Every time you turn your keys in the ignition, are you helping or hurting the environment? It’s this type of lofty question that has encouraged drivers around the world to consider green vehicle alternatives, intended to reduce carbon footprints by limiting the amount of emissions and pollutants that cars produce.
An eco-friendly car comes in a number of fuel types, which may depend on where you live in the world.
If you’re new to green driving, consider some of these intriguing facts about eco-friendly vehicles before you set foot behind the wheel:
Hybrid cars produce up to 90% less pollutants compared to non-hybrid vehicles.
Eco-friendly cars are now designed to be as spacious as any other non-green vehicle.
3% off uk & usa drivers
Roughly 3% of drivers in the US and UK drive environmentally friendly vehicles.
Most major auto manufacturers have already launched or plan to launch hybrid car models in the near future.
Green car engines can reach the same speeds as regular car engines.
Eco-friendly cars offer a tax rebate or credit of up to $7500, depending on eligibility.
Hybrid cars have lower depreciation rates compared to gasoline-powered vehicles.
Many eco-cars are less expensive than gas-powered cars.
While it’s true that eco-friendly cars, like hybrids, were once preferred by “bleeding hearts” dedicated to the cause of saving the environment, green vehicles have since become more mainstream. The main reason is the fact that green cars can benefit both the environment and your wallet at the same time.
Green cars are fuel‑efficient and can cushion the blow against skyrocketing gas prices
If you’re wondering what types of eco-friendly cars are available, you can check out the different categories below before making a big buy:
Types of Eco-Friendly Cars
The first hybrid car on the market in the US was the Toyota Prius in 1998. However, hybrid technology, where a car uses two sources of power, can be traced back more than a century. Well-known engineer Ferdinand Porsche built the first hybrid vehicle in 1899.
The car used gasoline fuel to power an electric motor that operated the front wheels. At that time, over 300 hybrid cars were produced – although the masses quickly lost interest, and sales declined. Gas-powered cars soon took over the marketplace when Henry Ford introduced the first auto manufacturing assembly line in the early 1900s.
Today, hybrids are back and better than ever, often called Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs).
Modern hybrid cars present an eco-friendly solution since they run with either a diesel or gasoline engine and an electric drive used in city traffic.
Hybrid cars are well-known for their efficient engines, battery operation in traffic, lightweight manufacturing materials, automatic stop/start engine, regenerative braking, and compact lithium batteries.
Regenerative braking is a hybrid technology that uses resistance from:
An electric motor on the drivetrain,
to slow down the wheels.
The energy from the wheels will return to the motor,
which generates this normally wasted energy into electricity.
Electricity will be stored in the car battery until it is used by the motor.
Automatic start/shut off
A hybrid also runs with a unique automatic start/shut off feature that will automatically shut off the engine when the vehicle stops and restart it when it accelerates. This completely eliminates energy wasted when a car idles at a stoplight or in traffic.
A hybrid car at a glance:
Runs with an internal combustion engine and electric motor.
Powered with gasoline and an internal backup battery.
Fuels with traditional gasoline; no plug-in necessary as battery recharges while driving and braking.
Low emissions rating
Up to 550 miles per tank.
Plug-in hybrids are also available, running on rechargeable internal batteries with gas as a backup fuel source. A plug-in hybrid will run with an electric motor and internal combustion engine, using rechargeable battery power to operate.
“Refueling” involves plugging the car into an outlet and filling up the tank at a gas station for backup fuel. A plug-in hybrid also has a low emissions rating and will require up to 12 hours to charge at home. Depending on the make and model, a typical plug-in hybrid could get up to 379 miles per tank.
Popular brands and models include:
The history of the electric car dates as far back as 1839. Robert Anderson of Aberdeen, Scotland, was said to have built the first electric vehicle. The car was further developed in 1870 by Sir David Salomon with a lighter electric motor and heavy battery, making driving range limited with a slow driving speed.
By the time the 1970s rolled around, General Motors poured more than $20 million into the development and research of electric vehicles. They planned to mass-produce electric cars by the mid-1980s. As mentioned above, the Toyota Prius was first introduced as a hybrid electric car in the late 1990s, two years after its commercial launch in Japan. Exclusively electric cars were manufactured at the close of the 90s from Ford, GM, Honda, and Toyota.
An electric vehicle (EV) is distinct since it is powered by an electric motor with a rechargeable battery pack.
Electric cars are known to be remarkably energy efficient.
Since they can convert an average of 60% electric energy from the grid into driving power, compared to roughly 20% fuel conversion in a traditional gas-powered vehicle.
An electric car:
Won’t emit pollution from the tailpipe since electricity is used as a primary fuel source.
Quiet, smooth performance with a surprisingly strong acceleration power.
Car can drive for anywhere from 100 to 200 miles before a recharge is needed, compared to 300 miles per tank for most gas-powered vehicles.
An electric car at a glance:
Powered with an electric motor, using rechargeable internal batteries
Plugs into a charging dock or wall outlet for recharging.
Could take up to 8 hours to recharge or as little as 30 minutes using a charging dock.
Releases zero emissions.
Large batteries take up engine space and may be expensive to replace.
Popular electric car brands and models include:
Toyota RAV4 EV
Tesla Model S
Honda Fit EV
Ford Focus Electric
Cheapest Electric Cars
Mitsubishi offers one of the cheapest electric cars on the market for close to $30,000 for the subcompact i-MiEV. Luxury electric car models like the Tesla Model S may cost double the price.
Biodiesel is a type of diesel fuel made from recycled restaurant grease, vegetable oil, or animal fat. It was first introduced in the US as a fuel source by Chrysler in 2005.5 The Jeep Liberty CRD was powered with 5% biodiesel blends, promoting biodiesel as a useful diesel fuel additive. Since that time, biodiesel remains popular as an alternative fuel source to curb rising gasoline prices.
Biodiesel is considered biodegradable, safe, and less harmful to the environment than petroleum-based diesel.
A car that is powered with biodiesel will make use of these renewable fuel sources to run its engine and cut down its carbon footprint. Though biodiesel is most popularly made from restaurant grease and vegetable oil, it can also be created from corn, soybeans, and algae.
100% biodiesel fuel can be used to power a car’s engine. Biodiesel fuel can also be combined with standard petroleum diesel to create a fuel blend. Clearly, biodiesel represents a popular green fuel option since resources like animal fats and vegetable oil are readily available. On top of that, biodiesel drivers don’t have to rely on foreign oil companies to set ever-fluctuating gas prices.
Despite its advantages, biodiesel fuel continues to slowly make its way into the mainstream marketplace. More concentrated biodiesel blends must still be approved by car manufacturers; to date, blends above B5 (5% biodiesel, 95% petrodiesel) have not yet been permitted in the manufacturing process.
Some car manufacturers continue to drag their heels since further research needs to be done to determine how high biodiesel concentrations, like B100, will impact an engine’s durability.
Nonetheless, biodiesel engines using blends like B20 have been proven to perform just as well as traditional diesel engines when it comes to horsepower, fuel consumption, and torque. Biodiesel also offers higher lubricity and diesel fuel engine value compared to standard diesel fuel. While average mpg will vary, a biodiesel vehicle could offer up to 42 miles per gallon on the highway in a compact car.
A biodiesel car at a glance:
Domestically produced fuel from renewable resources.
Compatible with most diesel car engines, especially newer models.
Produces significantly fewer air pollutants.
Releases less greenhouse gas emissions.
Non-toxic and biodegradable.
Popular biodiesel brands and models include:
Compressed Natural Gas
Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a beneficial, widely available, clean fuel source, used to generate electricity, heat homes, and manufacture products. Nonetheless, compressed natural gas still continues to struggle for a foothold in the motor vehicle industry.
Compressed natural gas began to gain attention as a cheap, eco-friendly fuel source in the 1960s and 1970s. However, even throughout the 1990s, car manufacturers remained slow to introduce compressed natural gas vehicles to the market due to concerns about both customer interest and profitability.
Today, traditional cars outnumber natural gas vehicles on the road over 1000 to 1.
120 Month Average Retail Price Chart
Higher ignition rate
Yet natural gas can still be used to fuel passenger cars, industrial trucks, city buses, and commercial vehicles. Compressed natural gas is beneficial because it contains less carbon than other fossil fuels used for transportation. It also has a reduced risk of flammability with a higher ignition rate compared to traditional gasoline.
Oddly enough, customers still haven’t caught on to the trend of driving compressed natural gas vehicles. The only commercially available car on the market using this fuel source is the Honda Civic Natural Gas, which continues to climb in popularity. Ford also offers a natural gas prep package for certain vehicle models.
US drivers have the convenient opportunity to convert their existing car into a natural gas vehicle. The initial conversion could cost thousands upfront, and a compressor will be needed to fuel with CNG at home. Public transportation vehicles have followed suit by converting to CNG over the past few decades, with up to 15% of public buses running on either LNG or CNG.
A compressed natural gas car at a glance:
Powered by natural gas compressed to less than 1% of its volume.
Cleaner burning fuel alternative to fossil fuels.
May get fewer miles to the gallon compared to conventional gasoline.
Produces up to 90% less smog emissions and up to 40% less greenhouse gas emissions.
Popular CNG brands and models include:
Honda Civic Natural Gas
With Clean Energy
The Honda Civic Natural Gas is priced at $26,000 with specialty offers to promote Clean Energy, like a $3000 CNG fuel card, although offers are subject to change. The use of CNG remains most popular in states like California and New York, though popularity may soon spread as customers take advantage of federal vehicle tax credits and incentives for purchasing CNG vehicles or converting a gas-powered car.
The use of hydrogen as a fuel source can be traced back as far as 1806. A Swiss inventor named Francois Isaac de Rivaz designed the first internal combustion engine that ran on both hydrogen and oxygen. It wasn’t until 1870 that gasoline was used to power internal combustion engines.
Today, a number of vehicle manufacturers are exploring the possibility of using hydrogen as a fuel source. Hydrogen, or H2, can be used in passenger vehicles to power both internal combustion engines and electric motors.
Hydrogen is considered eco-friendly because it can help to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
Hydrogen powered cars are advantageous, because:
Fuel is produced domestically.
No air pollutants.
No greenhouse effect.
Produce only nitrogen oxide as an emission.
Hydrogen as a fuel source is a possibility thanks to the advanced technology of the fuel cell.
This device converts hydrogen into electricity, releasing only water and heat as byproducts. This type of non-polluting fuel source has caught the eye of both bigwig car manufacturers and government officials alike. Hydrogen cars are attractive in their fuel-efficiency, although several challenges must be overcome before they can be mass produced for the consumer marketplace.
A hydrogen powered car at a glance:
May be costly since they are expensive to produce.
Have limited availability, with manufacturers mostly found in California.
Fuel cell cars are still too expensive for consumers to afford.
Have limited range compared to gas powered cars.
Popular Hydrogen brands and models include:
Hyundai IX35 Fuel Cell SUV
Produces Water as Exhaust
The good news is that hydrogen powered cars are finally being introduced for mass production in South Korea. The first car available on the market will be the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell SUV that only produces water as exhaust.
While customers are excited at the prospect of driving such an advanced, eco-friendly vehicle, it will still be several years before the SUV hits the market. Hyundai has plans to begin consumer production after 2015; each car is estimated to cost roughly $50,000.-
Ethanol is an alcohol-based alternative fuel made through a distillation and fermentation process using plant crops, like corn. Ethanol is yet another fuel source that is attractive for US drivers since it can help to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.
Since the US remains the largest worldwide producer of corn, it only makes sense that this domestic crop would be turned into an alternative fuel.
Ethanol production increased dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s. By the turn-of-the-century, national ethanol production reached 3.6 billion gallons,
although it wasn’t until 2006 that ethanol blend E85 was classified by the US Department of Energy as an alternative fuel source.
95% of the gas supply in America contains at least 6% ethanol.
Ethanol has the same alcohol makeup as that of an alcoholic beverage. It can also function as an effective fuel alternative to traditional gasoline. Ethanol as fuel is blended with gasoline in concentrations ranging from 5% to 10%. However, higher concentrations of ethanol fuel are in demand to power flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) and reduce harmful environmental pollutants.
Improve gas mileage 4%
The common ethanol blend E10, otherwise known as gasohol, is made up of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline sold throughout the US. Most car manufacturers now permit the use of ethanol blends of 10% or less in all gas-powered vehicles. A vehicle powered with this type of ethanol blend could improve gas mileage by up to 4% compared to traditional gasoline.
However, a higher ethanol blend of 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline is used to power FFVs, called E85. Vehicles that can run with E85 may display an identification sticker on the fuel tank to confirm compatibility.
An ethanol powered vehicle at a glance:
Cheaper than gasoline in many areas, like the Midwest.
More than 2000 filling stations that sell E85 in the US.
E85 has not been proven to boost vehicle performance.
E85 has a lower fuel energy content that may cause FFVs to lose up to 30% mpg.
Produces significantly lower emissions.
Popular ethanol brands and models include:
Dodge Caravan E85
Chrysler Sebring E85
Ford F150 E85
Chevrolet Silverado E85
Chevrolet Impala E85
Because of limited availability in the market, finding E85 vehicles may be difficult at best. An older ethanol powered car like a 2008 Chevy Impala E85 may cost $22,000 on average.
What’s Next for Green Cars
As consumers look to cut costs on gasoline and other vehicle related expenses, downsizing appears to be the way of the future.
Vehicle manufacturers are looking for more lightweight production methods to cut down on fuel costs, in addition to introducing green vehicles in their lineup.
This new form of tech-forward manufacturing may involve lighter production materials, more efficient vehicle assembly, and even the use of miniaturized electric motors to make cars more fuel-efficient.
Popular manufacturers like Nissan are joining the hybrid market.
Nissan plans to introduce a minimum of four hybrid vehicles in their US showrooms over the next four years in what they are calling their “era of electrification.” By the year 2025, Nissan expects more than half of the auto industry’s sales to come from cars with some type of electric power source. The first available hybrid vehicle by Nissan to tantalize consumers is the Pathfinder Hybrid in 2014.
Other top car manufacturers are looking for ways to make even the highest performance vehicles eco-friendly, with anticipated models like:
Featuring high-tech fuel-management equipment.
Combines diesel power and hybrid technology.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Available with diesel power.
Hybrid engine to eliminate waste while idling.
Automatically reduces cylinders as a fuel saving feature.
Some of the most innovative eco-friendly vehicles set to
hit the market break the mold entirely. Consider the
CLEVER, a vehicle designed as a project at the
Technical University of Berlin.
The CLEVER is intended to be the cleanest,
lightest car available for city driving. The
eco-friendly car is still in prototype stage
but will cut down carbon dioxide emissions
to less than 60 g/kg by operating with a
compressed natural gas engine.
To give us a final glimpse into the future of green driving, we can consult the finalists of the 2013 Green Car Technology Awards.
Nominations were awarded to environmentally friendly innovators in the auto industry, like:
It’s low-cost automatic stop-start technology to conserve fuel in all vehicles.
Driver-activated ECON feature that can configure a car’s energy-consumption systems to operate more efficiently and reduce fuel costs.
System to set the standard in modernized electric vehicles by providing up to 265 miles in total driving range before recharging.
Green Car Buying Tips
If you’re wondering whether or not to go green as a driver, the advantages of owning an eco-friendly vehicle may surprise you. While it’s been a common rumor that hybrid cars are more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts, that theory no longer holds water. Owning an eco-friendly vehicle could help you to cut down on the cost of gasoline.
Many green car owners are pleased to find that hybrid vehicles:
High Cost of
But hybrid battery pack is intended to last throughout the lifetime of the vehicle; a battery warranty may provide coverage for up to 10 years.
Green Car Buying Tips:
Know the ins and outs of the type of green car you’re buying.
Educate yourself on different fuel subclasses, like parallel, mixed, and series hybrids.
Check out alternatives to your favorite green car model, such as an all-electric car instead of a hybrid.
Don’t buy into features you don’t need, which will only add to the total vehicle cost.
Research federal and state tax incentives right away to get the credits owed to you.
It all comes down to fuel economy
When you purchase an eco-friendly vehicle, you have the opportunity to pay less at the pump and reduce harmful emissions based on the model you choose. Shopping by maximum fuel economy alone will ensure that you get the best of both worlds in an environmentally friendly car that is affordable to drive.
- Hybrid Car Facts.” Hybrid Car Information and Resources.
- “Interesting Facts about Eco Friendly Cars – Green Cars.” Autos Craze – Autos Blog.
- “A Brief History of Hybrid Cars- CarsDirect.” Cars for Sale – Buy a New or Used Car Online – CarsDirect.
- “History of Hybrid Vehicles – HybridCars.com.” New Hybrid Reviews, News & Hybrid Mileage (MPG) Info | Hybrid Cars.
- Kemp, William. Biodiesel: Basics and Beyond. Canada: Aztext Press, 2006.
- “Vehicles | Natural Gas-Powered Vehicles | NGVs.” CNGnow. N.p., n.d.
- Diep, Francie. “First Mass-Produced Hydrogen Cars Roll Out | Popular Science.” Popular Science | New Technology, Science News, The Future Now.
- Children of the Corn” Freddoso, David. National Review Online. May 6, 2008. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/224401/children-corn/david-freddoso. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- “Nissan plunges into hybrids.” www.autonews.com.
- “15 Innovative Green Vehicles and Vehicle Designs | WebUrbanist.” WebUrbanist | Urban Art, Architecture, Design & Travel.
- “Electric Vehicles History Part II.” www.electricvehiclesnews.com.