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Environmentally friendly motoring: where the rubber hits the… glass?

More and more of us are becoming environmentally aware in the choices we make and in the way we drive. Car manufacturers, politicians, city planners and transport experts are all finding ways to make motoring more environmentally friendly and sustainable. The methods they use range from up-to-the-minute and “sexy” to some that sound downright peculiar.

The really “sexy” idea in environmentally friendly motoring is hybrid cars or electric cars that don’t just use petrol or diesel but use electricity to power them. You just have to see the interest generated by the new Toyota Hybrid Camry to see how sexy this idea is. And this idea, on the surface at least, looks pretty good. If you burn less petrol, you release fewer particles and nasties into the air, which cuts down on pollution. However, as the editor of the Dog and Lemon Guide is quick to point out, this isn’t such an eco-friendly idea if the source of this electricity is from a coal or gas fired power station – all a hybrid car does in this case is to shift the point of pollution from one place to another. If your power comes from a sustainable source such as wind, solar or hydro electricity, then hybrid cars look a whole lot better. In fact, in the US, some researchers are looking at a way of creating “solar road” – roads made from solar panels that generate electricity (to run the hybrid and electric cars?) while still being safe to drive on. Well, we’ll see if this idea works!

The next hot topic in greener, more sustainable motoring is biofuels. While these still put out a few greenhouse gases, they don’t rely on fossil fuels to be produced, and when it comes to carbon dioxide, they probably cancel out, as the things used to make them take carbon out of the atmosphere. Ethanol is one readily available alternative fuel in Australia – it’s a by-product of our sugar industry – and biodiesel is also catching on. Biodiesel is produced from waste vegetable oils or even from a type of algae that can be grown in a septic tank. Many European car manufacturers are cottoning onto the appeal of biodiesels and biofuels, and Saab (among others) has put out models that are designed to run on these fuels. Besides, diesel engines, which can take biodiesel, just keep getting better and better.

Transport planners have their ideas, too. There’s a big push towards encouraging people to take public transport to work, get involved in car-pooling schemes, and to walk or bike for short journeys (i.e. 2 km trips). There’s something to be said for some of these schemes, but if you’ve got a heap of gear to cart about or its pouring with rain, most of us will probably take the car rather than the bike or the bus.

And even the roads we drive in are becoming more sustainable. Roading experts such as AUSTROADS have been looking at ways to make the roads themselves more sustainable by using fewer raw materials and more recycled material. You never quite know what’s in the lower layers of the road you’re driving on. Materials recovered to be used to make the roads we drive on include slag ash and other waste from our mining and metal industry, the bits of road they’ve pulled up to make repairs, scrap tyres, crushed bricks and even old broken glass. Funny to think that you might end up driving on the beer bottle you’ve drunk out of – about the only link there ought to be between drinking and driving. But that’s another story.

One comment

  1. Peter Baker says:

    I have just bought a VW Tiguan 103 TDi and when I asked if I could run it on Biodiesel as I have been doing in a VW Transporter for three years, I was told I would do damage to the engine. I told this to my big rig relative and he said Biodiesel will gum up the fuel lines and injectors. I had a similar incident with E10 unleaded in a work ute where everything from tank to inlet valve had to be replaced. Until manufacturers catch up with Bio technology I will not use Bio fuels.

    July 13th, 2010 at 2:20 pm