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Plug-in hybrid vehicles, which can be recharged using a standard wall outlet, are becoming increasingly practical because of advances in battery technology. And now the technology is also gaining support in Washington, with the promise that it could soon receive the type of federal tax incentives that have helped fuel the sales of conventional hybrid vehicles over the past several years.

Like conventional hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids can run on gasoline and electricity. But plug-in hybrids have bigger battery packs that can be easily recharged. As a result, they can run longer on electric power, saving much more gas than an ordinary hybrid can. Depending on the configuration of the vehicle, people who drive less than 40 miles a day could use no gasoline at all, while the average U.S. driver could see fuel economy of 150 miles per gallon. Although the vehicles consume electricity, the power will come at a fraction of the cost of gasoline, and it promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Although no major automaker currently sells a plug-in hybrid, a handful of companies provide aftermarket conversion kits. Indeed, at the White House last Friday, President Bush viewed one example of a Toyota Prius, a conventional hybrid car, that had been converted into a plug-in hybrid using a battery pack that fits in the car’s spare-tire compartment.

President Bush called the plug-in hybrid and an all-electric-powered pickup “living proof” that his ambitious goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years is possible. He also renewed his request for research money for alternative energies. The administration’s proposed fiscal-year 2008 budget, which was released February 5, includes $41.8 million for battery- and energy-storage research and development.

Interest in plug-in cars extends to Congress. In January, a bill was proposed in the Senate that would provide an up to $4,200 tax credit to offset the expense of plug-in hybrids, which can cost about $10,000 more than a conventional hybrid.

At the White House event, David Vieau, CEO of A123 Systems, a startup based in Watertown, MA, whose batteries are used in the plug-in hybrid, proposed to President Bush that the government offer $2 to $3 billion in tax incentives over the next seven years and provide $300 to $400 million in research dollars over the next few years. Such incentives, Vieau said, could help plug-in hybrid conversions grow from a few hundred now to thousands later, starting in as soon as 12 months.

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Credit: Courtesy A123

Tagged: Energy, batteries, electric cars, electric vehicle, emissions, hybrid engine

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