The U.S. Department of Energy has just made Ford's efforts to expand, develop and demonstrate its Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle expertise a bit easier by anteing-up a $10 million grant. That newfound support will cover roughly half of FoMoCo's projected out-of-pocket cost for this undertaking. Currently, the automaker is evaluating a test fleet of 20 Escape PHEVs in California, Michigan and Washington D.C. in conjunction with Southern California Edison, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), DTE Energy Services and Johnson Controls/Saft.
Several key elements set the Escape PHEV apart from a production Escape Hybrid. While both are fitted with a 2.3-liter/133-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine, the PHEV uses a much larger 10 kilowatt-hour/280-volt lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery in place of the normal Hybrid's two kilowatt-hour/300-volt nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) unit to power its 94-horsepower motor. This change gives the PHEV an electric-only range of up to 30 miles when speeds are held below 40 mph. The latest versions of the Escape PHEV are E85-capable and Ford estimates that they use only about 20 percent as much fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by 60 percent compared to a conventional gasoline-only counterpart, a figure that would drop by 90 percent if the PHEV was run on cellulosic ethanol. Nancy Gioia, director of Ford's Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs, sees the plug-in hybrid/flex fuel nexus as being a vital link in America's transportation future. "Our ultimate goal is to create plug-in vehicles that can be mass produced and meaningfully contribute to our nation's energy security," she said.
Like other automakers that have signed on with the EPRI alliance, Ford is also exploring the potential impact Escape PHEV and any other of its future plug-ins will have on the electrical infrastructure. Teaming with Southern California Edison, it's looking at a range of possibilities to optimize not only the basic recharging process -- which will be done using normal 110V current -- but at ways to minimize strain on the system, right down to recycling spare on-board energy from the battery pack back into the grid if electrical demands become particularly acute.