds and Jason Wil-liams, Advanced Vehicle Research Center representatives from Raleigh, N.C., retrofitted the Prius with a Hymotion A123 PHEV conversion package, which doubles the Prius’ energy efficiency.

The cost of the conversion package was $10,000.

The conversion package increases the car’s fuel mileage with the addition of a 170-pound high-energy rechargeable plug-in lithium-ion battery module.

The lithium-ion battery can power the Prius for 40 miles, then it needs a recharge. Until then, the Prius goes back to using the factory battery as well as the gasoline engine.

First Electric’s Prius averaged 40 to 45 miles per gallon of gasoline before the addition of the second larger battery.

Engineers estimate that the plug-in hybrid will reach 75 to 80 miles per gallon when driven at lower speeds in the city.

“You can get the best results with city driving,” said Neal Frizzell, First Electric Cooperative vice president of marketing and communications.

Installation of the unit took less than four hours. The rechargeable battery was installed in the trunk’s spare-tire well and was connected to the car’s electrical system. An electrical plug was installed in the rear bumper cover.

The converted vehicle, one of the first in the state, will be used as a teaching tool alongside other First Electric projects on energy efficiency and “green” power.  

“The car is a way to show energy efficiency and that First Electric is committed to that process,” said Mary Novak, communications coordinator.

The upgrade allows the vehicle’s 5.5 kilowatt-hour battery to be recharged by plugging the car into a standard grounded 110-volt electrical outlet using a 14-amp extension cord.

At the rate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, a full recharge of the battery would cost 50 cents.

First Electric will have a plug-in station for the car on the company grounds.

A full recharge takes about five hours. While the battery recharges, the rear brake lights act as a charging indicator.

The lights are dimmed and gradually intensify in brightness until the battery is fully charged before the lights turn off.

It’s still not known how long the lithium-ion battery will last, but that’s being studied.

The plug-in vehicle has the same acceleration and speed of the stock Prius.

Depending on a person’s driving style and speed, the lithium-ion battery will add 40 miles per gallon, reducing the number of trips to fill up at gas pumps.

The original stock Prius hybrid battery under the rear seat is recharged by the car during braking and deceleration.

A V2 Green data logger was installed in the First Electric plug-in hybrid Prius to monitor the car’s performance and mileage.