Technology with attitude

A Hybrid Car That Gets 250 MPG?

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Nice…

I posted about high gas prices yesterday and today I find a story that I can really sink my fuel-price-loathing teeth into.

If all of this is true (and I’m not holding my breath just yet), it could mean some serious benefits for our way of life and our dependence on foreign oil. Apparently, some hybrid car owners are hacking their cars to get amazing fuel effeciency.

It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an 80-miles-per-gallon secret â€â€? a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that boosts the car’s high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can burn even less fuel.

Gremban, an electrical engineer and committed environmentalist, spent several months and $3,000 tinkering with his car.

Like all hybrids, his Prius increases fuel efficiency by harnessing small amounts of electricity generated during braking and coasting. The extra batteries let him store extra power by plugging the car into a wall outlet at his home in this San Francisco suburb � all for about a quarter.

He’s part of a small but growing movement. “Plug-in” hybrids aren’t yet cost-efficient, but some of the dozen known experimental models have gotten up to 250 mpg.

They have support not only from environmentalists but also from conservative foreign policy hawks who insist Americans fuel terrorism through their gas guzzling.

However, before we get too terribly excited, the benefits seem to only be for those who drive 30 to 40 miles per day. This probably represents a good number of people, but perspective is needed.

The extra batteries let Gremban drive for 20 miles with a 50-50 mix of gas and electricity. Even after the car runs out of power from the batteries and switches to the standard hybrid mode, it gets the typical Prius fuel efficiency of around 45 mpg. As long as Gremban doesn’t drive too far in a day, he says, he gets 80 mpg.

“The value of plug-in hybrids is they can dramatically reduce gasoline usage for the first few miles every day,” Gremban said. “The average for people’s usage of a car is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. During that kind of driving, the plug-in hybrid can make a dramatic difference.”

Backers of plug-in hybrids acknowledge that the electricity to boost their cars generally comes from fossil fuels that create greenhouse gases, but they say that process still produces far less pollution than oil. They also note that electricity could be generated cleanly from solar power.

And by the way, some war hawks LOVE hybrids.

Nonetheless, plug-in hybrids are starting to get the backing of prominent hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President Reagan’s undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil dependence.

Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern governments that support terrorism.

“The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent on our destruction or helping those who are … the more we are enabling those who are trying to kill us,” Gaffney said.

I want your thoughts on this. I stated in my original post that hybrids seem to provide the best hope for increased fuel efficiency, and thereby decreasing our dependency on foreign oil. I think this story helps bolster that theory, but I still want to hear more ideas from all of you. If we all start talking about this, I think we can create enough noise for the blogosphere to take note.

In other words, please comment, debate and help Donklephant spread the word.