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ESTES PARK, Colo. (CBS4) – A pollution-free SUV that gets 55 mpg could be on the market as soon as 2014. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed off the Kia Borrego on Monday in Estes Park at the Coolest Car Show in Colorado.
“It’s got all the cup holders, it’s got the DVD navigation system,” said Chris Ainscough, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory senior engineer. “You know, it’s got all the things that a modern family wants. But it gets great mileage.”
The Borrego fits President Obama’s new proposal to roughly double current fuel-efficiency standards by 2025.
It runs on a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, which gives off water as waste. Ainscough said electrolysis, the process NREL engineers used to extract the hydrogen that powered the Borrego on display, is also free of emissions. Electrolysis separates water into hydrogen and oxygen.
“This is probably one of the cleanest vehicles in the country,” he said.
The SUV, manufactured in South Korea, weighs a hefty 5,000 pounds. But it can get up to 60 mpg, meaning fuel efficiency isn’t limited to small cars, Ainscough said. He said Kia will begin mass producing the Borrego for consumer purchase in 2014 or 2015. He didn’t have a price estimate.
Also on display at the show was the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Like older Prius models, it runs on a mix of electricity and gas and can move on electricity alone if drivers accelerate cautiously. But the Plug-in Hybrid comes with a charger that lets owners add additional electrical power from a home outlet to complement the power that all Priuses generate from braking. A full home charge takes three hours.
Additionally, lithium-ion batteries inside the new models absorb more energy than nickel-hydride batteries, which power most cars. Lithium-ion batteries are common in laptops and cell phones.
A full home charge combined with hybrid power can give the Plug-in up to 100 mpg, while hybrid mode alone is good for about 60 mpg, Ainscough said. He said the car can travel about 400 miles with a full home charge and a full tank of gas. However, the home charge alone can only carry it for about 13 miles, according to an informational handout.
The Prius Plug-in will hit dealerships in 2013, Ainscough said. He said he doesn’t know what the price tag will be.
NREL revealed their new vehicle technology amid national debates about vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency. The New York Times reported Monday that the Obama administration “is proposing regulations that will require new American cars and trucks to attain an average of as much as 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025, roughly double the current level.”
“I think that’s the right thing to do,” Loveland resident Mick Andrews said at the car show. “We should be progressing forwards, not backwards. And I think the general public really can’t afford to spend $4 to $5 a gallon.”
Automakers say they could develop the technology necessary to reach Obama’s proposed goal. However, they’re worried the project would require billions of dollars, in turn driving up prices for consumers, according to the Times. But Ainscough said market forces are leading companies to increase alternative-vehicle production despite high costs.
“Toyota took a big gamble when they started producing the Prius, and it really has paid off for them,” he said. “You know, they’ve really led the way with hybrid technology because of that.”
Ainscough cited Chevrolet, which sells a plug-in hybrid called the Volt, as a company trying to catch up. He said he thinks there will be much more of a balance between oil-powered and alternative-powered cars on the road in 2025. He said people will likely buy alternative vehicles based on their needs.
Those who usually travel short distances might prefer the 100-percent-electric Nissan Leaf, whereas people who travel far might find plug-in models more suitable, Ainscough said.
NREL works with the U.S. Department of Energy to research and develop “renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies,” according to its website.
-Written by Andrew Gibson, CBS4 Intern