Hybrid for better or worse

Apr 18, 2009
*Special to asia!
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Greener cars for a greener future? If green is the colour of toxic waste, then yes, maybe so.

Hybrid cars offer drivers an innovative, efficient, and affordable option. Hybrid cars are powered by a combination of an efficient gas engine and an electric motor that helps with acceleration. Batteries that recharge automatically power the electric motor. A hybrid car is an excellent choice for anyone looking to save money at the gas pump and preserve the environment at the same time.

With marketing plugs like the paragraph above, who would want anything but a hybrid car? It seems to make so much sense. Save energy, save money, and feel good driving it because you’re saving the Earth too. Oh, and don’t forget the tax credits.

Since 2000, the hybrid market has grown by 960%. Car manufacturers are even developing hybrid versions of their luxury cars for people who do not want to lose out on horsepower. Today’s consumerist society often neglects to consider the manufacturing and disposal processes of the products they use, preferring to be as ignorant as possible about their purchases so they can revel in the blissful pleasures of a feel-good product.

Many don’t realise that 95% of a car’s energy goes into moving the car itself, and only 5% into moving the passenger. In comparison, a 20kg bicycle uses 83% of the energy in transporting the rider, not the vehicle. Hybrid cars tend to weigh more than conventional cars of the same size because they have two engines: a gas and an electric one. The latter is always heavier because it has more batteries. So if you’re driving an average-sized 2 litre hybrid sedan, the Earth could be better off if you drove a 658cc Subaru R2 (which automatically affords you tax rebates) or a 1.6 litre Volkswagen turbo diesel engine. Even a 4-litre Toyota Land Cruiser is more efficient and none of them possess a toxic nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery.

While researchers accept that green cars produce less pollution when running, they argue that the energy used to make the technically complex vehicle means they cause more pollution than conventional cars. The manufacture, replacement and disposal of high-energy use items including the batteries, electric motors and lighter weight materials used in construction add to this.

The Toyota Prius has up to 40 Ni-MH batteries. There is virtually no environmentally sound method to dispose of or reuse Ni-MH batteries. American hybrid car enthusiasts assert, “Hybrids are still sold in relatively low numbers. As a result, large-scale environmental threats from hybrid batteries are not immediate… the challenge of recycling hybrid batteries is at least five years away.”

If the trade off has come to this, it’s far more efficient to stick with the conventional gas engine and save energy by turning down the air conditioning (that can cut up to 10% of the energy consumed), maintaining the correct tire pressure and keeping your car as light as possible (every kilo worsens the mileage).


debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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