We all have to drive and many of us must drive quite a bit. Urban sprawl and suburban development have insured miles upon miles of roads ready for commuters and miscellaneous traveling. The improvement of manufacturing and relative decrease in price has enabled many people to own personal cars. The overwhelming number of cars (812 cars per capita (1,000 people) in the United States) understandably leads to road congestion and pollution.
As early as 1997, hybrid vehicles have been available for purchase all over the world. Hybrids run on both gasoline and electricity, meaning they have higher gas mileages (40.4 mpg) and reduce gasoline use. Hybrids were the only relatively sustainable transportation option available for personal ownership for many years.
Even more recently, fully electric vehicles have appeared on the market. Since they do not have internal combustion engines, they do not contribute to air pollution and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. No tailpipes means no emissions of volatile organic compounds, particulates, hydrocarbons, ozone, lead, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. Avoiding gasoline entirely reduces weekly fuel costs and perhaps lessen dependence on foreign oil, especially in the United States.
Electric cars have ranges of about 100 miles per charge, depending on the battery. Conventional gasoline engines use only 15% of the energy content and diesel engines can reach efficiencies of 20%, while electric vehicles have efficiencies around 80%. Electric motors are more efficient at converting stored energy into driving, and they do not consume energy while at rest or coasting. Regenerative braking captures as much as 1/5 of the energy that is usually lost when braking.
Electric cars are even popular at the federal level, where President Obama has pledged to bring one million electric vehicles to highways by 2015. He also developed a 2.4 billion dollar grant to develop batteries for electric cars and this combined with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has led to loans enabling automakers to retrofit their plants to make fuel efficient and electric vehicles. U.S. citizens are eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7500 when purchasing an electric car.
Electric cars very well could be the way of the future. Rising fuel costs have helped prompt manufacturers to improve and develop new technology and the more cars purchased and used. So the next time you consider your transportation choices, think electric.
For more information, visit the Department of Energy.
By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013.