All I Want is a Charger

A year and a half ago I bought a Honda Civic Hybrid. I still miss driving a convertible, but otherwise it’s a wonderful car. I wish, though, that someone would make a charger for the hybrid battery.

For those who aren’t familiar with the hybrid concept, it’s mostly a regular gas-powered car except that the internal combustion engine is smaller and is supplemented by an electric motor. The electric motor is powered from a battery when the car needs power. When the car is slowing or stopping, the motor is used as an electric generator to charge the battery back up. Some of the energy that would normally be wasted (turned into heat by the brakes) is instead captured by the battery and re-used.

I’m not into hard-core hypermiling, but I deliberately drive in a way that maximizes the use of the battery. I make mostly medium-length trips around town, and get over 45 mpg — until I run the battery down. Then I get sluggish performance and (relatively) poor mileage until the battery charges back up. If I didn’t push the technology, it wouldn’t be noticeable. I also wouldn’t be having as much fun.

If only I could charge the battery when the car was in the garage. It’s unlikely that I would ever completely discharge the battery before I returned to the nest, and I’d always be getting good performance and fuel economy. The energy used to charge the battery would be coming from renewable sources, since that’s how I buy electricity for my home.

If you’re following hybrid technology, you’ve probably heard of plug-in hybrids. They’re vehicles designed to run primarily on battery power, charged from the grid, but then switch to internal combustion when the battery is depleted. There are conversion kits for current hybrids to accomplish the same thing. That’s not what I’m after. Conversion kits are $10,000-$20,000, mostly for high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. (The batteries in my Civic will only power the car for about three slow miles if the internal combustion engine is off.) I don’t want to spend that kind of money, and I don’t want to drive around in front of a few hundred pounds of volatile lithium. No, I just want a charger. A simple battery charger to top off my NiMH cells while I’m parked in my garage.

Ron – 22 Nov 2009