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Will 2012 be the year of the ‘green’ car?

Posted by British Gas in Electric Vehicles

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As Kermit once remarked, ‘It isn’t easy being green.’ Being environmentally friendly isn’t new – activist groups such as Green Peace have been around for several decades – but for a long time it was seen as a concern firstly of ‘hippies’ and then later a young person’s issue. But those young people have grown up and are still concerned, our planets natural resources are dwindling, and being ‘green’ is no longer the concern of individuals but corporations and governments as well.

While many people may not be actively environmentally friendly in the more traditional sense, it’s probably fair to say that everyone is more environmentally conscious and seek ways that allow them to enjoy their lifestyle while attempting to minimise their environmental impact.

One industry that has come under particular attack for its effect on the environment is the car industry, most notably for the obvious way in which it ‘encourages’ us to literally burn fossil fuels and has industrial processes that require vast amounts of resources. However it is an industry that is fighting back with a number of innovations, and green cars have become more popular over the past few years, most notably the Toyota Prius. All new technologies reach a critical mass, whereby the technology is no longer in the hands of the few but becomes the standard of society, and that could happen with ‘green’ cars in 2012.

Below are listed several environmental technologies available in cars right now. While it might be too early to declare one particular green technology the winner, it could be socially unacceptable to be without at least one of these in any car you buy in 2012.

The electric motor

The electric motor is not a new technology, as it has been available on milk floats and golf buggies for decades, but has always lacked the power and longevity required of common use. New battery technology and improved motors have helped but the range is still severely limited when compared with a conventional engine. Recharge times can also take hours as fast recharge points are scarce.

Hybrid engine

Arguably the most famous of the environmental technologies available in a car, a hybrid engine is a combination of an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine. A hybrid uses the conventional engine to charge the electric motor and to also provide extra power when required. Hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius and Toyota Insight are becoming more popular on UK roads. Plus, cars with electric motors produce such low emissions that they tend to be in bands A or B for car tax, so they cost you less money.

Efficient engines

You don’t have to buy a car with an electric motor to pay zero road tax though. Almost all car manufacturers have one model in their range with a conventional fossil-burning engine of such efficiency that they produce less than 100g/km of CO2. There are hybrid engines that produce more carbon!

Hydrogen fuel

Hydrogen has the potential to completely change the automotive industry and the way we power our cars as it is a completely clean and renewable energy source. While electric motors may not produce any harmful gases themselves, they require mains electricity, which is harmful to the environment at the moment, and the production of the batteries is also harmful. Hydrogen is far more limited in its damage, especially once a hydrogen processing plant is built so it can run on hydrogen itself.

The only problem is the storing and moving of it in liquid form is dangerous, but with Toyota having opened a hydrogen fuel station in the UK in September 2011, that may not be an issue for much longer.

Minor technologies

Even without the investment of a major engine change, there are several innovations that can be added to a car to make it more efficient: Start/stop systems will turn the engine off if the car is stationary for more than a few seconds – at traffic lights, for example – and turn it on again quickly when you press the accelerator. Some cars also have a piece of kit to help charge the battery when braking (which produces wasted heat energy) or when coasting – useful in a hybrid car.

A lot of new cars also have a gear shift indicator. This is simply a light on the dashboard that illuminates when it is time to change up a gear. The reason being that many people don’t change gear early enough and don’t realise that many modern cars be driven with much lower rev’s than usual – a petrol car can be kept under 2000rpm and a diesel 2500rpm.

So don’t worry Kermit, being green is getting easier.

This article was written by Rob Powell from Confused.com, the car insurance comparison website.

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