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Hybrid Vehicles: the Dark Side Essay

Abstract

In the past decade, hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) have been making a big commotion with the innovative, gas saving technologies that accompany them. The illusion that HEVs are 100 percent environmentally friendly in all aspects also follows the HEV wave. Sadly the illusion often wins over unsuspecting customers the instant better gas mileage is offered. This review on the environmental impact of the hybrid electric vehicle observes the unseen sides of the automotive “green movement.” The piece compares how an ordinary gasoline vehicle (non-HEV) can achieve gas mileage that is just as good, if not better, than the more expensive hybrid option. This reality check on the newest technologies uproots what manufacturers do not want anyone to know or think about when buying a vehicle including: environmental pollution of the hybrid electric vehicle, non-HEV fuel economy, the lack of pay-back from owning an HEV, and how the HEV lacks the level of versatility required for many American families.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles
The Dark Side

Thesis: Hybrid Electric Vehicles should cease to be produced because of four main issues: environmental pollution has not reduced, better fuel economy can be achieved in non-hybrid vehicles, there is no payback in owning a hybrid, and hybrid vehicles do not possess the same versatility many American families need.

I. Environmental Pollution and the Hybrid Electric Vehicle A. Batteries contain Nickel, Lithium, and Lead
1. Mining these materials is hazardous, causes acid rain
2. Shipping these materials is costly and [the transportation vehicle] contributes to pollution B. Car accidents happen

3. Vehicular accidents happen all of the time, HEV batteries are prone to damage and can leak harmful materials (acids) into the environment. 4. Recycling batteries is impossible right now. Where do the batteries go? II. Non-HEV Fuel Economy

C. European Diesels vs. HEV

5. For decades European automotive companies have been producing diesel powered cars achieving mpg in the 40-90 range depending on the size of the vehicle 6. Americans have yet to adopt this technology due to discrepancies in emissions controls and standards. D. Alternative Fuel Technologies

7. Hydrogen power is becoming more available to the consumers in larger cities such as Los Angeles and New York City. 8. The technology is still rather expensive, but if the government stopped wasting money on HEV development and started spending on the development of Hydrogen Power, our depending on foreign oil would diminish and we would have a reliable, renewable, and ecologically sound energy

III. HEVs Do Not Pay To Own
E. Non-HEV vs. HEV
9. Most non-HEVs will tend to pay themselves off in a matter of years because they have small maintenance costs and relatively easy upkeep. 10. HEVs have many new features that are expensive to keep up in today’s market, especially with limited accessibility to replacement parts. F. Maintenance

11. HEVs are filled with a plethora of new costs that can drain a wallet dry! Depending on how long an HEV is owned the owner must maintain both the electric and gas motor along with the battery. 12. A battery costs upwards of an expensive $2,000.

IV. HEVs and the Population
G. Urban Population and HEV Use

13. Many Americans live in congested cities where fuel consumption is tremendous and pollution is a major problem. 14. HEVs offer the convenience of shutting off the gas motor while stopped and operating only the electric motor when in stop-and-go traffic. 15. More accidents happen in and around the city; it is more likely for a hybrid to be subject to accidents in the city. H. Rural Population and HEV Use

16. Many people living in small towns and villages need four-wheel drive vehicles that can take hard labor. 17. Gas mileage is indispensible to this population. 18. HEV applications in trucks and sport utility vehicles have failed to deliver gas mileage vastly superior to that of non-HEVs. 19. Blue collar workers need vehicles with muscle and power, HEVs do not offer that.

Conclusion

Hybrid Electric Vehicles
The Dark Side

The hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) has become an extremely popular choice for many Americans in the past decade. Because it has become so popular, the HEV has lead to many new and harsh environmental impacts on a global level. Hybrids have been viewed as the answer to the United States’ oil dependency. Providing superior fuel economy and lower emissions, a hybrid car was sure to be a hit among city-dwelling citizens; however, the popularity of the HEV is beginning to look like a bad thing. HEVs require a battery to power the electric motor.

The batteries contain chemicals that can be released into the environment in the case of an accident or disposal. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Hybrid Electric Vehicles should cease to be produced because of four main issues: environmental pollution has not reduced, better fuel economy can be achieved in non-hybrid vehicles, there is no payback in owning a hybrid, and hybrid vehicles do not possess the same versatility many American families need. Environmental Pollution and the Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Smog infested cities have been searching for an answer to pollution; the hybrid vehicle was the response or so it seemed. HEVs have been around long enough to leave both a positive and a negative impact on the environment. A hybrid was meant to reduce fuel consumption and minimize harmful emissions and it does the job well; however, the people who see a hybrid as “eco-friendly” do not see the polluting monster that hides behind the cloak. Hybrids require a plethora of different parts that normal cars do not typically need. The entire process requires a tremendous amount of energy from other sources, such as diesel power. The process through which HEV batteries are made emits more impurities than an HEV will produce in its lifetime. Not only can HEVs produce pollution before they are made, but they can also contribute to pollution while driving down the road. If one of these vehicles were to get in a major accident, the harmful chemicals within the battery could leak into the ground and contaminate water supplies. The same thing happens when HEVs are sent to the wrecking yard.

The batteries are not easy to recycle and there has yet to be an efficient and environmentally safe way to dispose of the hazardous materials. The hybrid electric vehicle has started to fuel controversy over the true environmental impact of such vehicles. Most batteries found in HEVs today consist of nickel metal hydride (NiMH), or lithium ion (Li-Ion); two very toxic chemicals. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (2011), the most environmentally vulnerable component of a hybrid vehicle is the battery. Disposing of the batteries is a major concern and manufacturers have yet to present proper disposal instructions.

The largest environmental problem with batteries is the mining and manufacturing of the raw materials that go into them. Many human and machine workers are needed to extract the materials from the Earth, producing immense amounts pollution and damaging the health of the humans in the mines (para. 8). HEVs have a long way to go before becoming the optimal eco-friendly vehicle; Dr. Dominic Notter of Empa Technology and Society Laboratory (2010) writes that “15 percent of the total [environmental] burden can be ascribed to the battery (including its manufacture, maintenance and disposal),” (para. 7). Notter suggests that lithium batteries are not as environmentally bad as they were first understood to be.

The Empa team speculates that the biggest environmental impact by HEVs is the sources where the electricity is produced to charge the batteries. The sources can be an assortment of nuclear, coal-fired, and hydroelectric power creating a heavily offset balance between the emissions of the source and the battery itself. In short, HEVs are indirectly responsible for the environmental impacts caused by the batteries (Niederöst, 2010).

Non-HEV Fuel Economy

Setting aside the problems associated with HEVs, Non-HEVs are plenty capable of achieving tremendously better fuel economy. European diesel technology has come a great distance in the past ten years. Many small diesel cars are able to achieve seventy to eighty miles per gallon with stock configuration, compared to standard gasoline which in most small cars only achieves thirty miles per gallon. Thirty miles per gallon by U.S. standards is pretty good, but it can be better. Today there are large trucks that can achieve twenty-two miles per gallon on diesel fuel, yet smaller gas trucks will get only fifteen miles per gallon. The technology to make Non-HEVs more fuel efficient is there; it just needs to be utilized and executed. Part of the reason that the U.S. has not used new diesel technology is because of the emissions standards difference from Europe’s current standards, but there is no acceptable reason why the U.S. cannot invest bringing smaller, cleaner diesels to the market.

Engineers have been improving the efficiency of internal combustion engines for over one hundred years. The article “Fuel Economy Today—Alt Fuels Tomorrow” (2010) suggests that “the king of fluid energy efficiency is diesel fuel,” (para. 3). Diesel fuel is a major driving force in the U.S. economy by propelling nearly “1.3 million long haul semi trucks” on U.S. roads every day (“Aerodynamic”, 2011, para. 2). Nearly every item on today’s market is delivered by either diesel burning semi truck or locomotive, which constantly raises demand for the most updated diesel technologies as the U.S. economy strives to go green. On another front, diesel is becoming a popular option on smaller, lighter duty vehicles meaning diesel could be the next gasoline.

This transition could lead buyers away from the hybrid market as most small diesels provide decent fuel economy and in the long run are a better deal. According to “Gasoline Panic 2011: Hybrid/Electric Vehicles Not the Answer” (2011), Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor of Cars.com, believes that, for economic purposes, the purchase of an HEV because of fuel costs makes little sense. “Buying a [Nissan] Leaf or [Chevy] Volt now is no more logical – and probably less- due to market realities. The new compacts like the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra are a better choice in the long run due to lower price and respectable fuel economy,” asserts Wiesenfelder (para. 6). Non-HEVs may not be as efficient as a gas/electric hybrid, but the extra expenses associated with HEVs are enough to say that Non-HEVs are the most economically reasonable choice when purchasing a new car. Alternative energy is another way America can eliminate its dependence on foreign oil.

One of the most popular developing fuels is hydrogen. Hydrogen is an extremely efficient fuel that emits only water, while regular 87 octane gas is tremendously inefficient and it emits poisonous gases. If the U.S. strongly invested in the development of hydrogen within the next century, the nation could be fully independent of foreign oil and fuel prices would be minimal. Today hydrogen vehicles are available for lease in some major cities. Currently the technology is not quite ready for mass production as the system is not durable enough for mass production and the technology is still too expensive to make any giant leaps in progress. Politics are the major issue behind the slow progression of hydrogen fuel technologies.

Jonathan Gal (2009) noted that the reason why alternative energies are not being pushed for with as much excitement is because the idea is worth billions of dollars and oil companies are taking advantage of the situation and jacking up prices on oil-based products. Big companies know that once alternative fuels become widely available to the public the profits will immediately disintegrate (para.3). Oil barons have been fighting against the move for alternative fuels, which is understandable; however, they do see the profitability in accommodating alternative fuels and are quickly scooping up companies that want to produce the new energies.

Hydrogen is a great fuel for America to renew itself. In opposition to the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, one might argue that it is far too explosive to use in a passenger car and is simply not safe; the Hindenburg is a prime example of its dangerousness. The Hindenburg was a German airship that was filled with hydrogen and coated with a powdered aluminum and iron oxide paint. The myth is that hydrogen was the main cause of the Hindenburg catastrophe. Although hydrogen was a key player, it was the highly reactive coating that ignited the flame to start the hydrogen on fire. Of course there is more to that story, but it proves that hydrogen is only as dangerous as the machines it is engineered into.

HEVs Do Not Pay to Own

Over the last decade it has been speculated that owning an HEV will never pay to own within the lifetime of possession. The average non-HEV will typically take five years to pay for itself. Americans want a car that will be useful, reliable, and will pay to own. Typical American families will run their cars for ten to fifteen years before getting a new vehicle because with all other expenses taken into account a new car is the last expense a growing family needs to worry about. HEVs are packed with relatively new technologies that are not easily and economically replaced. Replacement HEV parts are difficult to find and are never cheap. A typical battery for a HEV can run up a bill of more than $2,000. Fleming, Privott, Taylor, and McDuffie (n.d.) have done research regarding the lifetime of a typical HEV battery. Granted many HEVs have not been around long enough to need replacement, the team used a figure of ten years to estimate the annual cost of battery maintenance and replacement.

After meeting with automotive dealers to gather prices of replacement HEV batteries, the team produced the price of an HEV battery to be “…about $2600, there would be an additional cost of approximately $3400 for installation.” Compare this information with the cost of a Non-HEV battery price of about $30-$40 and the price differential becomes extremely apparent (p.6). Expensive repairs make a vehicle incredibly difficult to pay off within the lifetime of the ownership.

Non-HEVs have been around long enough to the point where paying for repairs is relatively cheap and parts are easy to find; many components are interchangeable and can be installed by anybody. The internal combustion engine, according to Virginia Tech’s Consortium on Energy Restructuring (2007), has been the most preferred method of supplying energy to major companies globally because the machines are easy to maintain, familiar to all ages, and high dependability (para.4). Although HEVs are advertised to be the new family vehicle, it is obvious there are many issues that need to be taken into account before the HEV will truly be a family and economically friendly vehicle. HEVs and the Population

There are billions of people on this planet, but only a few select groups of the populace really need or want HEVs. Many of the people who live in heavily urbanized areas, such as Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles are the only populations who could benefit from using an HEV. A convenience offered by an HEV is that it can shut off the gas motor when stopped and run solely on the electric motor to reduce the harmful emissions that all major cities are prone to. The use of the electric motor also eliminates gas consumption during stop-and-go traffic, which is when most pollution from exhaust accumulates. Cities are victim to a large number of accidents every year.

From fender benders to pile-ups, all types of accidents are highly likely in a city setting. HEVs are equipped with all of the latest safety technologies, but what is most dangerous is the leaking and spreading of battery acid during an accident and afterword, not to mention hybrids are also quieter than gas vehicles making the hearing impaired pedestrian more likely to end up on the hood of an oncoming HEV. Joanne Silburner of NPR’s Health Blog, suggests that without the engine noise, blind people and people listening to music are the most likely to walk in front of an HEV without knowing any better. Silburner also points out that the uneducated driver of an HEV might be a possible risk to pedestrians as HEV engines shut off when the car is not moving; leading to what could be a panic reaction from the driver (para.6-7).

In small towns and rural areas across the U.S. many families need fuel efficient, people-moving, and reliable vehicles that are easy to maintain. HEVs do not make the cut when it comes to meeting the needs of a rural-dwelling family. In rural areas, places and locations are commonly spaced widely apart and highways or two lane roads connect them. HEVs are known to get worse gas mileage on the highway than in the city, which is incredibly unappealing to the long distance commuters. Automotive companies have tried to address these problems with hybrid trucks and sport utility vehicles; however, the performance of the vehicles was too poor to achieve a tremendous upgrade in gas mileage.

The failure to produce an efficient hybrid truck brought the automotive companies back to the drawing board. Today there are large diesel trucks that can achieve an impressive twenty-two miles per gallon while hauling heavy loads. According to U.S. Department of Energy (2011), diesel vehicles meet the same emissions standards and regular gas vehicles and the diesels are “more powerful and fuel efficient than similar sized gas engines (about 30-35% more efficient),” (para.1). With the technologies available today humans can fine-tune machines, like car engines, to run at top efficiency and still produce vast amounts of power to add both thrill and utility to the drive.

Conclusion

HEVs are popular; it is unlikely that the major automakers of the world will even consider pulling HEVs from their lineup of vehicles. The consequences in the marketplace would be too large. Being eco-friendly is a major perk to most people; companies need to accommodate their respective customer base. This accommodation restricts the companies from taking back their promises and providing a true eco-friendly product. Overlooked environmental pollution, non-HEV improvements, HEV cost of ownership and population demands are all reminders of how the eco-friendly revolution has blinded the general public from what happens behind the “green” screen. It is up to the people to understand that HEVs are not the key to a bright future, but are another obstruction to achieving the real eco-vehicle.

References
Aerodynamic add-ons reduce fuel consumption of semi trucks by 7-12%. (2011, February 16). Retrieved March 16, 2011, from http://missionzero.org/categories/12-Transportation/saved_entries/8007-Aerodynamic-add-ons-reduce-fuel-consumption-of-semi-trucks-by-7-12- Consortium on Energy Restructuring, Virginia Tech. (2007). Internal Combustion Engines. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from http://www.dg.history.vt.edu/ch5/ices.html Fleming, D., Privott, T., Taylor, J.R., & McDuffie, T. (n.d.). Hybrid electric vehicles vs. internal combustion engine vehicles: Which gives you more bang for your buck?. Retrieved March 22, 2011 from

http://education.uncc.edu/cmste/summer%20ventures/2010%20World%20View%20of%20Math%20and%20Data%20Analysis/THomas%20Privott-%20Davis%20Fleming.pdf Fuel economy today: Alt fuels tomorrow. (2010) Fleet Equipment 36(3), 14. General Reference Center Gold. Web. Retrieved March 16, 2011

Gal, J. (2009, July 06). The politics of alternative energy. Retrieved March 24, 2011 from http://www.prlog.org/10275672-the-politics-of-alternative-energy.html

Gasoline Panic 2011: Hybrid/Electric Vehicles Not the Answer. (2011, March 4). PR Newswire. General Reference Center Gold. Web. Retrieved March 16, 2011 Nideröst, R. (Ed.). (2010, August 27). The eco-balance of Li-ion rechargeable batteries for electric cars “greener” than expected. Retrieved from EMPA Materials Science and Technology, Switzerland. Retrieved February 24, 2011, from http://www.empa.ch/plugin/template/empa/*/99149/—/l=1

Silberner, J. (2010, April 19). Hybrid cars’ silence just one factor in high pedestrian death rate.
Retrieved on March 24, 2010 from
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/04/hybrid_cars_silence_just_one_f.html United States Department of Energy. (2011, March 24). Diesel Vehicles. Retrieved on March 24, 2011 from http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/di_diesels.shtml

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2011, February 18). Environmental impacts from automobiles. Retrieved February 22, 2011, from http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/OWCM.NSF/product+stewardship/autos-impacts#batteries


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