Joyce Koppenhofer: Electric hybrid owner

Written by David Green.


When Gorham Fayette High School library media specialist Joyce Koppenhofer lived in Blissfield, her 40-mile commute to work was long, but bearable. At the time, she drove a Pontiac Grand Am, which got about 23 miles per gallon on the highway.

Then Joyce’s living situation changed. Her husband, Keith—a pastor—accepted a new job and they moved to Oak Harbor, Ohio, a little more than 71 miles away from Fayette. With a round-trip commute of 143 miles, the Grand Am just wasn’t cutting it—Joyce was filling the gas tank about once a day.hybird.koppen

This summer, before the school year began, she decided to buy a new car. A friend had recommended the Honda Civic for its fuel efficiency and Joyce had been reading about automotive hybrids—cars that utilize onboard rechargeable energy storage systems to increase fuel efficiency.

Since 2003, Honda has offered a hybrid Civic, but new models were beyond Joyce’s price range, so she undertook the difficult task of searching out a used one.

“Once people buy the hybrids, they keep them,” she explained. It’s not hard to see why the cars are in such high demand—hybrid Civic drivers enjoy upwards of 50 miles per gallon.

Joyce was lucky. A Bowling Green State University professor had turned a 2003 model into University Honda in Bowling Green right before she showed up. After a few test drives, she was sold. The hybrid was unlike any car she had ever driven.

While hot rod and sports car engines often ignite with a roar, the hybrid Civic ignites with a hum. Most non-hybrid Civics from 2003 are propelled by 1.7-liter internal combustion engines, but the hybrid carries a 1.3-liter model.

However, it’s helped along by a 15 kilowatt, 20 horsepower electric “assist” engine. This is where the fuel/electric “hybrid” concept comes into play. The combustion engine creates provides most of the energy to move the car and the electric energy helps recycle it through a process called regenerative braking.

Thanks to another energy-saving innovation she enjoys a fuel efficiency of up to 120 miles per gallon while coasting. As many as three of the cylinders in the Civic’s engine cease operating during deceleration, which decreases both fuel use and engine deterioration.

“The way things are going with gas prices jumping up and down, I think you’re going to see more people exploring the smaller cars,” said Joyce.

    - Nov. 8, 2006

How the electric hybrid works 

Understanding the idea is a bit tricky, even for hybrid owners.

Traditional brake systems use calipers, drums or disks to slow automobiles through friction. During the slowing process, the kinetic force moving the car forward is converted to heat and, essentially, lost.

In contrast, regenerative braking converts kinetic energy into electrical energy. This is possible because electric motors and electric generators operate in a very similar fashion.

Electric motors create kinetic energy by using electricity to turn a turbine. Electric generators utilize the kinetic energy produced by turbines to create electricity. When the driver of a hybrid hits the brake pedal, the car engages turbines to slow itself down. The electric energy collected during the braking process is stored in a battery, and later used to assist the combustion engine, especially when the car needs to climb hills or accelerate rapidly.

As a result, Joyce has no problem accelerating to the speed limit as she enters the Ohio Turnpike.

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