Convert Combustion Engine vehicles to PHEV or Electric

Convert Combustion Engine vehicles to PHEV or Electric

Propose a federal program to subsidize conversion the vast majority of current passenger vehicles in the US using Internal Combustion Engines to Plugin Hybrids Electric Vehicles (PHEV).

Chuck Schumer made a proposal a little while ago about giving discounts to replace all cars with new electric vehicles.

While it seems like a good idea on the surface, there are a few issues:

  • This is a typical rich person way of thinking. The average person cannot afford to just off and buy a new car even with a "large discount".
  • If it comes in the form of a tax credit, it still means that we would need to supply the money upfront.
  • What happens to the old cars that are traded in? Do we leave it to the free market to solve that issue? they pile up in the junk yards, leaking chemicals and polluting the ground? Do they end up being resold on another "market"?
  • Current Lithium Ion battery technology is expensive and has a human cost, see If we increase the demand for electric vehicles suddenly with the current technology, would mean encouraging potentially destructive mining in third world countries.
  • This is a handout to the auto industry which will have an excuse to sell overpriced new cars which will be partially subsidised by our own tax money. It's a new Chicken Tax in some respect.

The Department of energy has some information about converting conventional Internal Combustion Engine or ICE (incidentally, also #AbolishICE) to various levels of electric vehicles, which we should use as a base for the policy.

Some possible advantages include

  • If you like your current car, you get to keep it.
  • Conversion requires less new raw material and as a result have lower environmental impact.
  • It's just fun.

A few technical details, not fixed in stone but worth considering.

We need to push a govt program which will take care that all passenger road vehicles be converted to Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle or PHEV type vehicles.

Or more specifically, A Series Plugin Hybrids with Range Extender. The Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i5 are examples of Series PHEV vehicles currently on the market. See

While most other types of hybrids use complicated gearing system to allow both an electric motor and a gas engine to send power to the wheel, the series hybrid is one where the motor that drives the wheels is 100% electric. Therefore a series hybrid has a much simpler implementation and you eliminate the need for a bulky engine block.

A range extender is basically a on board fuel powered generator that has the function of powering the electric motor when the battery is suffciently depleted and recharging the it at the same time. PHEV have the advantage of needing smaller batteries over full electric vehicles since the range extender can pick up the slack. The average commute for an American is 36miles or so, which does not translate to a huge battery pack. If they have a location to recharge their car overnight, most traval can be handled mostly by the battery and rarely needing the range extender.

For the on board generators, the Chevy volt and BMW i5 have regular gas engines BUT we should look into more efficient and compact engines like microturbines. See, table 5.1 for some of the features of that type of engine.

The more interesting ones are the smaller size compared to regular ICE and the fact that they can use a variety of burnable fuel. Meaning that it will NOT require fossil fuels to operate and we could be using engineered fuels alternatives. Such as, which follows that vehicles could have small ethanol generating built in using water vapour and CO2 from the atmosphere and recaptured from the exhaust from the microturbine. Even if the process is slow, the fuel tank can be refilled by a trickle while the vehicle is not in use. By the way, this is an example of a technology that needs massive amounts of researchers and engineers thrown at it.

Electric motors have a lot of room to improve in terms of power to weight ratio and efficiency, much like decades of research into ICEs have dramatically improved their efficiency.


Currently the cost of doing an electrical conversion of an existing vehicle is prohibitively high. Much of it as to do with parts being difficult to source and the very high cost of qualified labour. However, if we were to turn this into a national level effort, we can use this "economies of scale" thing we keep hearing about to reduce costs.

Manufacturers will be "invited" (gently coerced, really) to participate in the development of "retrofitting kits" that can be mass produced for their existing and older cars.

The Federal goverment will also hire engineers to design conversion kits to be built by local industry. If is important that any conversion be done with standard/reusable/swappable/upgradable/recyclable parts. "Right to repair" on converted vehicles propulsion systems should be a given. If the parts are standard, it means that they could be upgraded by the end user or a third party to better parts down the line as research and development advances. This is especially true for the electric motor and the battery pack. Any technological development in that area must consider how the parts will be recycled in the future as well.

Who will do the conversions? Existing technicians and mechanics at dealerships could be trained. Better yet, the whole thing should be nationalised, whereby the government sets up factories and hires people to work in them. Obviously we should try to build the components nationally rather than importing.

The first type of vehicle we could start with would be with are USPS delivery trucks because they do frequent start/stops which is the forte of electric vehicles and there is a huge fleet of those burning fuel everyday, and it's good PR.

For regular people car, start with more common makes and models, and work towards rarer ones. In the same pass, we should look into retrofitting older vehicles with some safety features like back up cameras and some kind of basic onboard computer that can give the user details on the state of their vehicle, navigation, "infotainment", etc. The operating system for that computer should be open source and extensible by the user.

It is not excluded that the average citizen be asked to pay a small amount of the costs upfront but that amount thsould be very very small compared to the cost of doing the conversion themselves. Those who participate in the conversion program get a small tax break on their next return.

There will be those who love their smog. Those who decide not to will be subject to a pollution tax. The pollution tax shouldn't be back breaking BUT should be proportional to the amount of emissions the vehicle emits.

There should be exceptions allowed for rare cars, antiques, or vehicles that have been built in very limited numbers.

In the same vein, give a tiny tax break to employers who allow their employees to telecommute i.e. work from home. Most office work could be done remotely because all you need is a laptop and a decent internet connection. A huge amount of daily congestion is people going to and from work. If they can instead work directly from home, it'll mean less people on the road, less road pollution and traffic congestion too.


  • Charging networks will need to be beefed up a little bit and made free. i.e. On the street parking, etc. PHEVs with self refuelling microturbines range extenders require much less charging stops but it would be a nice to have.
  • Should nationalise at least one of the auto manufacturers that Obama bailed out. GM is a company that deserves to be bought out and be people owned.