Today’s cars mostly run on gasoline. And for close to a hundred years, we have been satisfied with just pumping our vehicles with gasoline and driving away. But over the recent years, we have been made aware about the problems of using gasoline to run our cars. First are its negative effects on the environment. There have been quite a number of studies that point to how cars are bad for the environment. Gasoline-powered cars degrade the air quality, and burning gasoline produces carbon dioxide, which is a major greenhouse gas and which, in turn, contributes to global warming and ozone depletion. It also increases the amounts of pollutants in the different bodies of water.
What’s more, gasoline prices are volatile, and have been known to spike. For instance, in 2008, the world saw what it was like to have to pay for expensive gasoline.
This is the reason why there is a great push for greener fuels that power your cars. We simply cannot live without our automobile friends, considering the great amount of convenience that they offer us. But we cannot continue using gasoline because it is gradually damaging our planet. As such, two alternative types of vehicles have presented the most potential: electric and hybrid.
The world certainly took notice of battery-only electric cars, which would greatly ease our dependence on gasoline and other petroleum products. The idea is to charge your car the way you would charge your cellphones. A single full charge would allow you to travel for 100 miles. What’s more, you get to save a lot of money as using a fully electric car is estimated to cut your operating costs down to a quarter of what you usually spend for a gasoline-powered vehicle.
Disadvantages of electric cars
Electric cars can be very expensive, though. A Mitsubishi i-MiEV would cost $42,000 if it were not for subsidies from the US government. Similarly, a Nissan Leaf would go for the same price range. Also, while a single charge might allow you to go for 100 miles, it does not really compare to the 300 miles per full tank of gasoline that you can get from your car. Source here.
Then there is also the issue of a considerable wait when charging. It would take you three and a half hours to fully charge a Tesla Roadster battery. But for that to happen, you would need to have the recharging station that would allow you to pump 220 volts at 70 amps. Using a normal outlet at home would take you far longer. A standard home outlet with 220 volts and 16 amps would mean charging times of more than 15 hours. Imagine if you have to work with 110 volts!
Lastly, one may argue that with electric cars, you are simply transferring the source of pollution from your car to your power plants. You would still be using petrochemicals at power plants to generate the electricity you need to power your cars, so it is not really a more environmentally friendly option to gasoline powered cars.
So if an internal combustion engine produces too much pollution and electric cars may not perform as well as gasoline powered ones, you might want to take what’s good in one and combine it with what’s good in the other. And this is where hybrid electric vehicles come in.
Hybrid cars have both the internal combustion engine of a gas powered car and the electric car’s battery-run motors. So what you get is a little bit of both, but double the fuel economy and half the emissions. You can enjoy a pollution-free ride for a while using an electric car and then switch to gasoline as a fuel when your charge runs out. If you run out of gas, you can fill up at your favorite gasoline station in just seconds, rather than the hours you need to wait to charge your electric car battery.
The advantages of hybrid cars are the following:
- Fuel efficient, of course. Compared to traditional gasoline-powered cars, hybrid cars consume a lot less gasoline!
- Harmful emissions are significantly lower too, compared to gas powered cars.
- Take advantage of regenerative braking. A regenerative break changes kinetic energy into another form, you can then use this energy for something else. Older types of brakes tend to waste the kinetic energy by turning it into heat, which is then wasted as it dissipates.
- You can use an engine that would be optimal for average loads instead of peak loads. This means that you would not be dealing with extra weight for power that you might never get to use.
- You can also lower your reliance on fossil fuels. This is because hybrid vehicles can run on alternative fuels.
- Even with the electric car components added in, you still have a light car because of the lighter materials used.
With all of these benefits, you might think that there would be some trade-offs. For instance, it could perform poorly, or may not be reliable enough. Or it could be less safe. Or it could very expensive.
This is not the case with hybrid cars. Hybrid car manufacturers know that safety, cost and performance are important to consumers.
Hybrid cars have the same range as older gas powered cars, unlike electric cars that have shorter ranges. You can also get more mileage out of hybrid cars than other types of cars. Also, while hybrid cars might be more costly than gas powered cars, you will be able to make up for the higher price tag with the savings you get from gas. You could also avail of government incentives to help you cover for the added costs.
Just take a look at the two types of hybrid cars that are available today.
Parallel hybrids have a direct connection between the wheels and the engines, much like a traditional car. However, it also features an electric motor that can drive the wheels. In a parallel hybrid car, you can run on your internal combustion engine and the electric motor would provide more power when you are accelerating. The benefits of this kind of set up is very evident, you get more power because you get it from both the electric motor and your engine. Plus, most parallel hybrids no longer need a separate charging mechanism because the motor gets power from the engine and regenerates your batteries.
On the other hand, series configuration hybrid cars make use of several energy conversions to power your car. It uses the engine to produce electricity for your battery and the motor. So your car produces chemical energy, which it converts to mechanical energy and then to electrical energy and then finally mechanical energy to power your wheels. Series hybrid cars are beneficial because:
- Your engine is never idle. This way you have significantly lower emissions.
- You basically have a generator to help you run your car at a level that is optimal.
- You may not need a transmission with some series hybrids.
Series hybrid configurations are perfect for vehicles that make a lot of stops, such as delivery trucks and public buses.
What is the future for cars?
It may seem that the future is going to be filled with hybrid cars, looking at things as they currently stand. But the truth is nobody is really sure. Electric cars can really bring down your emissions and help you become more environmentally aware. In the future, better batteries can come along where charging time is greatly reduced. Not only will the charging time be very low, but these batteries will also be very powerful. So much so that you do not have to rely on a heavy array of batteries to power your vehicles.
Until such a time, it would seem that hybrid cars might dominate the market for greener automobiles. These cars are able to give you the environmental benefits of electric vehicles while keeping up the same performance as traditional gasoline powered cars.
What is for sure now is that we must move away from the pollutants that gasoline gives out, thereby protecting our planet from both greenhouse gases and global warming. We need to lessen our reliance on resources that we do not control. And fossil fuels are getting scarcer and scarcer, so there may come a time that we might not have any choice other than saving on gasoline, and relying on electricity.
In the meantime, we do not know what developments are going to come out. For all we know, we might never get to see better batteries for electric cars that has an acceptable charging time and can perform at par with gasoline powered cars. Hybrid cars are currently on top, and they seem to have a captured market. Electric cars may have found a niche with short distance city drivers and enthusiasts, while gas powered cars have become more and more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.
Photos courtesy of motorblog, CityofStPete and Toyota Material Handling EU.