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From electric to solar, momentum is building for new technologies
The movement toward electric, hybrid and even solar vehicles is gaining strength, with President Barack Obama urging the auto industry to commit to these new technologies.
There’s good reason: According to a 2006 Department of Transportation study, there are more than 250 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States. These vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, emit 25 percent of the greenhouse gases in the country.
Many believe the solution lies in manufacturing more vehicles that won’t emit harmful pollutants. Here are the latest advances in the technology needed to get these cars on the nation’s roadways.
The electric car: The electric movement
The present: It seems everyone is racing to develop the first electric car that will truly capture the fancy of U.S. drivers. The technology is advancing, with several models ready to go on sale soon. But problems persist: While electric cars work well for the type of intermittent driving that motorists practice in city conditions, their batteries have limited capacity during highway driving.
The near future: General Motors plans to release its Chevrolet Volt next year. It’s a plug-in hybrid with a 40-mile electric range. Toyota plans to lease a plug-in version of its hybrid Prius, which will be equipped with lithium-ion batteries, to commercial customers later this year.
The far future: According to VentureBeat, there are more than 25 companies developing electric cars. Advocates of this technology envision a day when electric cars are the norm, and recharging stations dot the landscape much like gas stations do today.
Going hybrid: The best of both worlds
The present: Hybrid electric vehicles, powered by gasoline and electric, can be seen on U.S. roadways, with Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Civic Hybrid dominating the market so far. These cars boast high fuel efficiency and gained in popularity as gas prices increased last year.
The near future: More auto manufacturers are jumping on the hybrid trend, with many developing hybrid electric SUVs and luxury vehicles. Ford, for instance, has developed the Flex-Fuel Escape. This hybrid version of the Escape can run on gasoline or on a combination of gasoline and E-85 – motor fuel that is made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
The far future: The hope is that the batteries used in hybrids evolve into versions that are two or three times as powerful as those being used today. Most advocates agree that the future of these vehicles lies in the development of powerful lithium-ion batteries.
author: Dan Rafter
Solar cars: Powered by the sun
The present: Today’s solar vehicles, generally powered by solar energy generated from panels on a vehicle’s roof, are not yet ready for mainstream use. Most are used for demonstration or experimental purposes.
The near future: Progress has been slow in advancing the solar-powered car. However, the Venturi Astrolab last year became the first available for sale. The car does not need to be permanently exposed to the sun to operate, but it can recharge even while running.
The far future: The verdict is out on the future viability of solar-powered cars. But advocates say that solar should remain an option in the future of “green” vehicles.
SOURCES: U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, MotorTrend, Venturi, Toyota, Ford, Honda, VentureBeat