A Greener Future with Alternative Fuels
With today’s engine designs, computerized fuel injection systems, and catalytic converters we have made huge reductions in vehicle emissions output. These systems are doing a very good job of converting carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon (unburned gasoline) and oxides of nitrogen to carbon dioxide (CO2). After all, we were always taught that the product of complete combustion is CO2. We exhale CO2 and plants use it for photosynthesis. How harmful can it be? Unfortunately, it is becoming consensus with the world’s science community that it is most likely contributing to global warming. With the strides we have made in harmful emissions reduction, we must now reduce the carbon output of today’s vehicles to address the challenge.
With the strides we have made in harmful emissions reduction, we must now reduce the carbon output of today’s vehicles to address the challenge. At Burt Automotive we offer eight different hybrid vehicles to fleet and retail customers from the Toyota Prius to the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid truck along with flex fuel vehicles to help confront this issue.
Regulation of traditional emissions has improved the air quality of our metro areas. For the most part these emissions did not affect rural areas to the same degree. Greenhouse gasses such as CO2 can affect not only the United States but also the whole planet by changing weather patterns. Winters are becoming shorter. Artic permafrost is melting and releasing methane gas from its once frozen soil. The greenhouse effect of methane is 23 times more potent than CO2. Many scientists believe that if the global temperature increased 3 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit then runaway climate change could occur and there will be nothing we can do about it.
A typical four-cylinder car engine can output around 350 grams per mile in CO2 emissions. A hybrid version of that same vehicle will output around 160 grams per mile. Now in contrast, a V8 engine can output more than 800 grams per mile of CO2. There is a direct relationship between the amount of fuel that goes in an engine and the amount of CO2 that comes out the exhaust. It requires less fuel consumption to reduce the CO2.
Global warming is on the minds of many. Although there are many causes, the cars and trucks Americans drive create about 20% of the greenhouse gas CO2 we emit into the atmosphere.
We still need to get to work, run our errands and deliver our goods. That means our automobiles need to be more efficient in the way they take an energy source and convert it to moving the vehicle. There has been a lot of media on hydrogen technology that uses no carbon. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of barriers to its use as a fuel, namely manufacturing it efficiently, the infrastructure to dispense it and the fuel cell that would utilize it. Right now, we have mainstream technologies that would allow us to use less fuel, which in turn would generate less CO2. We also have alternative types of fuel that are more carbon neutral.
Hybrid vehicle technologies have emerged as the dominate alternative to the average automobile. They utilize a combustion engine and electric motor(s). This combination allows the vehicle to use less fuel, which in turn reduces the carbon footprint. Various forms of hybrid technology have been around for many years but were used in train engines and submarines. Bringing this to the automobile required a lot of engineering. The hard components were relatively simple. It was the computer orchestration of combining the gasoline engine, electric motor/generator operation while monitoring the high voltage battery temperatures and state of charge that was complex. Regenerative braking was added to the picture as well. This allowed the lost kinetic energy to be captured and used to charge the high voltage battery. Not to mention, all of this must occur in a way that the driver of the vehicle is not affected by what is going on between the engine and electric motor. With the increase in efficiency, a hybrid vehicle can reduce fuel consumption up to 33%. This also equates to a direct decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by about the same percentage.
There are generally two forms of hybrid vehicles. There is the type that uses an electric motor to assist the gasoline engine. The electric motor is usually affixed to the back of the engine and will assist under acceleration. It usually gets its best fuel economy at highway speeds and requires the gasoline engine to run all the time. The second major type has an electric drive motor that moves the vehicle along with the gasoline engine. The vehicle will usually start off in electric mode utilizing the high torque of an electric motor to launch the vehicle. The gasoline engine turns on after the vehicle starts rolling and the car is propelled by the electric motor and gasoline engine at the same time. This type of hybrid vehicle will usually get its best fuel economy in the city. This is because the electric motor is used to move the vehicle mass from a stop. This is usually where most of the fuel economy is lost. Both technologies are more expensive to manufacture but save in fuel costs. Many taxi fleets are converting to hybrid vehicles namely the Ford Escape and Toyota Prius. They are reporting fuel savings that are helping the bottom line.
Reducing our CO2 output will need to be a priority for all of us if we are to make a difference and prevent major irreversible climate change. One major component of these hybrid systems is the battery pack. This component has room for the most improvement. Relatively efficient now, many manufacturers are working on improving its chemistry for greater robustness. Most hybrids currently use nickel metal hydride battery modules. This technology was developed during the days of the all-electric vehicle. At that time, all manufacturers were mandated by the State of California to have 2% of their fleet that was sold to be zero emission vehicles. The problem was they were extremely expensive to make and the battery pack could weigh 1,000 pounds or more. By miniaturizing this technology, they were able to downsize to less than 200 pounds They are efficient enough to allow a hybrid to get better fuel economy and have a very good life cycle. However, they cannot store as much energy as a lithium ion battery which was known for thermo overrun and short life span. As technology has advanced, this battery is becoming refined to the point where it can be installed in hybrid vehicles and used in conjunction with the electrical grid. Many manufactures are working on this technology known as Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).
PHEV’s are in their infancy. General Motors is planning to produce the Chevrolet Volt by the end of 2010. Toyota has said they will come out with their PHEV Prius for fleet use in 2010 as well. There are several manufacturers producing aftermarket lithium ion battery packs for the Toyota Prius. One such manufacturer is A123 Systems which produces the Hymotion battery pack. This pack utilizes the advanced A123 battery cells that have low thermo overrun characteristics and good life expectancy. This added battery pack allows the Prius to achieve over 100 miles per gallon in city driving. It must be charged for 5 hours at a cost of about 50 to 70 cents depending on the electricity rate. Burt Automotive performs installations of the Hymotion battery pack into Toyota Prius vehicles and has had good success with it. With the Hymotion conversion, CO2 output is reduced by 60 percent of a stock Prius. These new technologies also have promise to further lessen our nation’s gasoline usage.
From hybrid, plug in hybrid, E85, and hydrogen, America’s fleet of the future will utilize multiple technologies to meet our transportation needs. Another way to reduce our carbon footprint is to use E85 - a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. However, you must have a flex-fuel vehicle that is designed to use E85. Flex fuel vehicles can use straight gasoline or E85. Currently there is controversy around using corn as the feedstock for ethanol production, including raising corn prices to inefficient production methods. New emerging technologies will allow for the use of corn stocks, switch grass and even wood chips to be converted to ethanol. These approaches show promise because non-food, but are in early stages of production. Ethanol has the potential to be more carbon neutral because as the plants used in ethanol grow, they consume carbon dioxide and as the ethanol is consumed by combustion, it produces carbon dioxide. It also produces less carbon monoxide during engine combustion because of the higher oxygen content over gasoline. One drawback to flex fuel vehicles using E85 as a fuel is a slight reduction in engine power and fuel economy because of ethanol’s lower BTU content. Engines that are designed from the ground up for the exclusive use of E85 would be much more efficient but not
Hybrid technology has been refined to the point where it is very reliable and allows for improvement in fuel economy and reduced carbon emissions. Emerging technologies will allow vehicles to plug into the electrical grid to charge batteries for increased fuel mileage and reduce carbon dioxide output. Ethanol has the potential to be produced in the United States and be utilized as a motor fuel reducing our reliance on foreign sources while reducing our carbon footprint. Not one technology will be the answer.
Scott Rill is the technical service manager for Burt Toyota. He manages technical repairs performed by twenty-three service and five lube technicians. He is certified by Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and is a Toyota Master Diagnostic Technician. Scott is a two time Toyota Master Technician Skills Contest national finalist. Contact Mr. Rill at firstname.lastname@example.org.