An Overview of the Green Car Revolution

by : Mike Bartley

For the past years, the global community has been troubled with the threat of the greenhouse effect. While this phenomenon is of no threat to the planet, increased production of greenhouse gases has led to what is now called global warming. The abundance of greenhouse gas produced by the different industries has also increased the warming effect of the greenhouse phenomenon.

One of the most blamed sectors is the auto industry because of the sheer number of vehicles on our roads today. The increasing awareness about the threat of global warming has led car manufacturers to develop and produce environment friendly cars known simply as green cars. While these cars are designed to burn less fossil fuels, one should not only look at its environment friendliness in this way. One should also consider the entire lifetime of these vehicles to find out which vehicles are really "green".

The first thing that should be considered in assessing the "greenness" of a vehicle is the matter by which it is produced. To put things in simple ways, consider the Toyota Prius and the Ford F-150. Just by looking at these vehicles, one would definitely point out that the Prius is the more environment friendly vehicle of the two. This is true in the sense that the Prius is a hybrid vehicle and therefore consumes less petroleum fuel. On the other hand, the bigger F-150, of course, needs more power to drive it therefore more fuel needs to be burned.

But in the manufacturing process, this assumption that the Toyota Prius is greener than the Ford F-150 pickup can be proven to be false.

The Toyota Prius is a hybrid car which means that it is powered by a small internal combustion engine and an electric motor. This electric motor needs a highly efficient battery pack to draw power from. The battery pack used in the Prius is a nickel-metal hydride kind and the nickel used in the manufacturing of these batteries comes from a mining plant located in Ontario, Canada. The mining plant produces harmful sulfur dioxide fumes which harm the environment. In fact, the surrounding landscape now resembles the barren surface of the moon and NASA astronauts are using the place as a testing ground for moon buggies. This shows that while the end product may have a positive impact on the environment, the production is quite another horrid story.

On the other hand, the Ford F-150 is known to be a gas-guzzler. Because of its size, the vehicle needs a bigger engine which consumes more petroleum fuel. This amount fuel being burned means that the vehicle also produces more greenhouse gas than the Prius. But in terms of production, the factory that produces the F-150 is considered as one of the most environment friendly assembly facility. Ford's River Rouge, Michigan assembly plant has a "living roof". This roof is estimated to cover 10 acres and is covered with Sedum plant. These plants have water absorbing qualities which Ford takes advantage of. The Sedums filter rainfall and converts carbon dioxide to oxygen. Aside from this, the facility also harnesses solar energy by using solar panels.

The solar energy helps provide energy to the plant as well as hot water. Additionally, the assembly plant is surrounded by over 100,000 flowering plants and shrubs and hundreds of trees. This shows that while the end result for the F-150 may be a gas-guzzling vehicle, the manufacturing facility where it is made is environment friendly.

After the production of the vehicle, the "greenness" of these vehicles is measured by their gas mileage rating. This means the number of miles that a vehicle can cover on a given amount of fuel. In this sense, hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius are more environment friendly than larger vehicles such as the Ford F-150 even if these trucks are fitted with aftermarket parts such as the cold air intake systems. The number of green vehicles on our roads is increasing and is not only confined to using hybrid technology.

Green vehicles also include flex-fuel vehicles. These vehicles are designed to run not only on gasoline but on a combination of gasoline and alternative fuel such as bio-ethanol. For diesel engines, biodiesel is offered as a more environment friendly alternative. Another technology being developed by car manufacturers is the fuel cell technology. This technology aims to use hydrogen as fuel. The abundance of hydrogen and the absence of greenhouse gas emissions are reasons why this alternative is the most promising green car technology as of today.

After the use of the vehicle, one should look at the way these vehicles are disposed of. No matter how clean the production and operation of a car is, it is not environment friendly if the car is disposed of indiscriminately. That is why car manufacturers are implementing recycling programs for used cars. These recycling programs ensure that the used cars will not cause harm to the environment.

For instance, the cooling agents use in a vehicle's air conditioning unit should be taken care of properly and not be released in the atmosphere. Some car manufacturers reported that they are recycling metals to be used on new vehicles. Plastics used on automobiles poses a tougher problem since these are known to be of complex structure. Nevertheless, car companies are looking for ways to make plastic wastes useful.