to switch from a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle to a fuel-saving
two-seater may seem like a stretch, but anything's possible in an age
of rising gasoline prices and concerns about our climate's stability.
Look at the Ford Motor Company. It dropped out of a coalition that opposed
increasing technology efficiency to avoid climate change. The auto maker
then vowed it would voluntarily improve the efficiency of the Ford Escape,
its next light truck model, by 25%.
for Transportation Analysis (CTA) in the Energy Division is actively
involved in an effort to persuade more consumers to buy and drive "green"
cars and trucks, which use less fuel per mile and emit less carbon dioxide.
In 2000 CTA and the University of Tennessee held a Green Vehicle Workshop
involving representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), DOE, state and federal agencies, environmental groups, U.S. auto
makers, and oil companies. As a result of the workshop, UT and ORNL
are forming an industry-government coalition to promote green vehicles
through an advertising campaign. In addition, UT and ORNL will work
with EPA to develop a rating system that shows which cars emit the most
carbon dioxide and pollutants and which ones discharge the least.
"We will expand
our efforts with UT to promote green vehicles, such as electric and
hybrid vehicles," says David Greene, a CTA researcher based at the National
Transportation Research Center and lead author of the transportation
chapter for an upcoming report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change. Greene concedes the goal will not be easy to achieve.
"Hybrid cars are
remarkable technical achievements," he says. "They work well and improve
fuel economy a lot. The problem is that the Toyota Prius looks like
a Toyota Echo but it costs $5000 more. That extra $5000 won't be covered
by fuel savings over the lifetime of this hybrid car in the United States,
but it would be in Tokyo. The Honda Insight costs $18,000, which is
awfully expensive for a two-seater."
hybrid vehicles have been mass produced since December 1997. (Photo
by Warren Gretz. Courtesy of DOE/NREL.)
But, he notes,
many people are willing to pay more to drive a car. "The value to most
people of owning and driving a car exceeds the price," Greene says.
"For example, Europeans are driving more cars even though their fuel
price is four times the U.S. cost of gas."
The hope is that
more Americans will buy expensive green cars because they value technologies
that help protect the environment and preserve fuel supplies for future
flexible-fuel Ford Taurus can run on fuel that is 15% gasoline
and 85% alcohol (methanol or ethanol). (Photo by Ford Motor Company.
Courtesy of DOE/NREL.)
"Paul Leiby of
ORNL and I are studying the alternative fuel market," Greene says. "We
are evaluating how well existing technologies are doingsuch as
ethanol, methanol, LPG, compressed natural gas, battery electric, and
hybrid cars. These cars are mostly owned by government agencies and
big corporations, which are required by the Alternative Motor Fuels
Act to operate large fleets of cars that use alternative fuels. For
example, ORNL has an ethanol fleet. Our analysis indicates that even
with the private alternative-fuel fleets and government subsidies to
support refueling stations, the market for alternative-fuel cars and
new technologies such as hybrid cars is not going to take off.
green truck is part of the ORNL fleet that operates on ethanol
fuel. (Photo by Curtis Boles)
"The costs of
the car and fuel are too high. Most rational persons will not pay more
than $3000 to have a car that is twice as efficient as what they have
now. Hybrid cars must be made much cheaper. But it is possible with
advanced technology to bring this cost down."
Greene cites the
NECAR, the fuel-cell car designed by Mercedes and now being produced
and marketed by Daimler Chrysler. "In five years," he says, "the cost
of the NECAR came down to one-tenth its original price."
Because diesel cars are
40% more efficient than gasoline cars, Greene sees a good future for
diesel cars in the United States if they are sold here by several auto
makers. "Diesel cars have improved," says Greene, "The newer ones accelerate
better than the older cars, and they don't smell and rattle anymore.
They do emit nitrogen oxides and particulates, so diesel cars will have
advanced catalytic converters to remove these air pollutants. To keep
the catalysts from being poisoned, the new cars will use diesel fuel
that has much lower levels of sulfur."
If the diesel
car becomes an affordable green car, many more Americans may be willing
to spend their greenbacks on it.
Center for Transportation Analysis (CTA)