Why Get a Hybrid Car?

Ever wondered if it really makes sense to buy a hybrid car?

If you’re frustrated with the environmental impact of fossil fuel consumption, as well as paying nearly $4 a gallon at the gas pump, you may want to consider buying a hybrid electric vehicle.

Why Buy a Hybrid
CC flickr photo courtesy of Beth and Christian

What is a Hybrid?

Hybrids, like Toyota’s popular Prius model, use a combination of a small, gas-powered internal combustion engine and electric motors to power the drivetrain. Electricity is stored in your car’s batteries. A typical car has one battery, to act as a starter and power electric features in your car, such as power windows or locks. A hybrid might have an array of batteries, which do all those things, but also powers the drivetrain itself. The Prius, like many hybrids, has an acceleration and speed threshold where the battery itself can power your car, up to a certain point. When your battery power is spent, or if the car needs to accelerate faster than the battery can handle by itself, the gas engine is fired up and does the work. Many hybrids also feature regenerative braking. This means that the force of your brakes is harnessed by small generators that give your battery a small charge. Your gas engine is also used as a generator to recharge your battery.

Green ways to travel

green-travel-vagawi-flicker
Photo courtesy of Saw You On The Flipside

For some people, travel is an unpleasant necessity. They travel to meet clients or commute. For other people, travel is a joy and the reason that they work. They save up money for vacations and sight seeing. Whether you’re in a hurry to get home or if you’re taking the chance to satisfy your wanderlust, there are plenty of opportunities to add some green to your itinerary.

From hiking boots to luxury jets, we have more transportation options today than ever before. Most travelers weigh these options based on comfort, price, and time. Yet an increasing number of adventurers and businesswomen are factoring in the environmental impact before they buy tickets.

When choosing transportation with a small carbon footprint, it’s important to compare apples to apples. One way to compare the environmental impact is using passenger miles. Passenger miles are calculated by taking the total fuel consumed and dividing by the number of passengers. For example, consider a car that gets 40 miles per gallon. If the driver is the only person in the car, then the driver is responsible for 19.4 pounds of CO2 for every 40 miles driven or 0.485 pounds per mile (19.4 / 40).

If we add a passenger with heavy bags, the car’s MPG will decrease slightly to about 39 MPG, but the amount of carbon dioxide generated will stay roughly the same. That footprint is spread out over 2 people instead of one. (19.4 / 2) / 39 = 0.249 pounds per mile. This is because so much of the energy used in moving a car is used to move the car itself.

In short, vehicles that travel full are more fuel efficient than empty vehicles, and passenger load can greatly affect the pollution produced per person. While trains are often more carbon efficient than buses, a fully loaded passenger bus may even be more efficient than a train. Then again, rail systems in some countries have the edge.

The most common way to compare different fuel sources is to use Miles Per Gallon equivalence (MPGe), but some fuel sources are dirtier than others. For example, generating 100,000 British Thermal Units (BTU) from coal will produce about 42 lbs of CO2, while natural gas will produce the same amount of energy while emitting about 14 lbs of CO2. So, a coal powered train may be more energy efficient than a natural gas powered bus, but it would produce more pollution to travel the same distance. Hard numbers for this “pollution efficiency” are difficult to pin down.

And that’s not all… some situations can magnify the effect of emissions. For example, pollution from airplanes is released in the upper atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor and other byproducts behave differently in the upper atmosphere than they do at ground level, multiplying their effects. For more information on this subject, look at how various scientists calculate the radiative forcing factor. As a rule of thumb, each pound of airplane emissions is about 2.8 times worse than emissions from other forms of transportation.

From lowest impact to highest impact, here is a rough guide to transportation options (including some data from the US Department of Energy Transportation Energy Data Book and manufacturer’s sites):

On foot / Walking
Bicycle
Horseback Riding
Rickshaw
Electric Motorcycle / Scooter
Vanpool or Shuttle (1,322 BTU per passenger mile)
Motorcycle (1,855 BTU per passenger mile)
Train (2,816 BTU per passenger mile)
Ultra Efficient Passenger Car (ie; a Prius)
Average Passenger Car (3,512 BTU per passenger mile)
Passenger Trucks/SUVs (3,944 BTU per passenger mile)
Bus (4,235 BTU per passenger mile)
Turboprop Passenger Plane (for short distances)
Fuel Efficient Passenger Jet (for long distances)
Piston Engine Passenger Plane
Older Passenger Jets
Small Prop Plane (ie; Van’s Aircraft’s RV-7: ~36 MPGe per passenger at full capacity)
Ferryboat
Helicopter (~20 MPGe per passenger at full capacity)
Cruise Ship (~17 MPGe per passenger at full capacity)
Motorboat (~15 MPGe per passenger at full capacity)
Jet Ski (~10 MPGe per passenger at full capacity)
Executive Jet (~0.8-5 MPGe per passenger at full capacity)

Are there any transportation methods that I’m missing? It’s hard to quantify the MPGe for a hang glider, sailboat, submarine, electric pogo stick, or jet pack, but if you have the scoop on how to rank an unusual form of locomotion, please drop a note in the comments at the bottom of this page.

So, how can you use this list? Before you book a trip or reserve a hotel room, make sure to check out all of the options that are available. Instead of flying cross country, do you have time to take the train? Instead of staying at a hotel across town from a conference, can you find a hotel within walking distance and skip the rental car?

A few more tips for carbon efficient travel…

  • Maximize the capacity of your vehicle: carpool, combine taxis, choose a party boat instead of a dozen jetskis
  • Travel light: ditch 2 suitcases and you may be able to fit another passenger in your car or cut your weight in half on an airplane
  • Choose direct flights: up to 80% of a plane’s fuel consumption happens during take-off and landing, flying direct also cuts out unnecessary miles in the air and, as a bonus, can reduce the amount of tax and airport fees charged
  • Pick fuel efficient cars, planes, and motorcycles: newer vehicles are often much more fuel efficient (ie: the 737-800 airplane gets about 35 percent better mileage per seat than the MD-80 it is replacing).
  • Make the captain a passenger: get certified to operate your own riverboat, learn to fly your own plane, or (if you have one) ditch the chauffeur back at the mansion
  • Often, the green choice will yield a more pleasant trip and save money at the same time!

    green-travel-svanes-flicker
    Photo courtesy of svanes

    The most fuel efficient 2009 cars on the road: automobiles with the best gas mileage


    Photo courtesy of cshontz at Flickr.com.

    The price of gas is down sharply from it’s peak around $4 a gallon, but the spike in gas prices has left a lasting impact on the way that many consumers feel about fuel efficiency. Manufacturers are responding to this increased demand for fuel efficient vehicles with several new gas-sipping cars.

    Here’s a quick rundown on what’s available today: (the first number is the estimated mileage on city streets, the second is the estimated highway mpg)

    2009 Toyota Prius: 48/45
    2009 Honda Civic Hybrid: 40/45
    2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid: 35/33
    2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid: 34/32
    2009 Ford Escape Hybrid: 34/30
    2009 Mazda Tribute 2WD Hybrid: 34/30
    2009 Mercury Mariner 2WD Hybrid: 34/30
    2009 Smart Fortwo Coupe: 33/41
    2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Hatchback: 30/41
    2009 Toyota Yaris: 29/36
    2009 MINI Cooper Clubman: 28/37
    2009 Honda Fit: 28/34
    2009 Toyota Corolla: 27/35
    2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: 27/25
    2009 Lexus RX 400h: 27/24
    2009 Honda Civic: 26/34
    2009 Nissan Versa: 26/31
    2009 Saturn Vue Greenline: 25/32
    2009 Ford Focus: 24/35
    2009 Chevrolet Aveo: 24/34
    2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid: 24/32
    2009 Saturn Aura Green Line: 24/32
    2009 MercedesBenz E320 Bluetec: 23/32
    2009 Audi TT: 23/31
    2009 Audi A4: 23/30
    2009 Chevy Malibu: 22/30
    2009 Nissan Rogue: 22/27
    2009 Lexus GS 450h: 22/25
    2009 Subaru Impreza: 20/27
    2009 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid 2WD: 20/22

    Trading in a car with terrible gas mileage can make a much bigger difference than upgrading a fuel efficient car for a super-efficient car. The most efficient car on this list (the 2009 Prius) will emit approximately 4.0 tons of Carbon Dioxide in a typical year. That’s less than half as much as the Hybrid Chevy Tahoe, which emits about 8.7 tons of CO2 every year.

    There are a lot of hybrids on this list, so here are the top 10 models traded in for a hybrid. Many of those cars have better fuel efficiency than other vehicles on the road, and may be available for cheap at a used car lot.


    Photo courtesy of marshalltownpublic library at Flickr.com.