How do self-charging cars work?

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

Mild hybrid doesn’t sound as exciting or technologically advanced as a self-charging car, which is probably why their marketing departments opted for the more mysterious and intelligent-sounding self-charging terminology.

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.

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 mild 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 mild 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. 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, I’d estimate only around 5-10% of miles/kilometers are driven using the battery.
  2. All the electricity used to driver is generated by burning petrol, so it’s certainly not the clean energy you can get from the grid or solar on the roof of your house for example.

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 mild 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 only 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, as it’s extremely misleading. 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.

Part 10, The End of the Book Series

I hope you enjoyed the series and the book. My thanks and congratulations go to everyone who followed. I would be pleased to hear about your experiences through the comments section below.

In this final post I hope to draw the final message of the book together.

Aim of the Book and Series

As noted in the introduction to the book, its aim was to open a discussion that sees narration and aesthetics as central to daily decision-making practices in small scale production processes, be those artisanal working or scientific working situations.

The idea is that people working in such environments learn not only the technicalities of their work, but also co-construct the narrative through which decisions are made and possibilities are granted or excluded. This could be described as the narrative of doing things right, a concept that is constructed within the place of work through daily work talk. It is negotiated and fluid, refers to a shared understanding of a narrative framework and is recognized and codified through the appreciation of the values seen in the product. The narrative allows the framing of the decision-making process and the sharing of a language that allows thos working in the process to talk about it and share their appreciation.

In the case of craftwork, the shared understanding can be seen as expressed through an appreciation of the functional beauty of the work. Each object has its own functional beauty, defined by different criteria and affected by the amount of resources available, objectives and resources, meaning that the appreciation of beauty cannot be transferred from one to another without modification. No two processes are the same, as resources are different, meaning that the construction of their appreciation must also be different, even if the framework through which it is drawn in terms of the narrative is similar.

I call this a form of poiesis intensive production, this shared understanding of aesthetics is a driving force within the decision-making process, as its appreciation leads to the construction of networks of both colleagues and suppliers of materials, technology and tools, ideas and information, that are necessary for the production process.

To summarize; ideas of responsibility, narrative and the aim of the process may be related, I would say intertwined, and talked about in everyday chat at work.

Although in the science lab the language may be different, precision is discussed more than beauty, there are similarities in that precision is functional precision, as beauty is functional beauty. Functional precision relates to purpose and function. It is one facet of a functional goal, very much as beauty is for the upholsterer.

Overview of the Book

The book is divided into seven self-standing chapters, each representing a narrative from a particular perspective. It can be broadly seen as divided into two larger sections. The first section offers a representation of the current state of the art in RI research. Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 are all related to this construction, narrating the development of the concept of RI from different perspectives. The construction of this broader narrative (my own RI narrative) leads to the second section, based upon an argument (outlined above) that sees the sharing of a concept of functional beauty in terms of its position within a workplace narrative and its relevance to decision-making processes.

The second section is split into three chapters, the first offering an overview of methodology and argument, followed by two case studies. The first case study involves a furniture restorer in South Manchester (UK) and the second a surgeon developing 3D bio-printing techniques in Utrecht (NL).

Part 9, Case Study 2, The Scientist’s Narrative

Chapter 7 of the book is dedicated to Prof. Jos Malda, a world leading biotechnologist based in the Netherlands.

The Laboratory

Prof. Jos Malda heads a research group that focuses on biofabrication and biomaterials design, in particular for the regeneration of (osteo) chondral defects. The team is investigating regenerative means for repairing damaged joints in humans and animals, with particular interest in the knee. The team works alongside and within both the medical and veterinary facilities at Utrecht University, studying wear on both animal and human joints and have designed and built a production facility that allows for the 3D printing of living cells to make live repair implants that can be surgically implanted.

The chapter recounts the work from Malda’s perspective. He has long been involved with responsible innovation and its practices, and trains all of his team in ethics.

The chapter takes the model and issues addressed in the furniture restoration workshop and compares them to the laboratory and the narrative that Malda offers through recorded interviews.

The use of tools and the layout of the laboratory is compared, with the use of skilled visions and similarities in problem solving techniques also highlighted. The comparative shows how research in the lab can be seen as following similar lines of development to those in the workshop. The use of different generations of tools, based on a nuanced understanding of their capabilities and possibilities, the practice of building tools for specific uses, the application of techniques from other fields in problem solving and the view of the finished product within its lifespan (an implant seen not as a finished product but as something has to grow and survive wear, very much as the restorer sees the choice of materials and techniques used in the workshop).

Malda’s own Words

The second half of the chapter (like those previous) offers an interview transcription with Prof. Malda himself. He describes the reaction to his laboratory producing a 3D printed skull that was fitted to a young woman, delving into the problem of expectations for future medical treatment, the printing of organs and the thin line between repair and enhancement.

Malda narrates the network capacity necessary for such work, reflecting the furniture restoration experience from the previous chapter, the value of teamwork (ditto) his visions and aims and financial value of his work for the university. He describes his push towards standardization which leads him on to EU funding and finally protocols, which leads us to the very point of the book and this series: Some are international but others are internally created within the project!

This brings us back to the conversation with the furniture restorer. The protocols that are created within Malda’s project reflect the philosophies and goals and aims and personal beliefs of the team. Just as the restorer carries out unseen work, reflecting the workshop philosophy (workshop protocol), the scientists also share an understanding, and it is one which they themselves create. Both teamleaders are striving for the right way of proceeding, within their own set of beliefs that is constructed through their networks. They are both using a set of tools, many of which they have constructed themselves, and they both see their work within a broader and longer term view.