Green Car Company Rides Wave of Plug-in Hybrids, Battery Technologies

A lot of people modify their cars, but the alterations to the hybrid Toyota Prius I was test-driving last week were more than just a fancy paint job or cool rims. In addition to the standard regenerative braking battery, I was packing an A123 Systems Hymotion L5 lithium ion battery that charged by plugging into a wall socket. The Prius had been modified and lent to me for a few days by Bellevue, WA-based Green Car Company.

The mechanics at Green Car Company had installed the Hymotion battery in the trunk of the car, right behind the socket where the power cord to charge the car plugs in. The Green Car Company rents and sells a variety of environmentally friendly cars and bikes, including biodiesel vehicles. It also performs maintenance and modification for those cars, such as the plug-in module for the Hymotion battery.

Hybrid cars are growing more popular all the time, and many companies are competing to develop the best possible battery—long-lasting, easily recharged, and cheap. The L5 battery has a longer life than the standard Prius battery, though it requires a power grid to charge. It also makes the gas engine of the car more efficient, improving the overall energy efficiency of the car compared to standard hybrids. A 2009 modified Prius at Green Car Company costs $41,999, while a standard Prius costs $22,516, according to Kelley Blue Book. Toyota is developing a plug-in version of the Prius, but according to Green Car Company, that version will actually cost more than modifying the current, standard Prius.

The main idea of installing the plug-in battery is that drivers will be able to travel 100 miles or more on every gallon of gasoline, with a range of 30 to 40 miles on just the battery itself. One of the nicer points for me was that even if the battery did deplete all the way, the car would then become a standard Prius hybrid and use its factory-installed battery.

The plug-in battery maker, A123 Systems, based in Watertown, MA, acquired Toronto-based Hymotion and Hymotion’s plug-in hybrid modules in May 2007. A123 developed the nanophosphate lithium ion battery, which has a longer life and charging ability than standard lithium batteries. Hymotion used these A123 batteries in its conversion kits even before being acquired. Last Wednesday, A123 announced it had received $249 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy, part of the $2.4 billion in federal grants given out for companies working on technology for electric vehicles. A123 plans on using the money to expand and improve its lithium ion battery manufacturing capabilities in the U.S.

To give people an opportunity to test-drive a car installed with a Hymotion battery, … Next Page »

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Eric Hal Schwartz was an intern in Xconomy's Seattle office. Follow @

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