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May 12, 2008

UMTRI receives MPSC grant to study plug-in hybrid electric vehicles

UMTRI will participate in a $5-million program awarded to DTE Energy to study plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) as part of the Michigan Energy Efficiency Grant. The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved the grant as part of a nearly $6.5-million statewide environmental initiative project grant. Other program partners include General Motors, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, NextEnergy, and several University of Michigan units led by the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute (MMPEI): the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the College of Engineering, and the Ross School of Business.

UMTRI will use the Michigan Energy Efficiency Grant funding to study PHEVs and their interaction with the stateメs electricity grid. By providing a cost-effective, practical solution that substantially improves automotive fuel economy and emissions without the limited range of a pure electric vehicle, PHEVs have the potential to simultaneously redefine the vehicle and transform our use of the electric utility system. PHEVs do not require massive upfront investments because the existing electric infrastructure can likely be made to support relatively quick, widespread adoption.

The MPSC smart grid pilot program will study vehicle-to-grid systems of transferring electricity during peak load times, analyze the environmental effects of using PHEVs, and study how the vehicles would impact the electric systemメs peak usage and capacity requirements.

UMTRI's roles in the two-year PHEV project include:

  • Conducting a pilot project survey to gauge consumer experience with PHEVs (for example, to determine how important available charging is to PHEVs being viewed as convenient and hassle-free to fuel, whether participants are realizing reduced vehicle operating costs, etc.)
  • Conducting another survey to assess the acceptance and use potential of PHEVs—How do people perceive their value? Do customers attain financial and "peace of mind" value from PHEV capabilities?
  • Assessing, along with the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment, environmental impacts of PHEVs compared to conventionally-powered vehicles, including pollutants, life cycle energy, and fossil carbon emissions associated with the products.

Todd Anuskiewicz, UMTRI business development manager, says "The main goals of the project are to bolster economic development in Michigan, assess the environmental impacts of PHEVs, and understand how the widespread adoption of PHEV technology impacts both Detroit Edison and the broader Michigan electric system. The team will leverage its combined expertise and experience in PHEV technology to focus on near-term technologies and applications that will bridge the gap between first-generation PHEVs and the current electric utility system. We hope to create commercial opportunities with a seamless customer experience from day one, to help accelerate adoption of PHEVs and position Michigan businesses for success in an emerging PHEV market."

Peter Sweatman, director of UMTRI says, "This grant is an excellent opportunity for research to find out more about PHEVs, and UMTRI is excited to be part of the University of Michigan PHEV collaboration. PHEVs represent a huge transformation in the way vehicles are powered. Not only do PHEVs move away from an all-mechanical drivetrain, but the energy source is diversified to include electricity, reducing the role of carbon based liquid fuel. Currently the cost of electricity to power a vehicle is equivalent to 40 to 70 cents per gallon. Hopefully, PHEVs will reduce the demand for gasoline and contribute to a reduction in the nation's oil-dependence. Through the leadership of MMPEI, the University is able to focus an unparalleled breadth of scholarship on PHEVs."

More Information

What Is a PHEV?

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a hybrid vehicle with batteries that can be recharged by plugging into an electric power source. A PHEV combines features of conventional hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles, possessing both an internal combustion engine and batteries for power. A PHEV can be filled at a gas station or charged from any 120-volt outlet. When powered by electricity, PHEVs function as an electric vehicle with a gas-tank backup.

Previous PHEV Study

In a recent paper, John L. Sullivan of UMTRI's Transportation Systems Group and Craig Stephan of the Argonne National Laboratory investigated some of the benefits of PHEVs over their spark-ignited counterparts. Key findings include that the spare U.S. electricity generating capacity is sufficient to support up to 34 percent of the nationメs light-duty vehicle fleet, depending on how such vehicles are driven (all-electric mode city driving versus other forms of driving). This, of course, implies a significant petroleum displacement and as such represents an important energy security benefit. Further, if the electricity to power PHEVs comes from the current U.S. grid under average conditions, emissions of carbon dioxide are reduced by 59 percent. If the electricity comes from new technology natural gas, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is greater at 72 percent. The article, "Environmental and Energy Implications of Plug-In Hybrid-Electric Vehicles," was written when both Sullivan and Stephan were working for Ford. It was published in Environmental Science & Technology, volume 42, number 4, pp. 1185ヨ1190.