EPA teams up with Ford to develop hydraulic hybrid vehicles

A new generation of hybrid vehicles, based on hydraulics, could prove to be more cost-effective than the emerging battery hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) in maximising the fuel efficiency of conventional engines.

The new approach to hybrid vehicles is currently being developed jointly by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ford in a multi-million dollar investment programme towards building pilot fleets of light trucks and sports utility vehicles, by 2010. This is the first ever cooperative agreement between the EPA and a carmarker, taking forward an EPA-patented engine technology on which Ford has worked with the EPA, since 1999.

The new hybrid concept uses hydraulic fluids in chambers rather than a battery-based system to store and augment the energy produced by the petrol engine. As with the emerging HEVs, fuel efficiencies are gained through the use of smaller engines in the powertrain, augmented by energy, saved and stored, when applying the brakes, or on descents. Hydraulically, energy is stored by pressurising hydraulic fluid within chambers, and released when required, by relieving the pressure in the chambers.

Ford spokesman, John Harmon, told edie that Ford’s first HEVs would be available in two years time, and fuel cell vehicles in 2004. However, he pointed out that once proven, it is likely that the hydraulic hybrid will prove a cheaper alternative to the HEV, weighing slightly more than a conventionally powered vehicle, but much less than the battery powered HEVs. He predicted that once established, the hybrid hydraulic is likely to provide a useful stop-gap option until fuel cell developments deliver more cost-effective technology for zero emissions.

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