Gas prices have many of us looking at investing in alternative fueled vehicles. Before you buy your next car, take a look at greener vehicles soon available in our country.
- Honda first introduced gas-electric hybrids in 1999 with the Insight, which claimed 70 mpg and the title of most fuel-efficient car on the market. Toyota Prius came in second at 50 mpg, but quickly sold more units, as the Prius is a midsized car and still on the market. Currently there are many hybrids on the market, but few can touch the Prius in fuel economy. Aftermarket improvements on the Prius include an updated battery pack that will give the hybrid up to 100 mpg by allowing it to be plugged into an electric outlet. The drawback on this plug in kit is that it voids Toyota warranties, is expensive and requires installation by a trained mechanic.
- Purely electric cars were introduced in 1950s with the Henney Kilowatt. Low gas prices kept sales slow until General Motors upgraded the design to the EV-01. Although very popular and pricey, GM pulled the EV-01 off the market and destroyed its entire inventory, causing many to speculate on GM’s motives. Nissan seems to have picked up where GM left off with the introduction of the EV-02 Cube in 2012. Nissan’s electric car will have a range of more than 100 miles between overnight charges. This is accomplished by improving battery technology by making batteries flat, and more compact, rather than cylindrical cells. This improvement solves the main problem with electric cars, which historically had only a 30-mile range. New electric cars are being designed that may act as storage units for the electrical grid system. They feed electricity back to the grid during times of peak demand, like when their owners are sitting in air-conditioned offices during midday heat.
- Solar cars would be electric vehicles directly powered by solar panels attached to the car. So far, solar engineers have yet to overcome the pitfalls of collecting enough solar energy to power a car for great distances at highway speeds and overcoming the weight of the solar panels and battery systems. These shortcomings may be solved by inventive racers in the World Solar Challenge and the North American Solar Challenge, sponsored by the United States Department of Energy. Some automakers have small-scale electric cars that can be plugged into solar arrays to recharge. Most of these cars are not street legal yet. It is a short time before plug in electric vehicles can be charged by solar or wind-powered generators creating the cleanest and greenest vehicles on the market.
- Compressed air engines are emissions-free piston engines invented by Frenchman Guy Negre in the 1990s. This car uses pressurized air through a conventional fuel injection system to power the vehicle for a range of 100 miles carrying four or five passengers. The only exhaust is cold air, which could be recirculated as air conditioning. A tank of air would cost about $3, and take about three minutes at a service station. The downside is finding a service station with the equipment to compress air to the required density. These cars are not scheduled for release in our country, but are expected to be available in the next few years in Europe and Central America.
- Water-powered cars are just an urban legend at this point with each example turning out to be either a hydrogen-fueled car or a fraud. A kit can be purchased online for less than $50 that claims to improve fuel efficiency of gasoline-powered engines by injecting water into the mix, but that claim has yet to be proven scientifically. The only water-powered car that has been on the American market was actually a steam-powered car called the Stanley Steamer in 1906.
- Hydrogen-powered cars are mainly electric cars powered by an onboard fuel cell that generates electricity through a hydrogen/oxygen reaction. The benefits are no carbon emissions, since the fuel cell only emits heat and water. Ford has already manufactured a fleet of fuel celled Focus, proving that fuel cell vehicles can be mass-produced. However, there is still the problem of hydrogen infrastructure and the lack of refilling stations and lightweight hydrogen storage. Fuel cell cars are also exorbitantly expensive, putting them out of the price range of the average consumer at well over $50,000.
- Compressed Natural Gas cars use mainly methane (byproduct of landfills) to fuel normal combustion engines instead of gasoline. Combustion of methane produces the least amount of carbon emissions of all fossil fuels. Most gasoline cars can be retrofitted to become bifuel running on natural gas as well as regular gasoline. There are already an estimated 5 million CNG vehicles running worldwide, including cars like Honda Civics and GM released a multifuel vehicle in Brazil that runs on CNG, ethanol and regular gas. The same motor was used in the Chevy Astra by the taxi industry. Drawbacks include finding refueling stations and getting major automakers to release these cars to American markets.