Chrysler Building A Hybrid Minivan

Chrysler will put hydraulic hybrid technology developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use in its Town & Country minivan. The company said it hopes a new partnership with the EPA will yield a running demonstration vehicle in 2012.

This plan was unveiled at the EPA’s lab in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the hydraulic hybrid system was developed. The system is already used in industrial applications, including large delivery and refuse trucks, but Chrysler is hoping to break new ground in moving it to light-duty vehicles.

Chrysler said the research project will focus on adapting the hydraulic hybrid system to a Town & Country minivan equipped with a 2.4-liter, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine. The company said the goal of the project is to improve overall fuel economy by 30-35 percent, and city mileage by up to 60 percent.

Town Country

image via Chrysler

Hydraulic hybrids are a lot like the gas-electric hybrids we’ve come to know, but instead of using a battery to store energy, the systems use a hydraulic accumulator containing pressurized nitrogen. As with standard hybrids, there are parallel and series hydraulics. In the announcement Chrysler didn’t say which design its minivan would use, but the New York Times cited a company spokesman saying it would go the series route.

According to the EPA, under this design, when the “gas pedal” is depressed, pressurized nitrogen pushes fluid through a pump/motor, which uses the pressure to turn the wheels. When the pressure runs down in the accumulator, an engine provides power to the hydraulic pump, which re-pressurizes the accumulator. The engine can turn off again when the brakes are applied and kinetic energy is used to pressurize the accumulator and drive the system.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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