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Modern consumers are increasingly concerned with reducing their personal carbon footprint, and companies are seeing the benefits of being more environmentally friendly as well. One of the most impactful things people and companies can do in this regard is to limit their requirements for fossil fuels – and reduce their carbon emissions – by using environmentally friendly eco-cars.
Any vehicle that can achieve more fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions can be considered an eco-car. Here are a few of them.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) were the first eco-cars to be produced for the consumer market, and make up the majority of the eco-car market today. They employ an electric drivetrain system alongside a conventional internal combustion engine, and typically feature energy-saving and storage technologies such as regenerative braking to maximize their fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance.
Toyota was the first car manufacturer to bring HEVs to the consumer market with the Toyota Prius introduced to Japan in 1997, and then to the worldwide market. Since then, over 12 million HEVs have been sold and the Prius remains the best-selling HEV on the market.
Electric vehicles (EVs) rely solely on an electric motor and battery, and their share of the eco-car market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. This growth is fueled by technological advancements in batteries, with lithium-ion batteries decreasing in cost while improving in energy density, storage density, and lifespan every year.
Without an internal combustion engine, EVs create no tailpipe emissions and noise pollution is minimized. Other benefits from having no internal combustion engine include a greater power-to-weight ratio, which provides better acceleration performance for EVs than conventional vehicles.
All-electric eco-cars typically take power from dedicated plug-in stations, and various incentives exist in the US to build these privately and in public and work spaces.
Tesla has pioneered the renaissance of EVs since introducing the Tesla Roadster to the consumer market in 2008. Conventional manufacturers are following rapidly, with numerous models now on the market. The Nissan Leaf recently passed 400,000 sales, a global first for electric cars.
While representing a relatively small share of car sales worldwide currently (2% in 2016), EVs are expected to account for nearly a quarter of all new car sales by 2030.
Diesel and Biodiesel Cars
As well as HEVs and EVs, eco-cars include vehicles using conventional internal combustion engines that are equipped to use more environmentally friendly fuels than gasoline.
Diesel cars can be considered the first eco-car, with the Mercedes-Benz 260 D introduced to the mass market in 1936. By directly injecting fuel into the combustion chamber, diesel engines achieve the highest fuel efficiency of any combustion engine. Approximately half of new cars manufactured now use diesel engines, although their share of the market has seen a decrease in the US in recent years.
Biodiesel cars have internal combustion engines equipped or converted to use vegetable oil or animal fat-based fuels rather than fossil-fuels like oil-based petroleum. Conventional diesel engines can also use biodiesels, and many fuels on the market today contain a mixture of regular diesel-petroleum blends and biodiesel. Biodiesels have the advantage of being able to recycle otherwise wasted energy from oils, for example in the food industry. McDonald’s fast-food chain in the UK, for example, reuses the vegetable oil from its fryers to fuel its fleet of commercial vehicles.
Factors to Consider
While HEVs, EVs and alternative fuel cars are all more environmentally friendly than their gasoline-based counterparts in terms of fuel consumption and efficiency, there are a few other factors to consider for individuals and companies seeking to reduce their carbon footprint in the purchase of a new car.
The extra carbon cost of manufacturing new vehicles should be taken into account, and may not be offset by reduced emissions achieved by using less or cleaner fuel throughout the car’s life cycle. For this reason, some argue that a used gasoline or diesel car is a more environmentally friendly alternative to a new EV or HEV.
Finally, EVs still require energy to power them, and this is still predominantly produced by fossil-fuel burning plants supplying electricity to the grid. However, the practicality and adoption of renewable electricity generation is rapidly increasing, and will reduce the overall carbon emissions caused by EVs in the future.