Clean vehicles now! —Part 2: New developments

Clean vehicles now! —Part 2: New developments

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl, President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

One pleasant surprise from smoggy California’s effort to curb auto emissions was the introduction of hybrid electric vehicles. The Toyota Prius, introduced in 1997, was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle in the marketplace. Worldwide sales of the Prius hybrid sedan have topped 120,000 vehicles; they dominate the hybrid market. By 2005, Toyota expects to be selling 300,000 hybrids a year.

General Motors has announced plans to offer hybrid power trucks in its GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado pickups for commercial fleet owners in 2003 and retail markets the next year. If sales materialize, they hope to sell as many as 1 million hybrid vehicles of various models by 2007.

In addition to light truck and auto sales, General Motors recently contracted to sell the Army as many as 30,000 hybrid trucks by 2005 and 80,000 fuel cell-powered trucks by 2013.

Electric and hybrid electric vehicles got an unexpected boost when California kept the zero emission mandate that in effect requires that 2 percent of all new vehicles sold in the state are battery-powered electric.

Southern California Edison reports that their fleet of Toyota RAV4 EVs have traveled more than 100,000 miles on the original nickel metal hydride battery packs. The Electric Power Research Institute reports that improved battery life, reduced battery costs, and reduced cost for electrical components make hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric and some battery electric vehicles cost competitive with gasoline vehicles. A report from MIT indicates that improving gasoline and diesel engines and the expanded use of hybrids to improve mileage can cut greenhouse gases substantially by 2020.

Another alternative is renewable fuels from plant material or biomass. A combination of biomass fuels and hybrid electric vehicles could replace more than 60 percent of our current oil consumption. General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler make cars, trucks, vans and SUVs that have flexible fuel systemsthat allow drivers to use gasoline or a fuel based on 85 percent ethanol. Ethanol is made from corn; improvements in its processing have dramatically lowered the energy required to produce it. Check your owner’s manual and determine if you already own a flexible fuel vehicle.

Soy diesel is available as a blend for use in a wide range of diesel power vehicles and lawn equipment. Soy oil is available as an engine lubricant. Riverview FS in Winnebago provides soy diesel fuel and lubricants.

While ethanol and soy fuels are available now, other plants, including switchgrass, sugar beets, Miscanthus, and industrial hemp, could provide even more useable energy per unit of energy used in producing them.

With global oil production expected to peak in 2010, time is running out to make an orderly transition to renewable energy fuels. Additionally, the long-standing need to develop a more balanced transportation system is ever more urgent. While technological changes are essential, behavioral changes are needed to achieve a sustainable energy system.

Editor’s note: An E85 station in Rockford is Sandy 66 at 4545 Sandy Hollow Rd.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!