The rise of modern automotive transportation has had a profound environmental impact. Fortunately, green automotive technology is advancing rapidly, allowing us to make environmentally conscious decisions when purchasing a car, which could be extremely impactful. This post will provide a brief guide as to what makes a car green.
Generally, the most important two types of engines are the internal combustion engine and the electric engine.
Vehicles with combustion engines burn fuel – usually either gas or diesel – for propulsion. The burning of fuel releases carbon dioxide and other contaminates into the atmosphere.
The environmental impact of a car containing a combustion engine is best measured by the volume of admissions it produces per-distance travelled. This figure will typically be expressed in “miles per gallon” (MPG) or “kilometers per gallon”. Cars associated with a lower MPG will have a lower environmental impact. When buying a vehicle and assessing what your environmental impact will be over the life of the vehicle, it is very important to refer to the MPG associated with the vehicle.
Cars with electric engines are gaining in popularity. Electric cars contain batteries that must be charged regularly by being plugged in.
Technically, any car powered entirely by electricity will be zero MPG. However, the electricity used to charge electric cars comes from the electric grid. Ultimately the environmental impact of driving an electric car depends on the environmental impact of generating electricity in the specific locale in which the car is being charged. For example, driving an electric car charged using electricity generated by mostly renewable sources would have a lower impact than driving a car charged by electricity generated mostly by ‘dirty’ resources such as coal.
Interestingly, studies have shown that in certain geographic areas within Canada, it may actually be more ‘green’ to drive a traditional gas-powered car with low MPG than an electric car. This is the case in areas in which electric power is generated primarily by burning coal and other fossil fuels.
Often, people assume that electric cars are always green. However, this is not necessarily the case. The bottom line is that the responsible car buyer considering purchasing an electric vehicle must consider how the electricity in his or her locale is generated.