How do self-charging cars work?

Toyota, Lexus and Kia use self-charging as a term to describe their hybrids.

Mild hybrid doesn’t sound as exciting or technologically advanced as a self-charging car, which is probably why they market them as that!

How Do Self-Charging Cars Work?

A self-charging hybrid has a small battery and an electric motor. When the vehicle brakes, the initial phase of braking is used to charge the battery. Brakes (disks and pads) then kick-in after.

This is a basic form of regenerative braking (or regen) something plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (BEVs) do too, but to a greater degree and effectiveness.

The small amount of energy recovered from braking is then able to be used to drive a limited distance. The battery can only run for around a mile before it needs recharging.

What Powers a Self-Charging Hybrid?

Exhaust pipe emissions on a self-charging car

Unfortunately, a self-powered car breaks the laws of physics, as the energy must come from somewhere. In one of Kia/Lexus/Toyota’s hybrids, the power comes from burning fossil fuels – the petrol in the internal combustion engine.

This means self-charging cars are 100% powered by petrol. All the propulsion achieved is down to petrol – since the cars don’t plug-in.

If we refer to hybrids as self-charging, we should really refer to all petrol and diesel cars as self-charging, since these cars don’t need plugging in to charge their 12-volt battery which powers the wipers, headlights and other electrical ancillery services.

How Far Can A Self-Charging Car Travel?

Toyota et al claim that their mild hybrids can be driven over 50% of the time on “pure electricity”. That makes them seem awfully green, given we tend to associate electricity with being green and petrol with being polluting. This claim is misleading for two reasons:

  1. All the electricity used to driver is generated by burning petrol, so it certainly isn’t the clean energy you can get from the grid or solar on the roof of your house.
  2. It’s crucial to remember that Totota reference time not distance – if you drive in stop-start traffic, the engine might be off for a large proportion of the time as you’re stationary. Some of the slower speed driving may be achievable using the battery, but because the battery is very small, it will drain extremly quickly and require recharging – so the petrol engine turns on. In terms of distance driven, around 1-3% of the distance driven uses the battery. This translats to around 2 miles in 100 miles of driving.

Do Self-Charging Cars Exist?

Will we ever see a car that can power itself? In the Toyota sense of self-charging, no. It’s not possible to drive a hybrid without putting petrol in it.

Lightyear One

However, there are projects like Lightyear One, working to create cars that you may never need to plug-in! These are pure electric cars (not hybrids, so no fossil fuels) and can be charged by plugging-in, or from the solar panels built into the roof, bonnet and boot! ☀️⚡🔋🚗

Lightyear are aiming to be able to charge an impressive 12 kilometres (7 miles) from 1 hour of sunshine charging – using the solar panels on the roof! For those who drive short distances, or travel infrequently, that could mean you’d never need to plug-in!

More info on the Lightyear One in this Fully Charged video.

Should Self-Charging Be Banned?

In Norway (home of the EV, where over half of cars sold in 2020 were fully electric) they’ve banned adverts that reference “self-charging” believing the term is misleading.

I believe marketing a petrol car (100% powered by fossil fuels) as self-charging should be banned. It makes polluting cars that burn fossil fuels seem cleaner and if you don’t do your research, you might think you’re doing your bit to look after the environment when actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

ORION MOOC for Open Science in the Life Sciences

Overview of the Course

I have just completed the ORION MOOC for Open Science in the Life Sciences. The course is designed to run six weeks, offering six modules, each of which takes about two hours to complete. I (more or less) completed it over a week.

The course is described as an introduction to the concept of open science. It is thorough in its design and breadth of argument and offers a lot. It is free as it has been funded through the EU HORIZON 2020 funding program.

It is primarily aimed at those working in biomedicine, life sciences and other related research fields, and is intended to help scientists to share their research with the world more effectively. it would be beneficial for anyone conducting research that produces data of any sort though, and offers a lot of information about different publishing regimes which is a topic that has regularly appeared on the blog in the past.

Course Contents

The course introduces lots of useful tools and research practices, as well as Open Science principles. It is not moderated, self paced, but offers a certificate upon completion of all of the tasks. There is plenty to take away from the experience from following the lectures and materials offered without following up on the data uploads and forum discussions required for completion though. You can pick out what is interesting for yourself.

The MOOC opens with two modules on publishing and open access, open peer review, pre-registration and registered reports. Several links are supplied offering a real-life experience for anyone wishing to try out. Licensing is explained in terms of different levels of permission to reuse materials, with several different commons forms described in great detail (all including links).

Module three is dedicated to research data management and planning, with all of the above gearing up to addressing the needs of creating a FAIR and open data approach as described in module four. FAIR stands for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable, with much of this module dedicated to a systematic approach to data production and sharing.

Module five addresses the topics of science communication and public engagement, comparing these two fields in terms of their aims and approaches. Storytelling and prop use is shown and discussed, and citizen science is described in its broadest terms (including crowdfunding and project co-design).

The course closes with module six, dedicated to self-reflection and action, suggestions and reviews of the course itself and feedback.

Why Not?

I enjoyed this course. The communication techniques adopted are broad and really drew me in. From cartoon and comic strip type presentations to TED talks and storytelling, as well as single page overviews and power point presentations that offer overviews of the topics addressed, the pace and presentation styles kept me interested.

Why not check it out?

What would technological innovation look like if its goal wasn’t necessarily to make a profit?

Profit and Growth as an Aim

A simple question to ponder: What would technological innovation look like if its goal wasn’t necessarily to make a profit?

Well that presumes of course that the role of innovation is to boost the economy, which is certainly one of the claims made on many fronts.

I learned from reading the new book Responsibility Beyond Growth,  A Case For Responsible Stagnation, that the EU funds its innovation with the aim of producing economic growth within the region as part of its Innovation Union program. Innovation for growth! The aim is economic growth in terms of greater GDP across the union.

Which leads to questions about responsibility: Can innovation be responsible if it doesn’t work for economic growth? Can it be responsible if it would lead to a shrinking economy?

Well these seem like simple enough questions if we take them on face value, of course they can, but maybe not if they are funded by businesses or institutions whose aims are economic growth.

But then what about the question at the top, the question raised in the book, how would the innovation system differ if it wasn’t geared towards growth? How does innovation differ today that is not funded with these aims in mind?

Can we draw a comparison within single fields to look for similarities?


There have long been arguments that technological developments in medicine have been driven by wealth generation. Malaria is often given as an example. One of the most damaging health issues in the world received around 3 billion US dollars a year for research, control and elimination, but this is less than the 5 billion deemed necessary to reach agreed milestones (We have to take these data on face value as I can’t guarantee they are correct).

Critics argue that this shortcoming is caused by the fact that treatment for malaria (new drugs) will not generate much profit for the global pharmaceutical industry.

If we compare this to some of the figures given for cancer treatment the figures are well over 100 billion per year. Cancer treatments are expensive and lucrative for the drug companies, so economic logic would lead them to investing more in research in this line than in others.

If we extend this thinking to global innovation then the question appears again, how would technology develop if it was decoupled from economics? Would more solutions be found for problems that are under-addressed because there is little profit in the solution (or even loss)?

It’s not such an abstract question if we think about open access publishing and the development of free software (UBUNTU as an example). Some argue that these programs are better than their more widespread cousins, precisely because they are developed by users and for users, not necessarily for shareholders. Could this become a broader argument?

The book I mentioned above goes into much greater detail. Check it out if you can.