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Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Basics

Imagine being able to just plug in your car to recharge the battery! Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles—also known as PHEVs—are in line to be the next generation of hybrid electric vehicles. These vehicles are being designed to provide even higher fuel economy and fewer harmful emissions than those of hybrid vehicles.

Photo of a parked blue compact car with large decals on the doors stating that it is a plug-in hybrid achieving more than 120 miles per gallon.

This Toyota Prius hybrid electric car was converted to a plug-in hybrid for research purposes.
Credit: Keith Wipke

Plug-in hybrids will probably have a larger battery pack than the one that's in a standard hybrid electric vehicle. The larger battery pack allows plug-in hybrids to operate predominantly on electricity for short trips. For longer trips, a plug-in hybrid can draw liquid fuel from its onboard tank, and this provides a driving range (the distance a vehicle can travel between fill-ups) that's very similar to the range of a conventional vehicle. A plug-in hybrid vehicle's onboard computer chooses between electricity and liquid fuel according to which mode allows the vehicle to operate most efficiently.

Image of the cutaway top view of a passenger vehicle showing the drive train that contains an electric motor and a small internal combustion engine side by side in front. The motors are connected by wires and other equipment to a battery pack in the middle of the vehicle. A cord and plug are shown in the back.

Cutaway diagram of the inside of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
Credit: Jim Snyder

Unlike a battery in a standard hybrid electric vehicle, drivers will be able to recharge a plug-in hybrid battery using a standard electrical outlet at home, at work, or at a vehicle recharging (or swapping) station. The electricity for recharging the battery can be generated at a conventional power plant or by renewable energy, such as solar, wind, or biomass. A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle could also use an alternative fuel in its onboard tank.

For more information about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center.