Note: This article is by Sheila Balu of Cornell University, the winner of Shear Comfort’s Automotive Scholarship for the Spring 2016 school semester.
With Greenland’s melting season starting two months early, and climate change damaging the northern Great Barrier Reef, the spotlight is certainly focused on the effects of pollution. At the Paris climate conference in the December of 2015, almost two hundred countries signed the first universal- and legally binding- global climate deal, an agreement entering into force in 2020.
With the goal to reduce peaking global emissions, I believe that the future of the automobile industry will include a much greater focus on improving vehicle fuel efficiency. It’s estimated that if every vehicle in the United States were a hybrid, half of which were plug-ins, American oil imports would fall by 80% of daily consumption- quite a substantial amount.
However, electric vehicles produce lower global warming emissions than even the most fuel-efficient hybrids. Cars such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf have become more and more popular, especially given that they improve air quality and reduce the usage of carbon in transport. Although a fifth of the energy put into an electric car is lost in heat, engineers are focusing on minimizing this loss and making these vehicles more efficient. Companies manufacturing rechargeable batteries will grow to become green tech giants.
Although electric vehicles do not burn gasoline or have tailpipe emissions, producing the energy used to charge them does generate emissions of various amounts. Either way, it’s undeniable that electric cars charged by renewable energy sources produce much less than diesel or other fossil fuel-driven vehicles. I think that to truly halt global warming, the industry will have to focus on wind and solar power to succeed.
Moreover, electric vehicles are cheaper, and therefore more accessible to the public in the long run. With the hundreds gallons of gasoline that are saved from burning, drivers can each save thousands of dollars in fuel costs. Over the life of the vehicle, buying such a car would definitely be an investment. In locations such as California, owners could save money on fueling costs without changing electricity plans, instead taking advantage of the rate plans offering low-cost electricity at night. They’re very practical: over 40% of American households could use battery-powered or plug-in electric vehicles, and 100% can use hybrid vehicles.
It’s estimated that the widespread adoption of electric trucks and cars could save 1.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2035. I’m not the only one who believes that green technology is the path to the future: the US Department of Energy has launched a $45.5 million program aiming to replace trucks with hybrids, Bright Automotive decided to replace fifty thousand trucks with plug-in hybrids, and Clean Power Technologies is testing the usage of heat waste from truck engines to generate steam.
Finally, I think that fuel cell vehicles could significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil, as well as lower harmful emissions. Since they run on hydrogen gas instead of gasoline, they produce no tailpipe emissions. There are a number of skeptics, however, and engineers certainly have a long way to go to make hydrogen-powered cars a practical reality. Still, they have significantly longer driving ranges and lower refueling times.
In the future, I hope to develop innovative, greener aeroplanes and help make them a more practical and accessible reality. The only way to reduce greenhouse gas buildup in our atmosphere is to cut emissions, and this includes airplanes as well as automobiles. Hybrid cars are already a common sight- why aren’t hybrid planes? From turboprop planes to solar-powered ones, green technology will pave the path to the future for years to come.