Diesel Electric Hybrids Not New

Diesel engines have often been derided as loud and foul smelling in the United States, but in Europe diesels have long been popular. Over the past five years, a new generation of clean cars has emerged, and the newest iterations are only getting better. Next year, Peugeot and Mercedes will introduce the first diesel-hybrid vehicles to the mass market. Volvo and Peugeot will follow suit with plug-in versions in 2012 and 2014.

But, they won’ t be available here in the US.  At least, they won’t without a significant overhaul to the US EPA’s Air Emissions policy for Cars and Light Trucks in the United States (Oh, and don’t forget our friends at the CARB).   The EPA puts such onerous restrictions on diesel air emissions and engine testing, most foreign manufacturers won’t bother to jump through the hoops to export them to the USA.  Only Mercedes, VW, and Audi do that.  We’re missing out on dozens of other small, efficient, diesel powered cars that could run circles around a Prius in terms of MPG.

Diesel Electric Hybrids are not new.  Locomotives have been using the technology for over 60 years.   In a Diesel-electric train, the

The FIRST Diesel-Electric Hybrid

Diesel engine drives an electrical generator whose output provides power to the traction motors. There is no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels.  This is a critical difference between diesel-electric trains and hybrid cars, as the engine is used to drive the wheels when the batteries become exhausted.

We want diesel-electric hybrid.  They are a proven technology, and instead of getting 40-50 MPG as in a Prius or Insight, you can realize MPG rates of 70-80 MPG.  Couple that with a biodiesel powered engine, and you would have a Very Low Emissions vehicle that could have incredible range.

Instead of forcing auto-makers to make internal combustion engines more and more complicated, requiring additional systems to increase efficiency and reduce emissions, why not just modify the fuels and the technology to something that already exists?  Are you listening EPA?   Simply switching to biodiesel will reduce the air emissions, and using diesel-electric hybrids would increase the range dramatically.  Imagine a small 3 cylinder diesel that would run at 1800 RPM (a very efficient range for diesel motors) that would sip fuel at .25 to .40 gallons per hour while generating the power needed to run the car and charge batteries?

Or, to put it more simply, why don’t the EPA and CARB accept a car that is certified to meet the air emissions requirements in Europe and Asia (which are far more densely populated and environmentally sensitive in many cases)?  If it’s good enough to meet their stringent air quality requirements, it should be good enough here.    Or am I missing something?

Diesel Electric Train Diagram

As an example of what we could get today, if the market would allow it: Volkswagen says their Golf TDI Hybrid consumes 3.4 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers, which is about 71.4 mpg. That’s better than the gas-electric Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid by better than 20 mpg.

VW Golf TDI Hybrid Electric Car