In the recent years, auto manufacturers and common folks have started to take hybrid automobile technology more seriously and various government agencies and local municipalities around the world have responded to the green movement by enforcing a new system of taxation where hybrid vehicles, all-electric vehicles and human powered vehicles have been subjected to various kinds of tax exemptions to promote their use among common people. Though EVs and hybrids are nothing new to us, a new kind of hybrid vehicle called a human-electric hybrid vehicle, however, is still news to the masses. That being said, the technology behind this new breed of green vehicles is nothing new though its application in this new form has surprised many people. In layman’s terms, a human-electric hybrid vehicle is basically something like a human-powered vehicle (e.g., a bicycle) that has the capacity to use an electric motor/generator to turn human effort into electricity that can be stored in batteries for use at a later time or can be used directly to run an electric engine that can propel the vehicle when the user is not pedaling.
Harvesting human kinetic energy to power a vehicle or part of it is again not a new concept. Right from the first bicycles, harvesting good old human power has provided an immediate solution to various mechanical challenges and fuel limitations. In a world that is fast running out of fossil fuel, these alternate methods are becoming mainstream again and designers are investigating the possibilities for widespread and feasible applications for human powered or human-electric powered hybrid vehicles. Early examples of the use of human power to jumpstart a vehicle or even provide occasional assistance to engine-run vehicles came into being as early as 1897 when inventor Hosea W. Libbey created a parallel hybrid motorized bicycle. By the early 20th century, motorcycles like the 1912 Douglas that used pedals to provide a jumpstart to the vehicle arrived on the scene. Mopeds and auto cycles that evolved from such improvements gained popularity in the 1990s with the British made Cyclemaster and Czech made Jawa. Though these low-powered two-wheelers still exist today, the human-electric hybrid vehicle is a further improvement on the same technology that replaced the fuel-run engine with an electric motor and batteries.
A human-electric hybrid vehicle would be the ultimate zero emissions vehicle, which would have a zero carbon footprint. Unlike most electric vehicles that need to be recharged using grid power (given the state of photovoltaic we are discounting them as credible sources of alternate electric power) that in turn is mostly made from coal or other fossil fuels, the HEHV would be powered solely by the electricity a rider generates. Generating electricity on demand and using it as and when needed, these vehicles would ensure minimum wastage of grid power and one wouldn’t have to wander about looking for EV recharging stations or wait around for vehicles to attain a decent charge to be able to use them. The HEHV would thus be the ultimate, grid-independent, green personal mobility solution that can be adopted by the masses with ease.
What makes them stand out?
Since a HEHV would typically carry a small electric motor and battery, they will also be potentially chargeable via low-output alternate power sources like windmills and solar panels when the user wants to run it in electric only mode. Disposing of high storage density batteries with limited life that are used with all-electric vehicles and environmental effects of power distribution and electricity generation need to be taken into account when calculating the actual “greenness” of current EVs. By that standard, most current EVs and hybrids aren’t exactly zero emissions which makes a great case for the HEHV since the latter only relies on human power to generate electricity needed by it.
Using the same model of calculation that Scottish inventor James Watt used to derive the “horsepower” of the steam engine (a term that is still used to measure the output of a machine or engine), human kinetic power too can be calculated. One unit of Watt’s original horsepower equaled 745.7 watts. To measure the horsepower that human beings can sustain over time, we can use a cycle power meter (like the one used by Tour De France cyclists) to measure the amount of power a human being can actually produce via their own efforts when supplemented by a mechanical aid like the pedal-chain-and-gear of a bicycle. By the estimates put forward by Cycling Power Models, over 450 W are produced by elite cyclists over a one hour journey and a healthy amateur cyclist can generate about 200 W in the same time. Judging by these figures, a human-electric hybrid vehicle is not only tremendously feasible as an individual commute option used by the masses but also incredibly easy to manufacture and use. By simply mating this kind of human effort with an efficient electricity storing battery and an equally efficient electric motor, a human-electric hybrid vehicle can be produced that would be an appealing zero-emissions green vehicle that wouldn’t need to rely on grid power or solar/wind power to recharge.
1. Human Car
The Human Car manufactured by a Seattle-based company of the same name, is a vehicle that uses the principles used to propel a tandem railroad trolley to drive a human driven four seater four wheeler. Costing $15,000 each, the Human car weighs 400 pounds and is made of aluminum and carbon fiber. The push-pull hand mechanism of the Human Car makes it a feasible human-power only vehicle concept though it can practically be used only in shared use and community use vehicles.
2. NoVelo human-powered vehicle
Created by a University of South Australia student named Tim Turrini-Rochford, the NoVelo is a HEHV that comes with a built-in 300W hub motor. The vehicle is based on the classic velomobile and can hit a top speed of 50kph.
3. Trimtab 3X3
A collaborative effort between Stress Engineering Services and Losantiville Kunstwerkhaus, the Trimtab 3X3 was conceived by designer David Parrott. The vehicle comes with flatbed storage adaptable nylon seating and skins and a canopy for all season use. The electric assisted recumbent tricycle is basically a 3×3 vehicle with two 3hp electric motors powered by dual 50ah batteries that are recharged by human effort.
4. Road Star-S hybrid human-electric urban utility vehicle
Powered by an electric motor and pedal power, the Road Star-S is a light utility vehicle that uses a lithium polymer battery, a 400 W electric motor and good old leg power to ferry the driver and a friend around the city.