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.

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?

Medicine

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.

Hacker Cultures

EASST

The European Association for the Study of Science and Technology held its annual conference in August, and a veritable feast of information it turned out to be (as is their website).

In particular though I would like to point readers towards a podcast series, based upon a panel held during the conference.

The podcast series is called Hacker Cultures. From the website:

This year, Covid-19 turned most conferences virtual, so to combat Zoom-fatigue, we decided to try another format and turn a conference session into a podcast. This series comes to you from the 2020 joint Society for Social Studies of Science/European Association for the Study of Science and Technology conference, titled “Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and agency of STS in emerging worlds” which took place from August 18th-21st. Among hundreds of panels, papers and sessions, the Hacker Cultures panel rounded up all sorts of researchers who study what it is to be a hacker, and what hacking, programming, tinkering and working with computers is all about. The hosts of this podcast are Paula Bialski, who is an Associate Professor at the University of St. Gallen, and Mace Ojala, a lecturer at the IT University of Copenhagen. On-site recording and production was done by Heights Beats at Hotmilk Records. The theme song is titled “Rocky” by Paula & Karol. Funding for the editing of this podcast comes from the University of St. Gallen.

The episodes are in the style of an interview rather than a lecture, easy to follow and really interesting.

What is on Offer?

Episode 1: Morgan G. Ames – Throwback Culture: The Role of Nostalgia in Hacker Worlds
Episode 2: Minna Saariketo & Mareike Gloss – In the grey zone of hacking? Two cases in the political economy of software and the Right to Repair
 Episode 3: Annika Richterich – Forget about the learning: On (digital) creativity and expertise in hacker-/makerspaces
 Episode 4: Alex Dean Cybulski – Hacker Culture Is Everything You Don’t Get Paid For In the Information Security Industry
 Episode 5: Jeremy Grosman – Algorithmic Objects, Algorithmic Practices
 Episode 6: Stephane Couture – Hacker Culture and Practices in the Development of Internet Protocols
 Episode 7: Ola Michalec – Hacking infrastructures: understanding capabilities of Operational Technology (OT) security workers
 Episode 8: Sylvain Besencon – Securing by hacking: maintenance regimes around an end-to-end encryption standard
 Episode 9: R. Stuart Geiger & Dorothy Howard – ‘I didn’t sign up for this’: The Invisible Work of Maintaining Free/Open-Source Software Communities

Really entertaining, informative and featuring lots of well known experts, 15 to 20 minutes each, well worth a browse.