Issue Report: Hybrid vehicles

Should hybrid vehicles be a major part of plans to fight global climate change?

A hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) generally includes two distinct power sources to propel the vehicle: a gasoline engine and a re-chargeable battery that supports and adds efficiency to the gasoline engine. Hybrid electric cars have become popular in recent years due to what is believed to be their greater energy efficiency and environmental friendliness compared to ordinary gasoline cars. The Prius is one of the more popular hybrid electric vehicles, created by Toyota in 1997 and sold internationally starting in 2001. While hybrids have increased in popularity, skeptics have questioned whether they should really be a part of 21st century strategies to combat global warming. Despite its initial acceptance, it is widely debated whether hybrid-electric vehicles are the best “clean” form of transportation, compared with its primary alternatives: hydrogen fuel cell cars, electric cars, and even hybrid plug-in electric vehicles. With scarce resources in this fight, governments must decide whether hybrid electric vehicles warrant support and priority over these other various forms of alternative transportation. It requires a comparative analysis of advantages and disadvantages to determine whether hybrid vehicles should be part of national and global plans to combat global warming.

Emissions: : Can hybrid vehicles significantly reduce greenhouse emissions?

Hybrids significantly reduce emissions, fight global warming

Hybrid vehicles are far more fuel efficient; sometimes between two to three times more fuel efficient. This means that they can emit 1/3 to 1/2 the greenhouse gases of ordinary gasoline cars. Because gasoline vehicles are the single greatest contributor to global warming, hybrid vehicles can make a significant contribution to the fight against global warming.

A study conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute, a not-for-profit research group, and the Natural Resources Defense Fund found, that if American motorists would use rechargeable “plug-in” hybrid-electric vehicles in large numbers, the United States could see a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century. The study estimated that with a market share of about 60 per cent or more plug-ins, the vehicles could help reduce approximately 450 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions a year by 2050. These reductions would be the equivalent of removing 82 million passenger cars.[1]

New batteries increase hybrid efficiency and reduce emissions

New Rechargeable Lithium Batteries Could Jump-start Hybrid Electric Car Efficiency". ScienceDaily. 16 Sep. 2008

“Researchers at the University of Bath are helping to develop new rechargeable batteries that could improve hybrid electric cars in the future. Transport is a major energy user and is estimated to be responsible for around 25% of the UK’s total carbon emissions.”

Hybrids reduce emissions through regenerative braking.

The process recaptures energy normally wasted during braking, by converting the kinetic energy of braking into electricity that can be stored in an on-board electric battery. This electric battery is then used to back-up the gasoline engine and increase efficiency. This reduces the use of gasoline and diesel in engines and reduces emissions. This approach is a simple way to help in the fight against global warming.

Hybrids increase efficiency by shutting engines down while idling.

Too much energy is wasted and greenhouse gases emitted at stops and when idling or coasting. Hybrid cars reduce these inefficincies and senseless emissions by shutting down while coasting or when idling at stops.

Hybrid cars are an important step in the right direction

The technology backing 0-emission alternatives is not yet well established. In the interim before this technology scales, hybrid vehicles are a good investment. Any alternative that produces less emissions than ordinary gasoline vehicles is a good one. Hybrids meet this criteria, even if they are to be replaced in the future by fully electric and hydrogen cars. At the very least, hybrids are an important stepping stone in the right direction.

Hybrid cars still burn gasoline and emit greenhouse gases

Hybrid cars still rely on gasoline as their primary form of propulsion. They have an electric motor (in addition to a gasoline engine), but this can only draw power, in various ways, from the gasoline engine. The hybrid only adds efficiency to the gasoline engine, instead of replacing it entirely. The hybrid car remains, therefore, a major emitter of greenhouse gases and a contributer to global warming. While it may contribute less to global warming, it still contributes significantly. If hybrids continue to be built in the coming decades, they will continue to contribute substantial to global warming into the middle of the century. This is unacceptable. At a time when we must respond decisively to global warming, investing in cars that continue to contribute negatively to global warming is the wrong course of action, particularly when 0-emission alternatives are available.

Hybrid cars are too mild a solution to global warming

Global warming is a global crisis. It requires an immediate, dramatic response. Yet, hybrids are a half measure. They reduce emissions only slightly, moving cars from a terrible contributer to global warming a notch down to a bad contributor. Instead of supporting hybrid cars, full measures must be taken with immediate moves to electric and/or hydrogen vehicles, which emit no greenhouse gases from the tail-pipe.

Hybrids distract from and delay developing 0-emission cars

"Hybrid Cars: A Troubled Future?". Scitizen. 3 Mar. 2008

“we suggest that the adoption of hybrid vehicles might slow down the development of more sustainable fuel-cell or high performance battery-powered electric vehicles.”

Hybrids make us think we're doing enough to solve global warming

Hybrid cars make us think we’re doing enough to fight global warming. While we think we are being “green” by driving hybrids, in fact, we are still burning gasoline in the vehicle and contributing significantly to global warming. This generates complacency among the public and politicians, and reduces the urgency of finding truly 0-emission alternatives.

Manufacturing hybrids releases comparatively more greenhouse gases

Kelly Cunningham. "The Case Against Hybrid Cars"

“To understand the hybrid, truly, you must observe it’s manufacture from start to finish. To make the massive battery found in the typical hybrid, nickel must be smelted- the fumes and byproducts and waste produced in the initial smelt is massive. The area in Ontario where the initial smelting for the Toyota Prius batteries occurs has become barren and scarred and lifeless in the less than two decades that the smelting plant has been situated there…Just the shipping involved in the early life of a hybrid battery is horribly pollutive- oil-powered ships, cargo planes and deisel trucks all over the world constantly run, devoted to the task of making more ecologically sound vehicles.”

Batteries: : Are hybrid batteries environmentally friendly?

New hybrid car batteries are much safer for the environment

Today most Hybrid car batteries are one of two types: (1) nickel metal hydride, or (2) lithium ion; both are regarded as more environmentally friendly than lead-based batteries (which constitute the bulk of car batteries today). “Jim Kliesch, author of the ‘Green Book: The Environmental Guide to Cars and Trucks’ told, ‘There are many types of batteries. Some are far more toxic than others. While batteries like lead acid or nickel cadmium are incredibly bad for the environment, the toxicity levels and environmental impact of nickel metal hydride batteries—the type currently used in hybrids—are much lower.'”[2]

Hybrid vehicle batteries are a burden to deal with

Kelly Cunningham. "The case against hybrid cars". Helium

“at the end of their lives, Escalades can be crushed, recycled and smelted into new products. The hybrid battery, having undergone such intense refinement, must be recycled properly by the manufacturer. The car is therefore very costly to dispose of in terms of resources and if people are lazy about doing so and the hybrids end up in junkyards, the potential toxicity to the disposal area is deadly. If the car only lasts 100,000 miles, then, how long before these noxious substances are improperly discarded in large quantities and begin to further destruct land and groundwater?”

Economics: : Are hybrid vehicles economically sensible?

Fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles are competitive in the markets

"The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Vehicles". Green Living Lifestyles.

“The most apparent benefit of the hybrid vehicle is its fuel-efficient operation. Sure, you still have to make your visits to the gas station, but the advantage is that you will do so less often. Because of the hybrid vehicle’s electric motor, the energy your hybrid produces is much cleaner. In addition, your hybrid will automatically shut off the gasoline engine during stops or when your car is idling. That is why these cars are so quiet when you park or are at a stoplight! The electric motor kicks in and saves some fuel from being used. Therefore, if you commute to work or are in traffic quite a bit, this feature will help save some money on gasoline.”

"The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Vehicles". Green Living Lifestyles.

“It is not uncommon to hear of some hybrid vehicles going five to eight hundred miles on one tank of gas. The average gas-powered family sedan gets anywhere between two hundred and three hundred miles to a tank of gas depending on the driving conditions. Can you imagine driving almost three times the amount of miles before refilling your gas tank? It boggles the mind! Of course, the larger hybrid vehicles like the SUVs will not realize as many miles, but you can still expect a lot more than normal.”

Higher gasoline prices favor fuel-efficient hybrids

Daniel Gross. "Blue-Collar PriusHybrid cars aren't just for smug yuppies anymore." Slate. 9 Apr. 2008

“the rising cost of oil and the current recession, which started among subprime consumers and is steadily eating its way up the economic ladder, may combine to change the hybrid vehicle’s image from a white-collar status symbol to a blue-collar money-saver.”

Hybrid cars rely on waning gasoline supplies so can't survive long-term.

Hybrid vehicles are still oriented around the gasoline engine. Oil and gasoline supplies, however, will disappear at some point in the future. Hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, therefore, cannot be a long-term solution. They are also, in this manner, a poor long-term investment.

Hybrid vehicles cost a lot more, but do the same job.

While hybrid vehicles may be slightly better for the environment, they cost a considerable amount more than normal vehicles. The fact is, hybrid vehicles run just as well as all other vehicles and do exacly the same job. They just cost more. Anyone wanting to save money would be silly to buy a hybrid car – all other cars work just as well.

Hybrids are more complicated, which has has costs

"Hybrid Cars -- Pros and Cons". Physorg.

“All this new technology comes at a price: a hybrid car is complex and expensive. It has two motors and all the ancillary systems to manage them plus a heavy battery and a regeneration system used to produce electricity during breaking. All of these systems must work together, adding complexity. While cars and, just as importantly, the computers that control them, have become more reliable, they still suffer from failures. So owners of hybrids can expect more time in the shop and larger repair bills.”

Hybrid batteries and cars are built to last only 100,000 miles

This is a very small number of miles compared to ordinary gasoline vehicles, which last around 300,000 miles. This means that one individual would have to purchase three hybrids to obtain the same length of life of a regular gasoline vehicle. This is three-times the cost for the same value. And, even if owners don’t want to keep a car for over 100,000 miles, the net effect to the economy is that hybrids live one-third as long and are nearly three times as costly to individuals and the economy.

Hybrids are more efficient largely because they have smaller engines.

Hybrids may indeed be more efficient and deliver more miles per gallon, but this is true of any car which, like a hybrid, has a smaller engine. Hybrid vehicles are also more efficient simply because of things like tier-type, but these things can be done with other cars too.

Noise: : Do hybrids cut down on noise pollution? Is this a safety hazard?

Hybrid vehicles reduce noise pollution

Bill Kwong, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA: “One of the many benefits of the Prius, besides excellent fuel economy and low emissions, is quiet performance. Not only does it not pollute the air, it doesn’t create noise pollution.”[3]

Hybrid vehicles could have noise-making devices for safety.

If it is a serious public safety concern that hybrids make less noise than ordinary gasoline vehicles, it is possible to fit them with modest noise-making devices. This would be simple and inexpensive. Bill Kwong, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA: “Any kind of audio device is going to be relatively inexpensive.”

Quiet hybrids are a risk to those that can't hear them coming

Ben Nuckols. "Hybrid cars criticized for being too quiet". Associated Press. 3 Oct. 2007

“Gas-electric hybrid vehicles, the status symbol for the environmentally conscientious, are coming under attack from a constituency that doesn’t drive: the blind.

Because hybrids make virtually no noise at slower speeds, when they run solely on electric power, blind people say they are a hazard to those who rely on their ears to determine whether it is safe to cross the street or walk through a parking lot.”

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