What is Regenerative Braking?
At Friendly Ford Body Shop, we love all of the tremendous automotive technology that we are seeing firsthand in Las Vegas, NV. Lately, we've been taking notice of the 2017 Toyota Prius Hybrid, which earned EPA-estimated mileage ratings of 54 miles per gallon in the city and 50 while on the highway. So, we asked the million dollar question--how does it get better mileage in the city than on the highway?
The answer: regenerative braking. This technology converts the motion (or kinetic energy) of your car and returns it as electrical power to the vehicle, increasing its efficiency. Regenerative braking (sometimes shortened to "regen") is used in all of the hybrid and battery-electric cars currently offered in the U.S., plus a few gasoline-only powered cars.
In a traditional car, a tremendous amount of energy is wasted by the braking system. When you press your foot on the brake, the surface of the brake is pushed against the hub’s spinning disk or drum. Disc and drum brakes do a fine job of stopping the car, but all of the kinetic energy from your car’s momentum is lost to heat from friction.
Electric and hybrid vehicles drive the wheels with an electric motor or multiple motors. When you start to coast, each motor instantly becomes an electrical generator, working to capture the car’s kinetic energy. Operating as generators, they both create a drag on the wheels they're attached to and start producing electricity.
Right after you push down on the brake pedal, the generator is told to increase its power generation, which in turn causes even more resistance, slowing the car. The electricity that is generated flows back into the battery pack, where it’s accessible to help accelerate the car or activate its various systems.
Regenerative braking systems are most useful when you drive in stop-and-go city traffic, where the power from each stop at a traffic signal helps to launch you when the light turns green. That’s why the EPA-estimated mileage of hybrids is generally higher in the city than when you drive on the highway, where you are not decelerating as often.
If you're driving down a big, steep hill, however, you’ll probably see the range display on the car’s dashboard start to increase as the battery pack is charged.
The more time that a hybrid vehicle can operate on electric power alone or with a boost from its electric motor, the more fuel efficient it will be. It’s least efficient when you drive in an environment that requires its gasoline engine to do most of the work. In pure electric cars, any power put back into the battery pack increases the car’s range. Efficient hybrid drivers learn to control the balance between having the electric motor do the work, and having the gasoline internal combustion engine speed the vehicle along.
So, in basic terms, that is how regenerative braking works and how it can save you gas as you embrace this cutting-edge technology.
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Sources: Car Tech News, Wikipedia and Google News