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Buying Green The "No-Compromise" Options

PZEVs & Hybrids


Toyota Prius

PZEVs, or partial zero-emission vehicles, include the now familiar Toyota Prius and more than a dozen other vehicles. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) heralded these vehicles as the "first fruit of Californias zero-emission program," and since New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine have adopted Californias emission laws, PZEVs are available in the Northeast as well.


2004 Honda Civic

Car companies are promoting these cars as having better performanceand sales prove that as performance has soared so has popularity. The Honda Civic Hybrid, for example, out-accelerates its gas-only version and it also requires fewer stops at the gas station. Public demand for the new Toyota Prius, which gets over 50 miles per gallon, has outpaced production since it was introduced at the 2001 Tour de Sol.


2004 Nissan Sentra PZEV

Hybrids and PZEVs look like regular cars, but under the hood they have sophisticated technology that reduces health-threatening tailpipe emissions by 90%, and evaporative emissions (the gas vapors that escape from the fuel tank) to near zero. PZEVs typically cost about $200 more than their conventional counterparts. Hybrids, which augment the conventional gasoline engine with an electric drive system, typically cost an additional $4,000, but this can be recovered by a $2,000 federal tax credit and savings on fuel. Three hybrid sedans have been on the market for several years. This year vehicle choice will be greatly expanded. Auto companies have announced that they plan to introduce six new hybrid vehicles, from sedans to pickups and SUVs, by the end of this year.

CARB claims that PZEVs burn gas so efficiently that their exhaust is cleaner than the air in some smoggy areas. PZEVs can help reduce urban smog that has been causing an asthma epidemic, and costing the nation billions of dollars each year in health-care costs. It is estimated that over 140,000 PZEVs will be put on the road this year in California alone.

Cars for People Who Want to Get off Oil or Reduce Climate Change Even More
Climate change is no longer a theory, it is a scientifically proven fact. Thirty percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the major source of global climate change, are from transportation. Fortunately, there are several ways of reducing CO2 emissions from your car. The easiest option is to look for the most fuel efficient hybrid or PZEV vehicle. CO2 emissions are directly proportional to the amount of gasoline you use, so a 50 mpg car emits just half of the CO2 of a 25 mpg car.

You could reduce your CO2emissions even more if you powered your vehicle with an alternative fuel such as compressed natural gas (CNG), liquid propane (LPG), biodiesel, or ethanol. These fuels have the added advantage of reducing, often to almost zero, the use of oil, over 50% of which is imported. Lets look at each alternative fuel option.


Biodiesel, a favorite fuel in the bus and trucking industry, is gaining popularity in the private sector. Biodiesel is made from an oil-rich plant, such as soybeans, and can be run in a conventional diesel engine. Because it gets thick when cold, and ignites at a lower temperature than diesel, it is normally blended with diesel in cold climates. B20, the usual mix, is 20% biodiesel and 80% diesel, though 100% biodiesel (B100) can be purchased. Additionally, waste cooking oil can be run in a diesel vehicle if you have an additional tank and other simple modifications. There are several conversion kits on the market.

B100 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 77% (because the plants, when growing take CO2 out of the atmosphere) and reduce dependence on foreign oil by 68% (unless the plants are grown with no chemical fertilizers, and tractors run on biodiesel, in which case 100% reductions could theoretically be achieved.) B20 reduces CO2 by 28% and fossil fuel use by 13%. While biodiesel offers a great opportunity to use waste cooking oil and surplus soybeans, many are concerned that if crops were grown specifically for fuel production that food producing land would be displaced and degraded.


A Ford CNG truck

Compressed natural gas just became more accessible for many people with the introduction of the Phill, the home refueling station produced by FuelMaker. Compressed natural gas vehicles have been used extensively in Canada and Australia. In this country they have been used most extensively by companies that have a fleet of ten or more vehicles. These companies usually install a CNG fueling station at their facility so they can refuel easily. CNG is a naturally occurring, clean-burning fossil fuel. It emits 13% less CO2 than a similarly fuel-efficient vehicle, but, for the consumer to find fuel has been challenging, especially since driving range is usually less than a conventional gasoline vehicle. Now, with Phill on the market, if you own a home with a natural gas service, you can refuel your vehicle at home overnight. Honda offers a CNG version of their Civic, Ford offers a CNG pick-up truck, and there are several vans on the market.

Ethanol has been extensively used in Brazil for decades. Ethanol is an alcohol made from plant material that has a high sugar content. In Brazil, the waste from making sugar is the main feedstock. In this country corn is usually used, though research is being done on the potential of other waste plant materials to produce ethanol less expensively. A favorite of Midwestern farmers, ethanol is usually blended with gasoline. E85 is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.


The DaimlerChrysler Town and Country van can run on ethanol (E85) or gasoline.

Ethanol is usually used in "flex-fuel" vehiclesvehicles that can be run on either gasoline or ethanol. An estimated 2.5 million ethanol flex-fuel vehicles are in use in the US today, but only a small percentage actually are using ethanol. E85 reduces CO2 emissions by 22%, and reduces fossil fuel use by 34%.

Propane. The final alternative fuel is propane. Propane, a by-product of natural gas production and oil refining, is used by fleet vehicles. It is estimated that there are approximately 275,000 propane-powered vehicles in the US today. Propane reduces CO2 emissions by 15%, but does not reduce fossil fuel use.

For all the alternative fueled vehicles, availability of fuel is the greatest challenge. The Department of Energy maintains an "Alternative Fuel Locator" web site with all the publicly available alternative fueling stations in the USbut call ahead, as they often have limited hours of operation.

A Peek in the Crystal Ball


GM's Hy-wire, a prototype fuel cell vehicle built on it's revolutionary skateboard chassis

GM's Hydrogen3 prototype minivan


Hydrogen:Hydrogen-powered vehicles have been much in the news, and have many attractive characteristics. They have the potential of making fuel choice a non-issue, since hydrogen can be produced from just about any fuel. All car companies have hydrogen-powered prototype vehiclesbut dont expect them in the showroom anytime soon, because there are still many technical challenges in making, storing, and transporting hydrogen, as well as using it in conventional internal combustion engines or in fuel cell vehicles

Hydrogens environmental advantages and its ability to compete in the market place will be determined by how it is made. Hydrogen can be made by electrolysis, using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. If the electricity to make the hydrogen were produced by wind, solar, or other zero emitting fuels, we could produce environmentally friendly zero emission hydrogen-but many feel this is not economically feasible.. If, however, it were made using electricity from todays power plants, CO2 costly emissions would increaseand we would need to build new power plants to produce enough electricity to meet the demand for hydrogen. Hydrogen can also be extracted from other materials that have a high hydrogen content, such as natural gasmany people feel this would be the best approachbut it does not get us away from using nonrenewable fossil fuels, or take CO2 emissions to zero.

Electric Vehicles: Like hydrogen, electricity can be produced from any fuel, and like hydrogen, electricity is only as clean as the fuels used to create it. For example, if a car ran on electricity produced from todays coal-fired plants, CO2 emissions would be greater than those from gasoline car. But if the electricity were produced from wind and solar, CO2 emissions would approach zero. Most car companies have tried to produce full-size electric vehicles that meet consumer demands for a car that can be refueled quickly and have at least a 250-mile driving range. Nevertheless, electric vehicles are becoming popular in niche markets such as airports, mines, and warehouses, and smaller electric vehicles are entering the consumer market. Some people believe that battery technology will advance soon to a point where full-size electric vehicles could play an important role in the consumer market and deliver better value than hydrogen vehicles. Only time will tell.

How to Find the Right Car for Your Needs
In the next year or two most cars on the showroom will have emission information, in addition to fuel economy information, on the sticker on the car. In the meantime, here are some excellent web sites where you can do some homework before you go to your local dealer. At NESEAs Green Car Club you can link to all these resources, and chat with people who have already taken the plunge. Following is a short list of the most important resources you will find at www.GreenCarClub.org.

PZEVs and Hybrids: To keep abreast of new models check out CARBs web site at www.arb.ca.gov.
Also, when purchasing a PZEV vehicle, be sure to ask the sales person if the model you are looking at is a PZEV, or the model without the added emission controls.

The Whole Enchilada: For those who want to look at the full environmental impact of their vehicle taking into account manufacture and disposal, as well as fuel use, ACEEEs Green Guide is the best resource. This excellent book (also on the web) rates all vehicles available to the general public. www.greenercars.com

New and Used Cars and Alternative Fueled Vehicles: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an excellent web site with a searchable database of all the cars produced in the last 20 years. They give the cars a green rating between one and 10, specific fuel economy data, and greenhouse gas emission information. You can check out the car you own today, and put it side by side with the car you are thinking of buyingwhether that is a new or used car: www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.  

Numerous alternative fuel trade organizations also offer in-depth information on the fuel they are promoting on their web sites.

And dont forget, when you use an advanced vehicle, you will not only have a superior car. We will all benefit. We will have healthier air, slowed global warming, reduce dependence on imported oil, and it will help grow the economykeeping our money at home, and if you are using an alternative fuel, also creating jobs right here in the USA.

Green Car and Alternative Fuel Resources:
ACEEEs Green Book
Calif. Air Resources Boards PZEV list
Electric Drive Transportation Association
Green Car Journal Magazine
EPAs Green Vehicle Guide
Methanol Institute
National Biodiesel Board
National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition
Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition
Northeast Sustainable Energy Association
Propane Vehicle Council
Renewable Fuels Association
U.S. DOEs Alternative Fuel Locator
U.S. Fuel Cell Council



The Green Car Club is organized by
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association
50 Miles Street, Greenfield, MA 01301
nesea@nesea.org
413-774-6051
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