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Jack Taylor
Jack Taylor

Going Green: How Tomorrow's Cars Will Be Kinder to the Environment


Creative Commons License Photo credit: lammersch

The car industry is currently undergoing a green revolution, with a number of exciting new technologies vying to challenge the predominance of petrol and diesel and put an end to the internal combustion engine’s negative effects on the environment.

For many years now, private cars have been a favourite target of environmental campaigners, mainly due to the harmful emissions that all internal-combustion engines release into the atmosphere. Their effect was illustrated starkly several times in the 1970s when ‘car-mad’ cities like Los Angeles and London were frequently shrouded in a thick, polluting smog. Car manufacturers have been working on improving their products’ environmental credentials for quite some time now. The most significant developments of the last quarter of a century include the rollout of unleaded fuel, as well as the mandatory fitment of catalytic converters, which remove many of the most harmful elements of vehicle exhaust fumes, to all new cars. But as the 21st century dawned, talk of diminishing oil supplies and the ongoing threat of global warming has incentivised both carmakers and governments to accelerate development of the technologies that will one day take over completely from those in the cars for sale today, which remain dependent on fossil fuels.

Hybrid cars, as the name suggests, represent a half-way house between traditional petrol- and diesel-engined models and the next generation of electrically propelled vehicles. Essentially, a hybrid car is one that combines an internal-combustion engine with an electric motor, powered by large batteries, to provide propulsion. There are two distinct forms of hybrid drivetrain: parallel and series. In a parallel hybrid, both the combustion engine and electric motor are connected to the transmission. Both engines are capable of powering the car, either at the same time or separately. In a series hybrid, only the electric motor is connected to the transmission, and it is solely responsible for propulsion. The combustion engine is connected to a generator to recharge the electric motor’s batteries; it is not responsible for any motion. There are already a number of hybrid cars for sale right now from various manufacturers, with the most popular and recognisable being Toyota’s Prius, now in its third generation. Japanese rival Honda has recently launched its second-generation Insight hybrid, and Toyota’s upmarket brand Lexus offers hybrid versions of its luxury SUVs and executive saloons. These are all parallel hybrids, but General Motors in the US is currently developing the Chevrolet Volt, which should be among the first series hybrid cars to go on sale to the general public.

In the longer term, however, it is likely that hybrids, which still require some fossil fuel, will be superseded by exclusively electric-powered cars. Many governments worldwide are undertaking initiatives to get electric cars for sale to the public as soon as possible. Indeed, a Norwegian minister has proposed banning the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars from 2015! The main obstacle to the growth of electric cars is the fact that their batteries need to be recharged with mains electricity, but seeing as they cannot yet store enough energy for long-distance travel, extensive recharging infrastructure will have to be put in place before the use of electric cars becomes widespread. This is something governments will have to make happen, while the manufacturers concentrate on prolonging the life of batteries and improving their recharging speed. Governments will also have to ensure that their national power grids produce electricity using environmentally friendly resources such as water, wind or the sun.

But electric cars won’t have the roads of the future all to themselves. A rival technology has emerged in the shape of hydrogen fuel cells, arguably the most groundbreaking method of alternative propulsion currently being developed. A hydrogen-powered car has a fuel tank that is filled with hydrogen in the same way a petrol-engined car’s tank is filled with petrol. The hydrogen reacts with oxygen inside the engine to produce electricity and water, which in turn power the car’s electric motor. The Honda FCX Clarity is probably the most widely known hydrogen fuel-cell-powered car, as it has been on limited trial sale in the United States and Japan since late last year. It’s powered by a 134hp, 57-litre hydrogen fuel-cell stack, and also uses a 288-volt lithium-ion battery. On a full tank of hydrogen, the Clarity can travel up to 280 miles, and, most importantly, the only waste product it produces is water. As with electric vehicles, the growth of hydrogen-fuelled cars is dependent on a network of suitable refuelling points being rolled out.

With development of all these innovative technologies currently proceeding at breakneck pace, it looks likely that it won’t be too long before none of the cars for sale on dealers’ forecourts have internal-combustion engines under the bonnet, something which will make a massive difference to the impact humans currently have on the planet’s environment.

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Hopefully the pace of these technological, green innovations will keep up. This would mean that transport possibilities will become less harmful to the environment compared to nowadays. Public transport is in most occasions still a lot more environmentally friendly compared to personal cars, but cars still maintain the biggest part of daily transport. Therefore it is very good that this way of transport is being made more environmentally friendly.

For more information on green innovations, have a look at this Green Journal.

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It's strange. I think half the problem with greener motor vehicle being adopted is that guys just love their big fast cars. Before I stumbled onto this post I came across a site called "Electric Cars are for Girls" or something similar. That kinda summed up the attitude many people have. A bit silly really....

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I hope Hydrogen cars become the dominant force in the future of automobiles as they seem to be the energy efficient and clean. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a waste product of water and can go hundreds of kilometres, and each year there are advances in the technology . The University of Waterloo prides itself on developing clean technologies, and the University of Waterloo Alternatives Fuel Team is even competing in an EcoCAR challenge. The team are building their own hydrogen fuel cell vehicle! If bright young minds are capable of creating a fuel cell vehicle, the same can be done on a larger scale, by global car companies. More can be found out about the competition at www.greengarageblog.org, and the ongoing progress of our hydrogen vehicle www.uwaft.com!

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I’m really glad people are “going greenâ€. Sometimes, it comes across as going a bit overboard, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Sure, maybe the earth can handle more toxins and things, but I’m all for fixing things up and treating earth better. I’m glad people are thinking about future generations!

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