Today’s consumer looking for a sustainable transportation option has several choices from hybrid-electric, to plug-in hybrid vehicles, to fuel cell vehicles, to mass transit – primarily to save gas. Some of the benefits of sustainable transportation are reduced reliance on petroleum, jobs created by green technologies, and reduction of greenhouse gases.
Gasoline-powered vehicles produce an average of 87 pounds/39 kg of greenhouse gases during a 100 mile/161 km trip, PHEVs produce only 62 pounds/28 kg and EVs only 54 pounds/24 kg. Technologies like fuel cell vehicles produce zero emissions at the tail-pipe. Newer forms of green transportation are typically much more expensive than gasoline powered forms of transportation and that is due in large part to high development costs and low production volumes of new technologies. By shifting consumption of fossil fuels upstream to power plants that burn fossil fuels, the definition of green becomes a little cloudy.
EV – Electric Vehicle
Electric vehicles run entirely on batteries that are recharged overnight or at public charging stations. General Motor’s Chevrolet Volt is the first all-electric production vehicle since the EV1 was introduced in 1996. The Volt has a battery pack similar to a PHEV and also has a small gasoline powered generator that provides electricity to the batteries once the charge is depleted, after 35 miles of driving. The Volt’s MSRP is US $41,000/CAD $41,545 however has a lower net cost after applying tax credits while the Nissan Leaf, the next closest competitor has a MSRP of US$35,250/CAD $38,395. J.D. Power and Associates estimates GM could sell 60,000 Chevy Volts per year if the price was US $30,000 or less.
- Extended range – Volt 300 miles/482 km with gasoline generator, 35 miles/56 km electric, Nissan Leaf 73 miles/117 km
- Fuel Economy EPA – Volt 93 mpg/2.5 L/100km all-electric | 37 mpg/6.4 L/100km gas only | Combined 60 mpg/3.9 L/100km. Nissan Leaf 99 mpg/2.4 L/100km
- Overnight Recharging Discounted Rate Offered by Some Utilities
- Limited All-Electric Range of 35 Miles/56km at average recharge cost of 80 cents
- High cost put EVs out of Reach of Many Consumers
- Fossil Fuels used to Produce “Plug-in” Electricity
PHEV – Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles
The primary attraction to PHEV’s is that they combine the advantages of both HEV and EV vehicles. By using cheap locally produced electricity for commuting and short trips, fuel consumption and CO2 pollution are greatly reduced. PEVs also allow greater driving ranges with the use of a small gasoline or diesel engine. PHEV vehicles typically have a conventional internal combustion engine and an electric motor which uses energy from batteries. Because of larger battery arrays, PHEV’s have a range of between 10 and 40 miles/16 and 64 km in “all-electric mode” which is ideal for many commuters. A typical overnight recharge assuming 10 cents per Kwh would cost approximately 50 cents. The Toyota Prius has a 5.5 Kwh lithium-ion battery and each kilowatt hour of battery capacity will displace 50 US gallons/42 Imperial gallons of petroleum based fuels each year.
- Fuel Economy EPA of up to 100 mpg/2.4 L/100 km
- All-electric range of up to 40 miles/64km
- Overnight Recharging Discounted Rate Offered by Some Utilities
- Reduced CO2 emissions
- Fossil Fuels Used to Produce “Plug-in” Electricity
- Cost and Disposal of Lithium-ion Batteries
- Cost – Estimated cost of Toyota Prius PHEV is US $32,000/CAD$27,800
- Not all Utilities Offer Discounted Overnight Recharge Rates
HEV – Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Hybrid-electric vehicles combine the benefits of both gasoline engines and electric motors to yield increased power and improved fuel economy. Modern compact HEVs are 40% efficient at converting fuel into power compared to 20% for gasoline fueled compact vehicles. Some advanced technologies used in hybrid vehicles include:
Regenerative Braking – The electric motor in an HEV is used to slow the wheels down and in doing so energy is captured that would have been lost via conventional braking. This captured energy is used to turn the electric motor which functions as a generator producing electricity which is ultimately stored in a battery.
Electric Motor Drive/Assist - When additional power is needed like during acceleration, hill climbing, or passing, the electric motor is engaged. In some vehicles during low-speed driving, the electric motor is used since it is more efficient than an internal combustion engine.
Automatic Start/Shutoff – To prevent wasting energy during idling, the engine is automatically shut-off when the vehicle stops and is restarted when the driver presses the accelerator.
Cumulative global sales of HEVs total over 3 Million vehicles with Toyota’s Prius accounting for 2.3 Million of total units sold. The convenience of the hybrid platform and an EPA estimate of 51MPG/4.6 L/100km Hwy|48 MPG/4.9 L/100km City making HEVs very popular with consumers as they improve gas mileage. Pike Research forecasts worldwide demand for HEVs to reach 8.7 Million by 2017.
- HEV’s produce up to 90% less toxic emissions than comparably sized gasoline powered vehicles.
- Fuel Economy EPA of up to 51MPG/4.6 L/100km
- Fewer moving parts to wear out
- Cost – HEV’s typically cost US $6000 more than gasoline fueled vehicles.
- Life of Lithium-ion battery
- Short Range on Electric-Only Mode
- Environmental Impact of Battery Disposal
Fuel Cell Vehicles
A fuel cell uses hydrogen stored in a tank and oxygen from the air to produce electricity that is used to power an electric motor. Most fuel cells produce less than 1.6 volts so stacks of cells are arranged to produce the required electricity. Modern fuel cell powered vehicles like the Honda FCX Clarity are 60% efficient in turning hydrogen fuel into power versus 20% for a compact gasoline fueled vehicle. Due to high research and development costs it is estimated that each FCX Clarity is worth tens of millions of dollars however, as production increases costs will continue to come down. Ford, Toyota, and Daimler have committed to bringing fuel cell vehicles to the mass market in 2015 with estimated price tags of around $50,000.
- Emits water as only byproduct
- Fuel Economy – 60 Miles/kg of Hydrogen
- Few Moving Parts Means Less Maintenance
- Lack of Hydrogen Fuel Infrastructure
- Limited Range – Up to 250 Miles
- Cost – Honda FCX Clarity Lease $650/month, Mercedes B-Class Lease $849/month
- Lack of Availability – 200 Honda FCX Claritys over next 3 years in Southern California Only
- Fuel Cell Durability – Currently Fuel Cells need replacing after approximately 75,000 miles
Honda has operated an experimental Home Energy Station in Torrance, California, since 2003. The Home Energy Station, which generates hydrogen from natural gas, is designed to provide heat and electricity for the home through fuel cell cogeneration and to supply fuel for a hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicle. (Source: American Honda Motor Co. Inc.)
LPG – Liquified Propane Gas
LPG is used for a variety of uses including cooking and heating as well as a fuel for vehicles. LPG is more commonly used in fleet vehicles however, it is becoming more popular in non-commercial applications with more than 11 million vehicles worldwide. LPG is typically installed as a conversion at a certified installer and requires the installation of a storage tank, and other components and costs about $3000 to $4000.
- Propane is better for environment as it contains 50% less lead and sulphur than conventional fuels.
- Vehicles driven more than 25,000 km per year can save by converting to propane from regular gasoline.
- Propane runs more efficiently at low speeds and in cold temperatures.
- A U. S. Environmental Protection Agency study determined that a properly tuned propane engine produces 30% to 90% less carbon dioxide than a properly tuned gasoline engine.
- Fossil Fuel
- Fuel Economy Approximately 20% Less than Gasoline
SVO – Straight Vegetable Oil Conversion
SVO can only be used in diesel engines and requires a special tank outfitted with a preheater to prevent damage to engine components. Fuel consumption and engine power for SVO is roughly equal to gasoline which makes SVO an attractive alternative fuel. Most restaurants have to pay to have waste vegetable oil hauled away so it is possible to obtain used oil for free. The oil does need to be filtered and stored in sufficient quantities to make it a viable option. Oil can also be purchased from a local processor that collects used oil from restaurants however it can be difficult locating one that will sell processed waste oil to the public.
Advantages of SVO include:
- Vegetable Oil is Inexpensive
- VSO is nontoxic and biodegradable
- Requires less energy to produce than petroleum based fuels
- CO2-neutral and free from sulfur and other pollutants
- Can Only be Used in Diesel Engines
- Low Quality Oil can Damage Engine
- Ethical Issue of Using Food Crop for Transportation Needs
SVO Conversion kits are available for purchase however will need to be installed by a knowledgeable mechanic.
Electric Hybrid Bikes
Motorized bikes or “pedelecs” , combine a small electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery with good old fashioned pedal power. The range of the electric motor is from 20 to 50 miles/32 to 80 km depending on the terrain while speeds range from 20 to 25 mph/32 to 40 kph. The low top speed allows the pedelec in many areas to avoid vehicle license and insurance costs making it extremely inexpensive to operate. A typical recharge of the 10.5 pound battery costs about 10 cents.
A motorized bike makes most sense for short trips to a neighborhood store to pick up a few items. By eliminating one four mile trip per week you can reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 1200 pounds or 544 kg per year.
- Range – 20-50 Miles/32 to 80 km
- Inexpensive to Operate – 10 cents per charge
- Inexpensive Conversion Kits available for $399
- Cost – Izip Express Electric Bike Retails for $3,499
- Not Practical for Most Commuters
- Safety Concerns
Ethanol & E85
Flex Fuel vehicles can run on gasoline or a mixture of up to 85% ethanol. According to a recent article in Forbes, on an equivalent energy basis, the cost of corn feedstock for corn-based ethanol is $3.80 per gallon which brings into question the viability of ethanol as a long-term fuel option. This is especially true since production and transportation costs are not included. Another issue with corn-based ethanol production is the shifting of agricultural production of crops such as barley, oats, and cotton to corn and the subsequent price inflation of those crops.
- Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Not a Viable Long-Term Solution
- Large Subsidies Required to Keep Prices Competitive with Gasoline
- Farms Switching to Corn Production from Barley, Oats, and Cotton
Mass Transit is large-scale public transportation typically comprising of buses, subways, trains, ferries, and elevated trains.
- Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions – one person can reduce carbon emissions by 4800 pounds per year
- Helps to Ease Traffic Congestion
- Individuals that use Mass Transit can save $7,000 in Canada CUTA /$9,964 Annually US – APTA 9/2011
- HOV Lanes Cut Commute Time
- Large Capital Outlay of Taxpayer Dollars
- Fixed Routes
As production levels increase, prices for green vehicles will continue to fall. Ultimately Government tax incentives and consumer choice will determine the long-term viability of current sustainable transportation technologies.
Please leave a comment, we would love to hear your thoughts on sustainable transportation options.
Author: Paul Vachon is Founder of The Frugal Toad, a personal finance blog providing money saving tips for everyday living.