Google has announced a philanthropic initiative aimed at reducing carbon emissions by popularising electric-powered cars.

Part of the google.org philanthropy project, RechargeIT is offering $1m to think-tanks looking at ways to drive up use of electric and hybrid vehicles.

It is also looking to make investments in technologies and companies featuring plug-in hybrids, fully electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid capabilities and batteries.

By means of demonstration, Google is having four of its Toyota Priuses and two Ford Escapes re-fitted to run as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and will publish telemetry data from the vehicles to the web to indicate the cars’ efficiency.

The company last year announced plans to ensure a third of its giant Mountain View, California, campus becomes powered by solar energy. It is this 1.6-megawatt, 9,212-panel solar effort that powers its existing plug-in vehicle fleet. A hundred such cars will become part of its car-sharing scheme.

Conventional hybrid vehicles like the Prius run on batteries but also depend in part on regular combustion engines, while plug-in vehicles can recharge off a wall socket overnight.

Google.org said if all US cars on the road by 2025 were hybrids, half of them plug-in hybrids, America could reduce its oil consumption, currently 10m barrels per day, by 8m barrels per day.