If you’ve been following the automotive world in recent years, you’ve surely noticed that hybrids and electric cars became the new big thing with manufacturers.
There’s solid reasoning behind it as well. Aside from performance benefits with high-end cars like Ferrari’s latest hypercar, consumer-grade cars target efficiency and cleanliness. But have you ever wondered how they work, what are their weaknesses, and are they THAT green?
With this article, I’ll dive in on the juicy details behind electric vehicles and hybrids to uncover their secrets.
Hybrids Are Electric Vehicles On Steroids
When you look at a hybrid drivetrain, you’ll find an internal combustion engine (ICE) and one or more electric motors (EM).
The smart ECU that controls everything is often programmed in a way that enables you to choose the drive mode.
Generally, the choices include a full EV mode, a dynamic mode that actively switches between the ICE and EM.
With performance-oriented vehicles, there are also one or more performance modes in which the EM helps the ICE with acceleration.
On the other hand, EVs only have the EM to move them around. Other than that, the way they work is more or less the same as with hybrids.
The ECU features a couple of modes, ranging from conservative to performance oriented.
However, electric vehicles have a serious issue with heat, which drastically affects the batteries.
Hybrids don’t have such an issue as they’re pre-programmed to switch to the ICE if there are any problems with the motor drive.
The Heart Is The Electric Motor
As mentioned above, electric motors need electricity to run.
Most EMs used today are either 3-phase induction motors or brushless DC(BLDC) motors.
It’s important to note that BLDC motors aren’t DC motors. They’re called that because of the DC power source, but they’re 3-phase motors.
The motors are AC, but the batteries are DC. So how can they run?
The answer is easy-we use inverters that convert DC to AC.
Now that we can feed the motor with its food of choice, we can make that glorious torque.
The current that goes into the motor produces something called Tesla’s Rotary Field or in layman terms a rotating magnetic field.
In BLDCs, the field is a product of the interaction between the permanent magnets on the rotor and copper winding on the stator.
In the induction motor, the interaction occurs between windings on both the rotor and stator.
The amount of current that’s fed to the motor dictates how much torque they’ll produce.
The Downsides Of Electric Motors
Even though EMs are incredibly rugged and straightforward, with just one moving part, they do have their weaknesses.
During their operation, EMs get hot. That’s normal because of the resistance of the windings, the current flowing through them, and the conversion of energy.
However, too much current can get them very hot, which damages the insulation on the windings and can cause a meltdown and often times a short circuit.
It’s the same as if they’re not appropriately cooled.
Another thing that can harm an electric motor is losses during conversion.
They don’t damage the motor in general but significantly affect the performance.
Since the production of heat often follows losses, the motor can overheat.
If it doesn’t overheat, the performance will be terrible.
How Do They Compare To ICEs?
Electric vehicles are incredibly efficient so they are green, but sadly, the batteries that power them are not that green.
Yes, they don’t produce exhaust gases when they run, they don’t smell and aren’t noisy.
But the batteries are usually charged from the grid, meaning we need power plants.
The batteries also have a shorter lifespan than an ICE and are considered electronic waste. This is bad because they’re filled with chemicals such as Lithium, Nickel, and Cadmium(NiCd are rarely used nowadays) which can pollute the Earth.
But in general, yes, I’d say that electric vehicles and hybrids are more fuel efficient and eco-friendly, compared to an ICE vehicle.
Also, the torque is instant, which is what matters to a petrolhead.
Sadly, there’s no sound, except the electronic hum of the motors, but that’s a discussion for another time.
In my opinion, hybrids and EVs are ideal in the city, since it’s mostly stop and go traffic.
I’d still rather choose the instant fill up and go of the ICE for the open road and long journeys.