This was scheduled for Technocopia, but I believe wasn’t published. It was written in 2000. It’s interesting to note that when SUVs hit the market in Canada they were allowed to have higher emissions, fitting into a little caveat that had all trucks under farm vehicles. The result was that emissions, which were on their way down, shot up again as more people bought SUVs. I was driving behind a Hummer the other day, the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. The guys in it had the nerve to open their door and drop a can to the ground. A true picture of the mindset of a Hummer driver in the city.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of the car a little over a century ago the world’s pollution has increased to unbearable levels in many cities. Places like California (which has a serious air pollution problem) have “Super-Ultra-Low-Emission-Vehicle” (SULEV) pollution standards that will require 10% of all cars sold in California to have zero tailpipe emissions by 2004. That’s no pollution whatsoever.
That may not seem like a large percentage of greener cars, but it means a lot of research, testing and cost to car manufacturers. Alternate fuels like natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol and diesel, as well as alternative energy forms like electric batteries or fuel cells are being tested. In the forefront of alternate energy vehicles that we’ll see next are electric, hybrid gas/electric and fuel cells. California, Colorado, Arizona, Chicago and Vancouver, British Columbia are test beds for the new cars and energy as the world works toward a cleaner future.
Cars powered by gasoline use internal combustion engines (ICE). They average anywhere between 20-40 miles per gallon. Tailpipe emissions are high with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, lead, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide causing human health problems, smog, global warming, acid rain and greenhouse gases. There is often government regulation on the type and quantity of emissions and new cars are being developed with lower emission standards. Gasoline, though fairly cheap in comparison to other energy sources, is a non-renewable resource and as Newsday (04/25/99) reports: “Within 50 years, or perhaps sooner, experts say, the world’s supply of fossil fuels will begin an inexorable decline.” And when those fuels decline we’ll be using lower grade, “dirtier” fuels that will be more expensive.
Gasoline-powered vehicles are the most common, therefore mass-produced and of reasonable price. There is a well-developed infrastructure of car repair centers and fuel stations across the country and throughout most developed nations.
Although not known for fuel efficiency, car manufacturers are working on lowering the emissions in their gas-powered vehicles. All of Ford’s 2000 model pickups and SUV’s will have lower emissions. The “’99 LEV Ford Explorer, for instance, is 42% cleaner in terms of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon, and nitrous oxide production than the non-LEV ’98 version. Honda produces ULEV Accords and Civics (ultra-low-emission vehicles are 50% cleaner than LEVs), Toyota has a ULEV Camry, and DaimlerChrysler a ULEV Neon. And Nissan, Honda and Toyota all have gas engines that meet SULEV (super-ultra-low-emission vehicle) standards–one-tenth the emissions of a LEV. SULEV Sentras and Accords are expected to hit the market early next year.” Fortune Magazine, Time (10/25/99)
Combustion Process: air (oxygen), fuel and an ignition source are required for combustion. Lighting a fire or starting a car involves combustion. The spark from a spark plug ignites the gasoline and oxygen to create the energy to power cars.
Compressed Natural Gas
Cars built for gasoline can also use natural gas with some modifications to the fuel system. Government incentives help lower the cost of changing over. Refueling is relatively cheap and tailpipe emissions are reduced but not eliminated. The Arizona Republic (01/03/99) showed a comparison between a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria using compressed natural gas that “produced 66 percent fewer hydrocarbons than a comparable gas-fueled Crown Victoria,” and 40 percent less carbon monoxide with zero emissions of oxides of nitrogen. Natural gas vehicles are often used for transit or fleet vehicles.
There are many refueling stations but not as many as gas, so a cross-country trip needs planning. As well, a natural gas tank that has to be installed will take up room in the trunk. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel and a limited resource. Some natural gas cars by manufacturers are: Honda natural gas-powered Civic GX, Ford Crown Victoria and Dodge’s natural gas-powered Charger R/T.
Diesel engines use oil, where the air is compressed and heated and oil sprayed into the chamber and ignited. Although the engine is more expensive the fuel is cheaper and used more economically. However, diesel is notorious for its black, smelly emissions. Car manufacturers believe they can make a cleaner diesel but it is still in development. (Having been in Delhi, India, where diesel was predominant, we were black with diesel and it had saturated clothing within a matter of hours.)
Electric (Battery Powered)
Electric cars have been around as long as gas-powered cars and were considered more reliable in the early days of the car industry. They cost more than a gas-powered vehicle and are not as easy to find. At present they can only be leased. However, they cost less to run and charging stations are free for the time being. At home the cord can be plugged into a regular 110 V outlet. Battery-powered cars emit no pollutants and are completely quiet while being driven. Government incentives exist and everything from a golf cartlike vehicle to a full-sized car is allowed on the road. New developments make the electric car faster than its predecessors.
Electric cars can take up to three hours to charge and in California there are over three hundred charging stations (where the cars are being tested) but still drivers are concerned with the limited range (about one hundred miles depending on vehicle type). The batteries are lead acid and disposal is still an environmental problem. New nickel metal-hydride batteries are being used which double the driving range. Though decreasing in size, batteries increase the car’s weight and can still take up a large amount of space.
Dick Thompson, director of communications for GM’s advanced-technology vehicles says that the electric car is “transitional, leading to who knows what’s next?” The Arizona Republic (01/03/99). Some electric cars include GM’s Saturn EV1 (leased since 1997), the Honda EV Plus, Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford’s TH!NK (available in Norway). (Last week–June 2008–CBC radio interviewed Alexandra Paul in California. An actress and environmental advocate, Paul said that GM had crushed all their EV cars years ago. She has done a movie called Who Killed the Electric Car? http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/223/paul-interview.html)
Hybrid cars will be the next mass produced vehicle using a combination of gas (also diesel or natural gas) and an electric motor. Driving range is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller and the emissions are reduced. The cars get around 55-70 mpg. Government incentives are in place for these cars, like all low emission vehicles.
The battery self-charges through a unique system that equalizes between the gas engine and the battery, using the most efficient energy for the situation, such as acceleration (electric) or driving (gas). The regenerative braking system not only slows the car down but also captures that energy to charge the battery. The battery only weighs about one hundred pounds compared with twelve hundred pounds for an all-electric vehicle. Cost for a hybrid vehicle is still higher than gas-powered cars.
Hybrid cars include the Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 (hybrid electric-diesel), Honda Insight, Toyata Prius. Ford and Nissan also hope to have hybrid electric cars in production in the next three years.
Fuel cell technology is the most revolutionary. Ballard Power Systems, Inc. in Burnaby, BC, with Ford and DaimlerChrysler are working on fuel cells for cars.
A fuel cell causes a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air, which is converted into electricity. It is similar to a battery but needs no recharging and the only emission is drinkable water or vapor. Though used in some test vehicles like DaimlerChrysler’s Necar 4 and buses in several areas, the fuel cell is still in development and researchers say we will not see fuel cell cars until 2004.
Hydrogen is highly combustible and fuel tank storage on a car, as well as refueling poses some high risks. If used with the next most likely fuel, methanol, it produces some emissions. Hydrogen can be extracted from gasoline but it is a costly process. A variety of fuels can power a fuel cell. As soon as fossil fuels are used manufacturers run into the problem of pollutants once again, although emissions would be greatly reduced compared to gas-powered vehicles. Other deterrents include the lack of infrastructure such as fueling stations. Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler are working on fuel cell cars.
Fuel cells and electric cars will lead to a cleaner, quieter run on the roads. Several problems stated by manufacturers and media holds back this future:
- People are reluctant to change to alternate energy vehicles
- These vehicles are too expensive to buy or lease
- Manufacturers are losing money with each car built
- The support infrastructure is not present for refueling
- The cars are heavier and too slow (some top at 85-100 mph)
- Refueling, in the case of electrics can take too long (three hours or more)
- Some cars (GM, Nissan) use inductive charging systems while others (Honda, Ford, Toyota) use conductive—leading to a need for different charging stations
Although no one states these reasons it seems that lack of media attention, car manufacturer’s reluctance to advertise alternate energy vehichles, and the oil industry’s stranglehold on fuel may be what’s really holding back the advent of a cleaner car.
Ways to bring about the cleaner car:
- Inform people of government incentives and make information readily accessible
- Advertise energetically
- Vehicles may cost more initially but they save in fuel consumption
- Every mass-produced car started out as an expensive prototype
- Interested people can write or call dealerships & manufacturers
- Governments, manufacturers, communities and energy companies can make a concerted effort to build fueling stations
- All new vehicles should have compatible fueling ports/tanks
- Promote limited range electric cars as a good alternative for commuting and city driving
Imagine the old Pony Express—mail delivered by someone going from town to town, getting a fresh horse to move as fast as possible. Fueling stations for electric cars could supply fresh batteries, taking the used ones and recharging them for the next customer.
The future looks brighter with new energy efficient vehicles on the way. The big question is whether this race was started soon enough or will it be a case of too little too late?
- Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, www.ngvc.org
- Methanex (what is methanol) www.methanex.com
- U.S. Department of Energy, http://www.eere.energy.gov/
- American Hydrogen Association, www.clean-air.org
- Ballard Power Systems (description of the fuel cell) www.ballard.com
- Fuel Cells 2000 www.fuelcells.org
- California Fuel Cell Partnership http://www.drivingthefuture.org/index.html
- Car Stuff (electric car and alternate fuel cars) http://www.car-stuff.com/carlinks/future.htm