This article's lead section may be too long for the length of the article. (March 2021)
A range extender is a fuel-based auxiliary power unit (APU) that extends the range of a battery electric vehicle by driving an electric generator that charges the vehicle's battery. This arrangement is known as a series hybrid drivetrain. The most commonly used range extenders are internal combustion engines, but fuel-cells or other engine types can be used.
Range extender vehicles are also referred to as extended-range electric vehicles (EREV), range-extended electric vehicles (REEV), and range-extended battery-electric vehicle (BEVx) by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
Many range extender vehicles, including the Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i3, are able to charge their batteries from the grid as well as from the range extender, and therefore are a type of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).
The key function of the range extender is to increase the vehicle's range. Range autonomy is one of the main barriers for the commercial success of electric vehicles, and extending the vehicle's range when the battery is depleted helps alleviate range anxiety.
A range extending vehicle design can also reduce the consumption of the range extending fuel (such as gasoline) by using the primary fuel (such as battery power), while still maintaining the driving range of a single fuel vehicle powered by a range extending fuel such as gasoline. The range extending fuel is generally considered to be less environmentally and economically friendly to use than the primary fuel source, so the vehicle control system gives preference to using the primary fuel if it's available. However, due to range limitations with the primary fuel source, the range extending fuel allows the vehicle to get many of the cost and environmental benefits of the primary fuel, while maintaining the full driving range of the range extending fuel source. That said, the benefits (cost, carbon emissions) derived from using a vehicle with a range extender ultimately depend on how the vehicle is driven, and in particular how often the range extender is used.
As an example, cars such as the Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i3 with optional range extender are equipped with sufficiently large batteries to drive 80–160 km (50–100 miles), which is enough for many trips but not sufficient to drive long distances. As such, the driver may use battery power for commuting and daily driving, but still be able to drive from New York to Boston (about 320 km, 200 miles) by using the auxiliary gasoline internal combustion engine, without stopping frequently to charge the battery (which can take hours). The vehicle owner therefore accrues the benefits of using cheaper and less carbon-intensive electric power for most driving, while maintaining the ability to embark on longer trips with the same vehicle.
As an REEV is only propelled by the electric motor it can do away with the weight and cost associated with the gearbox transmission system typically used in internal combustion engine cars. Further, as the range extender does not need to increase or decrease output in line with the power needs of the vehicle (this task is handled by the electric motor) the range extender can be sized to satisfy the vehicle's average power requirement rather than its peak power requirement (such as when accelerating). The range extender can also operate much closer to its most efficient rotational speed. These design features allow an REEV to convert fossil fuel energy to electric power and vehicle motion relatively efficiently.
- The first generation range extenders are off the shelf internal combustion engines.
- The second generation consists of piston engines with new designs from scratch for fairly constant load in series hybrids. They include the wankel engines, rotary combustion engines and free piston engines.
- The third generation are micro turbines and fuel cells that work at constant load.
According to 2012 Amendments to the Zero Emission Vehicle Regulations adopted in March 2012 by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a range-extended battery-electric vehicle, designated as BEVx, should comply, among others, with the following criteria:
- The vehicle must have a rated all-electric range of at least 120 km (75 miles). This is higher than the 80 km (50 miles) required of a zero-emission vehicle;
- The auxiliary power unit (APU) must provide range less than or equal to battery range;
- The APU must not be capable of switching on until the battery charge has been depleted;
- The vehicle must meet super ultra low emission vehicle (SULEV) requirements; and
- The APU and all associated fuel systems must comply with zero evaporative emissions requirements.
General Motors describes the Chevrolet Volt as an electric vehicle equipped with a 16 kWh battery plus a "range extending" gasoline powered internal combustion engine (ICE) as a genset and therefore dubbed the Volt an "Extended Range Electric Vehicle" or E-REV. In a January 2011 interview, the Chevy Volt's Global Chief Engineer, Pamela Fletcher, referred to the Volt as "an electric car with extended range." The Volt operates as a purely electric car for the first 40–80 km (25–50 miles) in charge-depleting mode. When the battery capacity drops below a pre-established threshold from full charge, the vehicle enters charge-sustaining mode, and the Volt's control system will select the most optimally efficient drive mode to improve performance and boost high-speed efficiency.
According to General Motors' real time tally of the distance driven by Volt owners in North America, by mid June 2014 they had accumulated more than 800 million all-electric km (500 million miles). GM also reported that Volt owners driving is more than 63% in all-electric mode. Volt owners who charge regularly typically drive more than 1,560 km (970 miles) between fill-ups and visit the gasoline station less than once a month. A similar report, issued by GM in August 2016, reported that Volt owners have accumulated almost 2.4 billion km (1.5 billion miles) driven in EV mode, representing 60% of their total distance traveled.
The BMW i3 all-electric car with at least 22 kWh battery capacity offers an optional gasoline-powered range extender APU. The range extender is the same 647 cc two-cylinder gasoline engine used in the BMW C650 GT scooter with a 9 L (2.0 imp gal; 2.4 US gal) fuel tank. The US model originally had its tank electronically limited to a smaller 7 L capacity. The range extender engages when the battery level drops to 6%. It generates electricity to extend the range from 130–160 km (80–100 miles) to 240–300 km (150–190 miles) Performance in range-extending mode may be more limited than when it is running on battery power, as BMW designed the range extender as a backup to enable reaching a recharging location.
According to BMW, at the beginning of the i3 release, the use of range-extender was much more than the carmaker expected, more than 60%. Over time it has decreased significantly, with some people almost never using it, and by 2016 it is being regularly used in fewer than 5% of i3s.
The range-extender option of the BMW i3 was designed to meet the CARB regulation for an auxiliary power unit (APU) called REx. According to rules CARB adopted in March 2012, the 2014 BMW i3 with a REx unit fitted will be the first car to qualify as a range-extended battery-electric vehicle or "BEVx." CARB describes this type of electric vehicle as "a relatively high-electric range battery-electric vehicle (BEV) to which an APU is added." The APU, which maintains battery charge at about 6% after the pack has been depleted in normal use, is strictly limited in the additional range it can provide.
Other range-extended electric vehicles include the discontinued Cadillac ELR and the discontinued Fisker Karma. In June 2016, Nissan announced it will introduce a compact range extender car in Japan before March 2017. The series plug-in hybrid will use a new hybrid system, dubbed e-Power, which debuted with the Nissan Gripz concept crossover showcased at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show. The technology, without the plug-in ability, had been deployed to the Nissan Note e-Power and Nissan Kicks e-Power.
Ford has patents for a bed mounted gasoline-powered generator for their fully electric pickups. Rivian has patents for bed mounted additional batteries for increased range. Rivian electric trucks can charge each other for extended range.
Unmanned aerial vehicles
A range-extended electric vehicle uses a series hybrid drivetrain.
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