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Regenerative Braking: Technology Benefits and Limitations

There are many interesting driving technologies being championed by electric cars, some of which are unique to the EV category, while others translate into regular gasoline cars. For instance, ultra-advanced autonomous driving technology adopted by brands such as Tesla is being adopted by GM, Nissan and other vehicle manufacturers. A great example of a unique technology is regenerative braking. This is an innovative system that reverses electric motors in EVs to generate electrical energy that is sent back into the battery instead of spinning to send power and torque to the wheels.

When this technology first arrived on the scene in select hybrid vehicles, regenerative braking was questioned for its safety as it seemed to make brakes spongy and far less responsive. On the other hand, others noticed the potential to significantly lengthen the range of electric vehicles. For better or for worse, regenerative braking is now a standard technology on many EVs. Below we’ll discuss its benefits and limitations.


Benefit - Boosts Fuel Economy in Hybrids and Range in EVs

When used in hybrid cars, regenerative braking can send crucial electrical energy back to the car’s battery, extending its life and thus giving you more electric range and greater overall range. In pure electric vehicles, the principle also holds true, sending electrical energy back into the battery every time the driver takes their foot off the accelerator to allow regen to activate.

Currently, modest amounts of energy are being recaptured although they are not enough to lengthen the range of an electrical vehicle by a significant amount. However, they do help to enhance overall efficiency, especially when driving in city based traffic.


Benefit - Takes the Stress Off Hydraulic Brakes

In its latest form, regenerative braking works without the driver having to press on the brake pedal. The regular hydraulic braking system is still active, but if regenerative braking handles most of the car's decelerating needs then the lifespan of our conventional braking systems are extended. Ultimately, this contributes to lower running costs in electric vehicles.

Benefit - You Still Get Regular Brakes

As we mentioned above, regular brakes are still available today so there is no need to sacrifice advanced friction brake technology in order for regenerative braking to work. The regenerative system works via the electric motors which are separate from the regular brakes. It is great to have the best of both worlds in case of the need for an emergency stop, you can still use those familiar regula brakes.


Limitation - Benefits Quickly Eliminated by High Performance

A downside is that the technology is not efficient enough to provide any significant gains in power. If you were to make small gains during an urban drive, you would lose them as soon as you hit the highway and started driving at higher speeds. Hopefully, this will continue to improve over time, although as a standalone technology it does not provide anything groundbreaking from an energy standpoint.


Limitation - Spongy and Unresponsive Brakes

If you’re driving an older hybrid model that uses this technology, you might find the brake pedal spongy and not responsive like you expect it to be. This presents some safety concerns for many drivers who are not used to these brake pedals.


Regenerative Brakes - Are They Worthwhile?

The short and best answer to this question is yes, without a doubt they are a worthwhile technology. Questions over their efficacy early on--that is if they still require the brake pedal to be used–were valid. However, the development of technology such as Nissan’s e-pedal and similar technologies from other OEMs mean regenerative braking now works without input from the driver.

The potential savings on wear & tear on regular brakes alone is a huge benefit. Ultimately, the real value will be achieved when they produce or offer more significant gains in range. This could take some time, but it is impossible to say with certainty. Learn more about the latest in braking technologies by visiting our store.

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