Digging a Little Deeper Into the Hybrid Car Revolution
Motoring is often targeted as one of the biggest culprits to climate change due to their greenhouse gas emissions, so it stands to reason by becoming greener in the choice of car we drive, we can benefit the environment. However, unlike buying other eco-friendly products, such as an energy saving kettle or organic latex mattresses, making a green decision when it comes to a buying a new car is a complicated one.
Over the last decade, the hybrid car, such as the Toyota Prius, has become an icon of green motoring. In the US alone, Toyota have sold over a million hybrids in the last ten years, and other manufactures such as Honda and even GM have released hybrid models to sate the growing appetite for this perceived greener form of motoring. However, are these hybrid vehicles really as green as their manufacturers would have us believe?
Hybrid cars are those that use both a conventional gasoline engine combined with a battery-powered motor. Unlike fully-fledged electric vehicles that require regular recharging, which is highly time consuming, hybrid cars utilize the braking energy of a car and turn it into electricity to recharge their onboard batteries. This enables the hybrid car to run solely on battery power when in traffic, eliminating exhaust emissions, and then use the gasoline engine when running at speed. This hybrid approach allows cars such as the Prius to achieve fuel economy well passed the 60mpg range.
This sounds all well and good, especially when you consider the amount of fuel wasted by conventional cars when they are sat idling in traffic. Because hybrids have the ability to switch off their gasoline engines when the car is not going anywhere, no fuel is being wasted. However, when you consider the manufacturing process of hybrid cars, their green credentials start to look a little shaky.
Hybrid cars are complicated technology. The amount of energy required to produce a hybrid car is far greater than that needed to make a conventional gasoline powered vehicle. Often the components are sourced from all over the world, and this production causes further environmental problems.
The batteries used to power the electric motor produce sulfur dioxide, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Furthermore, while most hybrid cars don’t use lead batteries, which are extremely hazardous to the environment, their batteries still have an environmental impact. Hybrid cars use either a nickel metal hydride, or a lithium ion battery system. Nickel-based batteries are known carcinogens and while lithium batteries, preferred by most hybrid manufacturers, are much kinder to people’s health, they still cause problems when it comes to their disposal.
Of course, because over the life of the car, a hybrid produces up to 30% less CO2 than a gasoline vehicle, manufacturers would argue the impact of the car’s production is far outweighed by their economy. However, this can actually depend on how it is driven.
Other Environmental Issues
While there is no argument that hybrids use far less fuel around town than gasoline cars, if the owner does a lot of highway driving, the fuel saving can be negligible. Because the additional batteries of a hybrid car weigh so much, when it comes to highway driving, hybrids are no more economical than standard gasoline models, and in some cases even less fuel-efficient.
Another environmental problem is the longevity of these cars. Due to the complexity of their design, and the fact that the batteries have a limited lifespan, hybrid cars don’t tend to last as long as conventional gasoline vehicles. Because of the energy used in the manufacture of any car, it makes sense that the longer it is used for, the better it is for the environment, so if you can get several more years of motoring from a gasoline car than a hybrid, it may prove the greener solution over its lifetime.
Hybrid cars can be a green choice for somebody looking for a new car, but it does depend on how and where they are driven. For those that travel long distances on the highway, a conventional gasoline vehicle may be the better solution, and sticking with your old car and its poorer fuel economy, could in the long run, actually be even kinder to the environment than buying a new, green hybrid.