You might have heard of regenerative braking as something used by hybrid and electric cars and wonder how does it work? Is it as effective as engine braking? We tell you everything you need to know below.
There’s no engine braking with an electric car, instead they use a system called regenerative braking. In a regular vehicle, when the driver hits the brakes, the energy that’s been created by the engine to propel the car forward is lost. Physics tells us that energy can’t be destroyed, so normally it just dissipates as heat and is lost. Rather than allowing the energy to disappear, regenerative braking was designed to recapture it and feed energy back in to the batteries.
So, how does the system work? Well, in a concept that might seem strange at first, the system does the majority of the braking, not the brake pads. When the driver steps on the brakes, the electric motor goes into reverse which slows the vehicle down. You can actually bring the vehicle to a complete stop without using the brake pads. Obviously vehicles have brake pads as a back-up option and complex electrical systems decide when to use the regenerative braking system or when the brake pads are needed. Whilst the motor is in reverse slowing the vehicle down, it also acts as a generator and produces energy to be stored in its batteries. This is how energy is ‘recaptured’ through the regenerative braking system.
In hybrid and electric cars, the level of battery charge is of upmost importance. Regenerative braking was designed to help keep the batteries charged up for as long as possible. It’s is a more efficient method of braking than engine braking, both in terms of recapturing energy and preserving the brake pads. Using the electric motor to slow the vehicle down reduces strain on the brake pads and therefore wear and tear, meaning the pads are less likely to need replacing than in a regular vehicle.
Regenerative braking is just the beginning of smart braking technologies.
You can already pre-set when the vehicle should use regenerative braking and when it should use the brake pads through the on board computer in some vehicles. Research is being done to develop a system where the braking is taken out of the driver’s hands (or feet) and completely controlled by the car’s electrical system. While you might not agree with the premise of this concept, it’s encouraging to see the thought going into development of new technologies aiming to improve driving efficiency. Regenerative braking is one example of this, hopefully you now have a better understanding of what it is, how it works and more importantly, how it increases electric range and improves driving efficiency.