In the midst of an extended power outage in Boston during a recent winter storm, in lieu of a generator an enterprising man hooked up his house to his Toyota Prius hybrid electric car (a Prius plug-in hybrid is shown). According to the Boston Herald, John Sweeney of Harvard, Mass., has provided a tantalizing glimpse of the future.
Sweeney, an electrical engineer, told the Boston Business Journal that he used an inverter to convert direct current from the car's battery to 120 V alternating current that kept the refrigerator, freezer, fan for a wood stove, television, and some lights running. Leaving the car turned on, the engine ran for a few minutes every half hour to recharge the battery and burned about 5 gal of gas over three days while producing about 17 kWh of electricity, Sweeney said. That's not very efficient, but during a power outage it's somewhat irrelevant.
Hybrids like Sweeney's, and the next-generation plug-in hybrids, appear to be the cars of the near future, as major automakers are gearing up to start producing them in greater numbers. Perhaps no one thought of all the potential uses of hybrid cars, besides driving them and saving on gas. It's all possible because of chemistry, of course. The secret is in the materials used to make the car batteries.