Today's Green Vehicle Options
There are so many reasons to go green when you are considering your next vehicle – and doing your part for the environment is just one of them. Obviously, reducing or completely eliminating your tailpipe emissions helps you do your part reduce our impact on climate change; we want to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren to live in.
But, with fuel prices rising more and more every day, going green also makes a lot of financial sense. Choosing a more fuel-efficient vehicle than you drive now could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars – an effect that’s multiplied as gas prices rise. Going hybrid intensifies that effect. Going plug-in hybrid could mean that your daily commute would require no gasoline at all. And going full-electric eliminates your fuel bills altogether – replacing them with a much smaller line on your electricity bill.
Whatever path you choose, GreenCars is here to help. Here is a quick rundown on what options you can consider.
If you are in the market for a new vehicle, and looking to cut your fuel costs, there are a number of technologies to look out for that help improve efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint – even without going hybrid or electric. Manufacturers, regardless of what kind of vehicles they make, have to meet corporate average fuel economy standards laid out by the EPA – and new gasoline vehicles are getting more efficient all the time.
Modern vehicles equipped with technologies such as dual-clutch transmissions, automatic stop-start systems, mild hybrid electrical systems, and low-rolling resistance tires can often deliver significant fuel savings compared to vehicles without. Even if you’re just switching into the latest version of the car you’re currently driving, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much more efficient it is.
Hybrid vehicles come in many different configurations, but almost all use an integrated motor/generator to recuperate normally-wasted energy under braking, storing it as electricity in a battery. The battery can then power an electric motor that can be used to drive the vehicle short distances under electric power, and supplement the gasoline engine to reduce fuel consumption.
Hybrid vehicles still carry around a gasoline engine and its associated support systems, like a fuel system, exhaust, and transmission. On the plus side, having this other drivetrain on-board means you can drive on gasoline when the battery’s charge is depleted, making both types of hybrid cars convenient on long journeys, or in areas where charging is hard to find. On the other hand, this extra machinery increases complexity and weight – it also doesn’t reduce maintenance costs, and there are many driving situations where you’re still producing greenhouse gases.
Plug-in hybrids operate on the same basic principles as hybrids, with two significant differences.
First, you can plug them in! Plug-in hybrids have a larger battery than the typical hybrid vehicle, and you can charge them overnight at home, or when you’re out and about at public chargers, which you’ll find at many grocery stores, shopping malls, and other public places.
Second, because you can plug them in – and because they have a much bigger battery than regular hybrids – you can drive a plug-in hybrid vehicle on electric power a lot further than you could a regular hybrid. Indeed, many plug-in hybrids have enough electric range for you to do a lot of your daily commuting without using your gasoline engine. For example, while a regular Toyota Prius can barely go a mile on pure electric power, the plug-in Prius Prime offers 25 miles of EPA-estimated electric range – enough to do a lot of errand-running. Some vehicles, like the latest plug-in hybrid Range Rover, offer up to 60 miles of electric range according to the EPA.
Pure battery-electric vehicles – or “BEVs” – get rid of the gasoline drivetrain completely and focus purely on electric power, with much more powerful electric motors and much larger batteries. By going full electric, you end up with a significantly less complex car with reduced maintenance costs and zero emissions. Depending on the model, range can be anywhere from about 112 miles (EPA estimate) for the small Mini Electric to over 500 miles (also estimated) for the Lucid Air luxury sedan.
The upsides of going full electric include smooth, quiet running, stunning acceleration, and zero tailpipe emissions. Downsides include substantially more weight than gasoline or hybrid vehicles, and in some cases, less range than you might get in a comparable gas car. That’s not so much of an issue if you can install a home charger in your garage – but if you do a lot of long trips, the infrastructure to fast-charge EVs isn’t extensive in certain parts of the country.
The closer you are to a city center, the more it makes sense to go fully electric – and the further away you get, the more you should consider a plug-in hybrid, or even a conventional hybrid.
Fuel Cell Electric
A fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV for short) is an electric vehicle, it’s just an electric vehicle without a plug. There’s no big battery to recharge – you simply fill a tank with hydrogen, which takes about five minutes.
With an FCEV like the Toyota Mirai, the fuel is non-toxic, compressed hydrogen gas rather than liquid gasoline. The gas is held under pressure, and then fed to a fuel cell system, which combines the stored hydrogen with oxygen from the air. A chemical reaction produces electric current – and water, which drops out of a vent pipe underneath the car.
Fuel cells are a scalable technology – they can be made small enough to power a phone, or large enough to power a building, or anything in between. Electricity generated by the fuel cell and the regenerative braking system is stored in a lithium-ion battery. The advantage of a fuel cell drivetrain compared to a battery-electric drivetrain is that the battery can be much smaller, which means the vehicle can overall be much lighter and more efficient.
More Green Cars to Come
The most exciting thing about the green car revolution is that the technology is evolving so quickly – and there’s still more to come. While electric, and electrified, vehicles with batteries are currently dominating the conversation, vehicle manufacturers are exploring many other options as well.
For instance, Toyota, the global leader in hybrids, is investing in two different kinds of hydrogen technology alongside its plans to introduce dozens of electric and hybrid models over the next few years. The company believes that different technologies provide different benefits to different types of drivers. On the one hand, it is introducing fuel cell electric vehicles that use hydrogen to power up a fuel cell that drives an electric motor – already available in the Mirai in limited release. On the other hand, it is also developing hydrogen combustion engines, which could be adapted from existing motors – more effective for longer distances and larger vehicles.
Why hydrogen? It can be produced from bio-resources or renewable electricity via electrolysis, so production can be clean and environmentally friendly. Plus, refueling a hydrogen-powered vehicle can be accomplished in a similar amount of time to refueling a gas vehicle – one of the current stumbling blocks of battery-powered electric car.
E-fuels – synthetic fuels produced with renewable energy – are another interesting technology to watch. Even with increasing adoption of electric technology over the coming years, the vast majority of vehicles on the road will be powered by combustion engines; replacing those hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road will take decades.
Porsche and its partners have been investing in the development of e-fuels that allow combustion engines to be operated in an almost CO2-neutral manner. For example, the company has invested in the the Haru Oni project in Chile, which produces virtually carbon-neutral fuel using low-cost wind power. In the first step, electrolysers split water into oxygen and green hydrogen using wind power. CO2 is then filtered from the air and combined with the green hydrogen to produce synthetic methanol, which in turn is converted into e-fuel.
These are interesting times in the green car space – and it’s only going to get more interesting. Stay tuned to our site for the latest news!