Last week, The Economist ran a story on a new approach several manufacturers are taking for hybrid cars: adding ultracapacitors to the currently-used gas-hybrid model, which will allow both "for generating bursts of speed and for soaking up the energy collected by regenerative braking." The test vehicle a Saturn Vue outfitted with lithium-ion batteries and ultracapacitors will get an estimated 80 miles per gallon.
The breakthrough in technology may be an important step forward in hybrid car development, but the breakthrough in thinking is just as important. With energy providers touting this source or that, wind, solar, biofuels as the greatest new resource and the one most deserving of seed money and R&D resources, policymakers need to think about small-scale improvements as well as large, including ideas like using ultracapacitors in hybrids. Though these will not likely replace batteries in the short-term, they can supplement power needs and make hybrid cars considerably more efficient, stretching out gas reserves as they are adopted, and reduce emissions in the process.