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Will Cars Ever Be Fully Green?

Posted by Giles Kirkland on 10 October 2018 at 9:16 am

The question of ‘will cars ever be fully green?’ has been asked many times over, specifically in this day and age of fuel-efficient hybrids, fascinating electric cars like the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf, and advanced internal combustion engines like the Mazda Skyactiv-X.

The problem with purported ‘green cars’ or ‘green car manufacturers’ is not strictly about the tailpipe emissions only. The carbon footprint or CO2 emissions of car production is something that deserves the most attention.

Is it greener to keep my old car rather than buy an eco-friendly new car?

The answer is a resounding YES and NO. Confused? Allow me to explain. If your old car is a gas-guzzling SUV with a perpetually thirsty V8 motor and you are looking to buy a smaller car with a smaller engine, then you are doing the environment a big favor.

But think about this: the carbon footprint of manufacturing a modern small car can be as much as six tons of CO2. This includes the carbon dioxide emissions of the various industries (metal panels, steel parts, tyres, plastics, etc.) that contributed to the assembly and construction of the new car. However, this does not include the polluting potential of the vehicle as it is driven on the road.

With this in mind, it might be greener to purchase a used small vehicle instead. Let’s assume an older VW Golf with the 1.6 FSI motor that emits roughly 173g/km of carbon dioxide, which is more than enough to compensate for the age of the motor. This will only add up to around 11 tons of CO2 in five years or 40,000 miles of driving the car.

But if you choose to buy a new VW Golf with the 1.4 TSI engine which emits 123g/km of CO2, your carbon footprint will only amount to around 7.8 tons of CO2 in five years of driving the vehicle.

Hooray! So buying the new car is clearly the better option? Not quite. Assuming the carbon footprint of manufacturing the new car is roughly estimated at 720kg for every £1,000 list price (new VW Golf list price is around £20,000), the total carbon footprint of the new vehicle will be roughly 22 to 23 tons, which is significantly higher than driving the older VW Golf for five years.

How about electric and/or hybrid cars?

Modern electric and hybrid vehicles are equipped with large lithium-ion batteries. Those batteries require rare earth metals that will have to be mined in some uncommon part of the Earth. The simple act of mining the metals and minerals are labor, material, and energy-intensive. The CO2 emissions at the mining stage will be enough to exceed the C02 emissions of conventional vehicles driven over a course of 40,000-miles.

Does this mean my new car is less green than my old car?

I’ll tell you a little secret that many people don’t know. It’s not only about whether your car is old or new. It all has something to do with how you drive the vehicle.

If you got a heavy right foot, your car will emit more pollutants whether you’re behind the wheel of a new V8 performance car or an older economical compact car. That’s a fact.

It also has something to do with vehicle maintenance. Did you know that driving with misaligned suspension will result in faster tyre wear and eventually higher CO2 emissions? The same can be said for irregular oil changes and dirty air filters. Poor maintenance will lessen the eco-friendliness of both new and old cars.

Make sure to be judicious in pressing the gas pedal as you drive. Consult the owner’s manual and follow the recommended maintenance intervals as well. You can contribute to a greener environment if you are simply a more responsible and better driver. This holds true whether you are driving a conventional gasoline, hybrid, or modern electric car.

Will cars ever be fully green?

Car makers from all over the world are doing their absolute best to design and engineer new vehicles that are a hundred times more eco-friendly and fuel-efficient than your Granddaddy’s ancient pickup truck or Austin-Healy V8.

Modern cars are pursuing the perfect balance of lightness, strength, and fuel economy without compromising safety and driving feel. Raw materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum are helping new cars to be significantly lighter while requiring less energy to propel forward.

Tyre makers are also doing their part in making both old and new cars more eco-friendly. Tyres with lower rolling resistance such as the Bridgestone Ecopia, Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max, and the Pirelli Scorpion Verde are engineered to improve fuel economy and reduce C02 emissions. Car makers are also looking to utilize natural raw materials such as bamboo and hemp fibers for the seats and the interior on new cars.

The smallest changes in the car industry will lead to bigger leaps in sustainable car production. The absolute green car is not here yet, but we are slowly getting there.




About the author: Giles Kirkland is an environmentally conscious car expert with passion for electric vehicles and clean technologies. Apart from commenting on the latest automotive innovations, he enjoys sharing his knowledge and giving sustainable driving tips. You can find his articles on Twitter and at Oponeo.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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3 comments - read them below or add one


RichardBarkerComment left on: 27 November 2018 at 1:50 pm

Dieselgate has numerous individuals swinging to electric vehicles as an all the more ecologically well disposed alternative. Be that as it may, in a few regards, e-vehicles can be similarly as awful for the earth as conventional autos! E-autos don't radiate atmosphere harming ozone depleting substances.

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andyteeComment left on: 31 October 2018 at 2:22 pm

The results of a two year study by the Union of Concerned Scientists are a little more optimistic about how EVs are clearly much greener than their counterparts

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pmburtonComment left on: 10 October 2018 at 1:18 pm

You highlight the amount of energy used in producing batteries for EV cars, however, you don't appear to have taken into account:

1) The amount of energy (CO2) used to extract ,transport and refine petrol/diesel for 40,000 miles. 

2) It's not appropriate to ascribe this CO2 to just 40,000 miles of use - firstly the battery lifetime should vastly exceed 40,000 miles, and secondly the materials will be recycled once the battery reaches end of life so it can be used in new batteries.


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