Your next car may have regenerative brakes,

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Even if it’s not a hybrid.

Many people are unaware that the brake system is the largest energy waster in a vehicle. You are essentially converting your vehicle’s hard-earned kinetic energy to heat by pushing the brake pedal. This heat is then lost into the atmosphere and never recovered. Not exactly the definition of efficiency.

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Hybrid vehicles have been using regenerative brakes since the beginning, but new regulations and fuel economy rules are forcing automakers into considering the benefits of regenerative braking on ALL vehicles. This is what it means for you.

What are Regenerative Brakes?

Regenerative brakes are not able to “regenerate” themselves after they have been damaged, so the name “regenerative” might be misleading.

Regenerative refers to the process of recapturing energy from an engine. Regenerative brakes are typically used in fully-electric motors or hybrid motors. This is due to a unique feature in electric motors. When they are run forward, electric engines convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. If they are run in the reverse direction, an electric engine becomes a generator that captures energy.

Regenerative brakes use the motor to generate energy when you apply the brakes. This puts energy back into your battery pack while slowing down your vehicle.

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Regenerative braking works by getting the motor to reverse and only when it can take the energy. The braking controller is the key component of sophisticated electronic circuitry used in regenerative brakes. The braking controller redirects the kinetic energy lost to the battery when you brake.

The brake controller also decides whether the motor can handle the force required to stop the vehicle. Traditional friction brakes are used to stop the car from stopping if the force is too strong for the motor.

Regenerative brakes: How efficient are they?

Regenerative braking on hybrid vehicles will usually result in a 10% to 25% increase in fuel economy. However, the efficiency of regenerative brakes for conventional gas-only vehicles is yet to be determined. This is mainly because the system remains under development.

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Regenerative braking systems for gas-only vehicles are expected to increase fuel economy by 5-10%. This is not bad considering conventional vehicles won’t use an electric motor in order to capture braking energy. Conventional vehicles will instead use hydraulics or capacitors to “store”, energy re-captured during braking. This energy will then be used later (either in electricity or as hydraulic pressure).

Mazda claims that regenerative brakes on non-hybrids can increase fuel economy by 10% using a system made up of capacitors. However, real-world feedback suggests this is not a realistic estimate.

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However, automakers will need to meet very stringent fuel economy standards over the next decade. Even if they “only” improve fuel efficiency by 5%, regenerative braking systems will be evaluated. Regenerative brakes might be a feature on the next car you buy, hybrid or not.

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