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Congressional Witnesses Unanimously Support Proposed Plug-in Hybrid Legislation

Projected annual gasoline saved for the average car and light-duty truck as a function of the all-electric range of a plug-in hybrid. Click to enlarge. Source: Dr. Andy Frank

Witnesses at a House Science Subcommittee on Energy hearing today—including a representative from Honda—expressed unanimous support for proposed legislation that would advance the commercialization of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV)—although some witnesses were more enthusiastic about the prospect of PHEVs than others.

The witnesses testified at a hearing on the discussion draft of legislation by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Act of 2006, which would conduct research and development (R&D) on advanced plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies and demonstrate plug-in hybrid vehicles so as to promote their commercial application in the consumer marketplace.

Testifying were Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager of Austin Energy, and board member of the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA); Mark Duvall, Technology Development Manager for Electric Transportation & Specialty Vehicles in the Electric Power Research Institute’s Science & Technology Division; Dr. Andrew Frank, professor in the Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering Department at the University of California, Davis; John German, Manager of Environmental and Energy Analyses for American Honda Motor Company; Dr. Danilo Santini, Senior Economist in the Energy Systems Division of Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research; and Dr. Cliff Ricketts, professor of Agricultural Education in the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience at Middle Tennessee State University.

Witnesses told the Subcommittee that technical challenges related to the size and cost of the battery, and limited demonstration of existing technologies have kept plug-in hybrids from penetrating the market-place. The witnesses unanimously agreed, though, that Rep. Smith’s draft bill would help overcome these hurdles and advance the commercialization of plug-in hybrids.

Roger Duncan stated that the main obstacle to widespread commercial application of plug-ins is automotive industry inertia based on a perception that there is not a commercially viable market.

Almost all of our partners ask me the same question—where can I get one? And this is one place where I think the proposed legislation will be very helpful. The demonstration program proposed in the legislation will directly address our most pressing need—providing demonstration vehicles to the state and local government, businesses and other Plug-in Partners. We will help in matching the great consumer demand that we are uncovering with the demonstration program proposed in this legislation.

—Roger Duncan, Austin Energy

Mark Duvall stated that analysis to date indicates that the technology, control systems and advanced battery systems are sufficient to move plug-in hybrid technology to the market at an early entry level.

It further suggests that continued R&D on key component technologies is critical, especially advanced batteries. Additional analysis and experience with the vehicle and systems can lead to further optimization as test data is applied to the design of motor and engine systems, and engine/motor coordination strategies are further refined.

—Mark Duvall, EPRI

As to the concern about the impact charging PHEVs would have on the grid, Duvall noted that a typical battery charger for a plug-in hybrid will draw about 1,400 watts of power from a 120-volt outlet and be active for about 2-8 hours per day—roughly equivalent to an electric space heater.

Several analyses by EPRI or the DOE estimate the energy demand of plug-in hybrids, even at 50% market penetration, at between 4-7% of total US electricity demand.

EPRI has reviewed the discussion draft and is of the opinion that it addresses the most critical technical challenges to the development and adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles.Mark Duvall, EPRI

Duvall noted that there is a “high degree of correlation” between the draft bill and the six key steps EPRI believes the government should take to advance plug in hybrid technology:

  1. Develop a program to demonstrate the technology;

  2. Demonstrate a plug-in fleet of vehicles to operate throughout the US;

  3. Collect and share data from consumers and fleet operators about the benefits of plug-in hybrids;

  4. Develop a certification test protocol for plug-in hybrid drive systems;

  5. Establish a program to educate the public about plug-in hybrid technology;

  6. Focus federal R&D efforts on increasing performance of batteries, drive systems and power electronics.

Andy Frank also spoke of the need to convince the car companies of the existence of a viable market, and called for government to build a fleet of 200 advanced PHEVs with all-electric ranges (AER) from 10 to 60 miles on three of the most popular vehicle platforms with one or two of the American OEMs over the next 2 to 3 years, and to develop the supply chain.

A 40-mile AER would meet the needs of about 50% of the driving public, according to Dr. Frank, and is technically achievable today. Dr. Frank noted that a 40-mile AER in half the US fleet could reduce oil to about half its current use—and that such penetration into the fleet would take about 20 years.

John German, the lone representative from the auto industry, acknowledged the potential, but sounded much more cautious notes.

It is impossible to predict the pace of technology development and when breakthroughs will or will not occur. Accordingly, technology-specific mandates cannot get us where we need to go. In fact, previous attempts to mandate specific technologies have a poor track record...

With respect to plug-in hybrids, it is really too early in the development of hybrid vehicles and advanced batteries to predict whether plug-in vehicles will reach their hoped-for potential. Plug-in hybrids have a lot of promise, especially to displace oil consumption. They need and deserve further research and development. In that regard, the thrust of the draft legislation makes a good deal of sense. Before plug-in vehicles can be viable, however, there are a number of technology, consumer acceptance, environmental and cost issues that still need to be addressed.

According to German, those issues include:

  • Battery weight and size, and performance demands. The extra batteries add 175 to 500 pounds to the vehicle, which decreases performance, and it is difficult to find space for the extra batteries without detracting from the utility of the vehicle.

  • The impact on emissions control. The catalytic converters used to reduce most of the criteria emissions from the engine need to be at least 250° C to function properly. If the engine is off most of the time, catalyst temperatures will drop well below the level needed for conversion of emissions and tailpipe emissions will be orders of magnitude higher, according to German. He also noted that current emission and fuel economy test procedures are not designed to accurately measure emissions from these types of vehicles and would have to be revised.

  • Energy storage. The battery pack in a plug-in will need to be many times larger than in a conventional hybrid, even with just a 20-mile electric range. In addition to the cost, weight and size issues, the battery pack is now subjected to deep discharge cycles during electric-only operation and to much higher electrical loads and temperatures to maintain performance. This will cause much more rapid deterioration of the battery pack, likely requiring replacement of the battery pack at least once during the vehicle life.

  • Cost effectiveness.

  • Environmental considerations. In this category, German placed both the CO2 generated by electricity production (depending upon the method) and end-of-life battery disposal.

From a manufacturers’ and customers’ point of view, there is no business case [for plug-ins] unless fuel prices rise to substantially more than $3 per gallon, fuel shortages occur, plug-in hybrids are heavily subsidized, or there is a breakthrough in energy storage.

By far the most important action the government can take is research into improved energy storage.

Honda strongly supports the research program outlined in the House discussion draft of the Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Act of 2006. Hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, have a great deal of promise and their potential issues should be actively investigated for solutions, especially energy storage. The outlined research program is the best way for the federal government to accelerate the development and deployment of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

—John German, American Honda

Cliff Rickets argued for a focus on flex-fuel plug-in hybrids, and noted the potential for using hydrogen in the internal combustion engine component of the PHEV as well.

Despite possible problems with battery technology and cost, as noted by some of the other witnesses, Danilo Santini also articulated his support for the legislation.

I am confident enough about the potential of plug-in hybrid technology to recommend that Congress and DOE make a long-term commitment to research and development of lithium-ion battery chemistry R&D in particular, and energy storage in general, with a focus on needs of plug-in hybrids.

—Danilo Santini

The Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Act of 2006 would require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric drive transportation technology.

The research program is designed to develop high capacity, high efficiency batteries; high efficiency onboard and offboard charging components; high-power drivetrain systems for passenger and commercial vehicles and for non-road equipment; control systems, power trains, and systems integration for all types of hybrid electric vehicles; and a nationwide public awareness strategy for electric drive transportation technologies that provide teaching materials and support for university education focused on electric drive systems and component engineering.

The bill authorizes appropriations to the Secretary of Energy of $2 billion from fiscal 2007 through 2016 ($200 million each year) to carry out the program. It also authorizes $500 million from fiscal 2007 through 2016 ($50 million each year) to fund demonstrations of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and flexible-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Maximum grants per demonstration vehicle are on a downward sliding scale.

Maximum Grants per Vehicle
FY 2007-2009 FY 2010-2012 FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016
$10,000 $8,000 $6,000 $3,000 $2,000 $1,000



Joe  Rocker

Raise the tax on gasoline to $2 per gallon and give hybrids a $5000 tax credit. In a few years you wouldn't be able to find a gas guzzler.


The tax on gas I'd agree to but a tax credit for "hybrids" is as short sighted as a tax credit for 8,500lb vehicles, the stated reason of saving gas may get lost in the marketplace if you focus on the technology.
Not all hybrids are built for the goal of saving gas. I'd prefer a tax credit aimed directly at increasing MPG without specifying the technology to be used.
The average car today gets about 10L/100km so let's give people a $1000 tax credit for each litre of gas improvement their new car gets.
Someone who buys a hybrid Prius (or a non-hybrid Smartcar) would get back $6000 while someone who buys a gas guzzling "hybrid" pick-up truck would get back nothing.


Agreed AV. Now how do we get the politicians on board? That seems to be the real problem.

Adrian Akau

I think the emphasis of this legislation should be placed on battery and ultra capacitor development although I did not see any mention of ultra capacitors. Since ultracapacitors and ultracapacitor packs are already being introduced into vans and buses, it seems strange that John German refused to take this technology into consideration when testifying on energy storage. I agree with John that caution is necessary but since I am already paying over $3.50/gallon, I am really getting tired of stepping easy. It is time to develop the PHEV as I believe the cost of oil will be moving inexorably upward. We may as well start what we know has to be done; i.e. getting off our bottoms on this PHEV issue.

The US automobile industry was not receptive initially to the introduction of hybrid vehicles; I remember some rather negative advertising. I sincerely hope they do not go about dragging their feet on the PHEV's because they will be caught sleeping and end up playing catch-up if they don't make an honest effort. Should gasoline hit $5.00/gallon in the next 36 months and another country offers us a good PHEV, where do you think our own auto industry will be? Now is the opportunity to move ahead before it is too late.

I really don't see the need for demonstrations and education. Just give us the opportunity to get a good car and that will be enough. Save your $500 million.


The PHEV is someone's chance to catch the market-changing paradigm shift. I'd love to see Ford or GM push agressively in this area, but I'm not holding my breath. Perhaps a Chinese or Korean company will use PHEVs to leapfrog into market dominance, although Honda and/or Toyota are the more likely suspects. Just MHO.



Ultracaps were not mentioned because they don't have anywhere near the necessary energy density (unless you are talking about the theoretical EEStore caps that operate at 3500 volts and may just be a lie).

The article says 3-12 kWhr batteries would be needed (I think this is a bit low personally, but it'd be a good starting point). Based on a setup of 15 amps for 1 hour at anywhere between 300v and 250v (15 amps * 275 V * 1 hr = 4.125 kWhr), you'd need 912 packs of BMOD0430-E016 cap packs at 5.5 kg each. I'm not sure of the towing capacity of a prius, but i think it is a bit shy of 5,000 kg. My assumptions may be off by 10-20%, but the pack is at least one order of magnitude too heavy.

Ultracaps are good for power, bad for energy.


The gov't doesn't impose aggressive or extreme tax schemes like the above because they would cause too much damage to the economy.

The US auto industry is already in bad shape, with constant good news from Toyota (soon to be #1 volume in the world, already #1 total profit), Honda, and Hyundai while GM and Ford have been in a constant state of restructuring and reformatting and remodelling and reorganising (all of which have been polite words for closing plants, reducing capacity, firing labor). The industry would be rocked by dramatic increases in fuel cost or heavy vehicle cost. No politician could support it.

Not to mention the inflation such a change would cause. Everything in the US is trucked in from somewhere else. How much more are you willing to pay for your groceries with no added value?

I agree that inefficient vehicles are a problem, but radical solutions are only implemented at the great peril that the harm they will cause will not be justified.

How about we start by getting rid of the "light truck" classification and just call a vehicle a vehicle, whether it is a prius, an f150, or a suburban. If it is for personal use, it must meet the same set of crash, fuel economy, and emissions regulations.

So, just get rid of the perverse subsidies, don't add new ones.

Of course, that'd kill the american automakers, too, so maybe a 10 yr phase-in would be in order.

Shaun Williams

I don't know much about the US legislative system. What's the likelihood of a House Science Subcommittee on Energy getting its recommendations put into law?

It appears that the witnesses have provided an irresistible case for PHEV's. Nice to see the paradigm being gradually understood where it counts.


Any domestic automakers listening? Here's a chance to capitalize on the next best thing. I can imagine being virtually free of my "oil addiction" by driving on batteries for the first 40 miles and filling up with ethanol for longer trips.


Where are the batteries that can power a vehicle for 40 mi? They exist this is not the problem, having a solution is not the same as having a good solution.

The rav4 EV lists a range of ~ 100 mi +/- and requires a $26,000 battery that in the case of the one talked about here that was sold on e-bay lasted for under 60,000 mi.

If we pro rate that battery down to $ per range in mi for a 40 mi range we are looking at a $10,400 battery
About the same $ as the max grant per vehicle.

Having a 40 mi range on electricity would cut down on gas usage considerably but if the battery is only good for 1000 - 1500 cycles it would last for 40,000 - 60,000 mi.

You are looking at 17 cents per mi cost for the battery + the cost of electricity.

If the ave car gets 25 mpg
fuel costs work out to 12 cents @ $3/ gal, and 20 cents @ $5

A chevy aveo has an msrp starting at $9,890 and a city mpg rating of 26.

Given those choices I'd take the aveo with a 5 yr - 60,000 mi warrenty.

For the short term you'd still come out ahead.

I am glad we are working on such things because battery tech needs to develop to increase life and/or reduce cost.


"German: Battery weight and size, and performance demands. The extra batteries add 175 to 500 pounds to the vehicle, which decreases performance, and it is difficult to find space for the extra batteries without detracting from the utility of the vehicle."
What vehicle is he talking about? The prius looks the same as any other car, the Escape looks like an SUV. What does he carry around anyway? I guess he should continue to drive around a big car in case he needs the exptra space urgently.

Adrian Akau


I was refering not so much to using ultracapacitors for energy storage as I was to using them to protect energy storage capacity of batteries since John German stated that the higher loads and temperatures on the battery necessary to maintain performance would hasten the deterioration of the battery. Normally these higher loads would come during the acceleration interval at which time ultracapcitor energy might best be applied. Ultracapacitor use is more efficient in rapid charge and discharge than batteries. I think that is why they are to be installed in the newly designed vans and buses.

Battery technology is moving ahead rapidly and hopefully we will soon have a battery available with extremely high energy density, rapid recharge capability, low cost and with excellent safety features. The lack of this technology is presently limiting PHEV practicality, affordability and customer desirability.

Rafael Seidl

Ultracaps may be combined with an all-electric or an ICE prime mover, to support spikes in mechanical power demand during boost acceleration and recuperative braking. They would certainly extend the range, improve the performance and perhaps, help extend the life expectancy of a PHEV battery pack. Still, ultracaps remain very expensive components.

There is, of course, an alternative to putting electric traction motors in a car: simply focussing on downsized, super-/turbocharged GDI four-cylinder ICEs with an extra overdrive gear in the AT plus a bypass clutch for the torque converter would yield a 10-20% improvement in fuel economy quickly and fairly cheaply. For example, VW has a 1.4L engine with both a turbo and a Roots supercharger that is disengaged above 2500-3000 RPM (depending on torque demand). It delivers 125kW (200hp) and the Golf GT it's in gets 7.2l/100km (approx. 33 MPG based on the European driving cycle). That's very good for such a pocket rocket.

Turbodiesels get even higher MPG, but they cost more and cannot yet meet Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions regs without expensive NOx aftertreatment.

With the right incentives (commitment to gas prices remaining high via taxes, credits for high-MPG vehicles, solo use of HOV lanes etc.), sustained over a decade, the US could make a really serious dent in its gas consumption by shifting its entire vehicle inventory in the direction of higher MPG. And that, more than anything else, would ease the pressure on crude oil prices, because the US consumes 25% of the world's oil.

PHEVs will never have this big an impact because their reduced utility inherently limits their market appeal - no matter what members of Congress are told by individuals with a vested interest.


A PHEV has the same utility as the hybrid on which it's based, plus the ability to run significant distances without burning fuel (very important if we have outright shortages of fuel).

The US automakers had the opportunity to make this happen.  All they had to do was continue the PNGV R&D programs after 2001; that would have given them the base vehicles to implement whatever they needed to meet market demand.  Instead, they cancelled them and disbanded the engineering teams.  Such short-sighteness will receive its reward.

Ed Danzer

I think plug in vehicles will bring the Grid down. Every year we have brown outs and black out from poor grid infrastructure. Do you think this will get better with everyone charging there car?


1.) The Prius has ~2 kW-hr battery pack. Realistically, a PHEV-40 would need on the order of 10X this capacity. This is why PHEVs run into a size/weight/packaging issue.

2.) Because charging of a PHEV will generally occur at night, it is unlikely that it will have a negative impact on the grid. In fact, many in the utility industry are pushing the PHEV as a way to use under-utilized nighttime grid load.

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