The past decade has seen car manufacturers pioneer the environmentally friendly car as an alternative to traditional petrol and diesel-fuelled machines in a bid to align with stringent directives for the promotion of energy-efficient vehicles. The exception to this is Toyota, who, ahead of the game by several years, unveiled their first gas-electric engine in 1997.
Despite there being a long way to go before entirely “green” road transport is a practical reality for everyone, significant inroads have been made in a comparatively short space of time. This indicates it would be surprising if the trend towards more sustainable travel was not to only continue, but be surpassed by the kind of car options we, as yet, can only dream of! In the same way that driving along a leafy lane in summer can be a joy to the human spirit, it will also prove an act of kindness to the planet if you do it in one of the environmentally friendly alternatives.
Hybrids, as the name suggests, are a combination. In this case, the mixture of electrical power alongside a traditional combustion engine, to both enhance efficiency and reduce pollution. Petrol or diesel fuels a smaller than standard (and therefore more energy efficient) engine, whilst rechargeable batteries power electric motors, with some also able to recharge via the engine itself. Currently the most popular alternative to the traditional motor is the hybrid; and although you may be supremely happy to drive a “normal” car, it may well be that within a relatively short time a green alternative will seem a viable option for everyone.
Jim, a self-confessed ‘hybrid car geek’ who lives in the Potters Bar explains: “Of course, electricity is generated by the burning of fossil fuels, and – as with most innovations – additional complexities can prove costlier to repair and more expensive up front. However, hybrids are a definite start!”
As well as being more energy efficient, hybrids tend to be significantly quieter than conventional vehicles. They often have the ability to partially charge whilst braking, with the added benefit of less wasted fuel during the stop-start nature of many daily commutes.
Perhaps the most well-known hybrid is the Toyota Prius. Having gained significant celebrity endorsement in the US, it is now seen as something of a badge of honour to drive this particular car in the States.
Electric cars are solely powered by rechargeable electric batteries. They require a power source for recharging, much in the same way as electric bikes do, and similarly have come on in leaps and bounds since the first modern prototypes. However, as with electric bikes, not all electric cars are made equal, and some will have less efficient batteries, along with significant recharging times, to save on initial purchase costs.
“Possibly, the main worry amongst drivers is that, at the end of the day, electric cars are just not up to the job,” says Maria, a still life artist in Rickmansworth. “However, many are now able to travel well over a hundred miles on one cost-effective charge (mine certainly does!), and have the capacity to be recharged from renewable energy sources. Along with zero emissions, they have the potential to not only be significantly Greener alternatives to traditional road vehicles, but with ever-more reassuringly reliable performance to boot. At 124 miles from one full 4-hour charge, my Nissan Leaf is considered to be one of the best electric cars currently available!”
Hydrogen-Powered and Solar-Powered Cars
Still effectively in developmental phase, hydrogen and solar powered vehicles are ones to watch. Hydrogen makes for clean emissions, in the form of water vapour, but technical challenges are unlikely to see widespread hydrogen-fuelled cars for many years. Solar powered vehicles, running on sunlight (via panels attached to the body) have the potential to offer the greatest benefits to the environment of all, and could be the future.