Modern vehicles are so well designed and easy to drive, we don’t always take into consideration the power involved in getting us from Point A to Point B.
We pay attention to how much it costs to fuel up. We can see what kind of mileage we get thanks to indicators on the dashboard. But this is only part of the story.
It takes energy to put a machine like a car into motion. It doesn’t matter whether it is a gas-powered engine, an electric motor, or a hybrid electric-gas powered vehicle. When it comes time to bring the vehicle to a halt, more energy is required to stop the wheels from moving you forward.
We refer to the power that moves a vehicle forward as momentum or kinetic energy (a term used by physicists). In a gas-powered vehicle, you step on the brake pedal, and the kinetic energy converts into heat from friction as the brake pads clamp down on the brake discs to slow down or bring the vehicle to a complete stop. But there is another more efficient way to process this kinetic energy. It is called regenerative braking.
What Is Regenerative Braking?
If you always turn off lights in empty rooms or put on a sweater before turning up the thermostat, you’ll appreciate the idea behind regenerative braking. It’s a system designed to waste less energy than conventional brakes.
Regenerative braking involves harnessing the energy released as waste heat from the friction in a regular hydraulic-powered brake system. “It is regenerative because the energy is recaptured in the battery where it can be used again,” according to the Tesla electric vehicle blog.
How Does Regenerative Braking Work?
In a vehicle built with regenerative braking, it is more accurate to call the engine a motor/generator, or M/G. An electric motor can work in two modes, as both a motor and a generator, according to a recent report on regenerative braking at About.com.
An electromagnetic motor consists of a rotor with wire wound around its shaft. This rotates inside a housing or stator that is mounted with magnets. Electric current is generated when you move a conductive wire through the magnetic field.
When working as an engine, the M/G uses electricity from the car’s battery for power. But when switching over to regenerative braking mode, the motor takes the mechanical energy used to stop the wheels and turns it into electricity that can be stored in the battery to power the car.
This means that electric cars and electric hybrid cars will run more efficiently because they don’t waste the energy that fossil fuel-burning cars consume each time the driver hits the brakes.
As the automotive industry continues to advance its development and production of electric cars and hybrid electric vehicles, we can expect to see more innovations designed to save motorists money on fuel as well as reduce the total cost of ownership. The less energy we waste, the more efficiently we can use our natural and renewable resources and reduce our carbon footprint.