In the eyes of Shayna Berkowitz, the makings of the sustainable transportation revolution are here already, and she is ready to help it along with a new business opening in South Minneapolis. ReGo Electric Conversions offers Prius owners the ability to increase their gas mileage to 60-85 miles per gallon by converting to a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) and adding a rechargeable four kilowatt hour Lithium-ion battery to supplement the existing hybrid system.
When Berkowitz originally partnered with Alex Danovitch in 2008 to start ReGo, they conceived of it as a place Minnesotans could get combustion engine vehicles converted to run entirely on electric power. According to Berkowitz, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, she started the business because she saw a need for a move away from oil and didn’t see why Americans weren’t there already. “We have the technology, knowledge and expertise to create sustainable alternative transportation,” she says.
So, Berkowitz and Danovitch began building their team-a mixture of environmentalists, engineers, mechanics, and electricians. After two years of research and development, they had created successful prototypes (among them Berkowitz’s own all-electric Toyota RAV4) and seemed ready to implement their business plan. Then, they realized it wouldn’t sell-at least not right away.
How does it work?
The Prius already has a NiMH battery, which is charged from the car’s gasoline engine. ReGo’s Li-ion battery replaces the energy consumed by the NiMH pack from the kit’s Li-ion auxiliary battery pack.
From the FAQ page of ReGo’s website:
What MPG can I expect? What is the most I can get?
The average commuter that drives 20-40 miles per day will get 60-85 mpg. When you travel on battery power alone (certain conditions under 34mph), you are actually getting infinity miles per gallon since no gas is being burned. …
How do I recharge the system?
An industrial extension cord is included to plug the car into any standard AC outlet (110 Volt, 7 amp). Charging time can be anywhere from 3-6 hours, depending on how much charge is already in the batteries.
How long do the batteries last?
The lithium-ion battery is rated for 2000 cycles when using 80% of the packs total capacity and 3000 cycles using 70%. The batteries will last 6-8 years under normal conditions, charging daily.
Does the conversion limit my range? What happens when the batteries run out?
ReGo’s plug-in hybrid conversions utilize the additional battery pack for 20-40 miles. After that, the car goes back to acting like a normal hybrid and you can go as far as your gas tank will take you.
What is the cost to recharge an electric vehicle?
Less then $.02/mile at today’s electric rates.
“Appreciating your desire to balance economy with ecology we want to be clear about what you can expect when considering your return on investment for a conversion – monetarily speaking. With our current technology, during the estimated 6-8 year life of service of a plug-in hybrid vehicle, an entire payback from fuel savings and reduced maintenance is not yet possible.”
According to Berkowitz, all-electric vehicles are “ahead of the market.” “People aren’t there in their minds,” she says, meaning that even though the technology, knowledge and expertise may be there, consumers aren’t. In addition, the infrastructure for widespread usage-for example, charging stations for apartment dwellers or long-distance drivers-is virtually non-existent and the cost for conversion is what Berkowitz calls “prohibitive.“
Though the nation generally may not be ready to go all electric, ReGo has found what they think will be a good market for their plug-in hybrid electric conversion: the (partially) converted.
“People who are driving hybrids have already made the best option possible,” Berkowitz explains, “we are able to offer a next step.”
Garrett Ferderber, Shop Manager for ReGo and an electrician, explains that the Prius is a perfect target an engineering perspective as well. He describes the Prius’s hybrid system as “elegant” and “unique.” The second battery, which is rechargeable from a standard wall outlet using the cord and plug they provide with the conversion, seamlessly feeds additional electric power into the hybrid system. Under 30 miles per hour, the car can run on only electric power for about 20 miles; beyond that it can supplement the battery, so the car uses the gas engine less.
The conversion from hybrid to plug-in hybrid helps Prius owners further reduce their gasoline usage and their emissions, but it also creates capacity for changing the way Americans fuel their transportation. As Danovitch, now ReGo’s chief operating officer, points out, “you can’t address renewables without addressing cars on the road.” While Danovitch admits that as long as energy is generated by non-renewable sources there will be polluting side effects, and that carbon numbers are not always reliable, he holds firm that these enhanced hybrid system can make a big dent in carbon footprint, fossil fuel consumption and air pollution. Essentially, oil will always be oil, but electricity has the potential to be renewably generated.
ReGo’s mission goes beyond improving gas mileage. According to Danovitch, “the more exciting thing is the potential.” There’s the potential to limit emissions from cars on the road (which currently accounts for 29 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions), the potential to move off of oil while moving to locally produced renewables, and through conversion, to make cars more efficient as they age instead of less. Both Danovitch and Berkowitz highlight the fact that 10 percent of a car’s carbon footprint is in its production. “That’s why the emphasis on conversion, that’s why Re-Go,” Berkowitz says.
As Berkowitz explains it, Prius conversion is not the end of the line for ReGo. Though they will start by converting Priuses to PHEVs, they would like to move on towards converting combustion engine vehicles to high efficiency hybrids. “By the time we do that, the market will be ready for more,” she states.