Hybrid Cars – Social/Environmental Issues
The question of effective energy usage and distribution has always been very disputable. However, humans have finally realized that it is time to take more active measures relating to energy and mitigation of its negative impacts. In particular, the humankind has to introduce new sources of energy that would be safer for the environment and would be able to replace oil. One of such sources is designing and using Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV). Moreover, these vehicles can be improved. For example, scientists have recently made them plug-in. In the future, these cars could be produced in significant amounts so they would reduce dangerous emissions and differentiate sources of energy. Therefore, the United States would be less dependable on oil exported from other countries. Nevertheless, success and effectiveness of hybrid cars are greatly influenced by behavior of Americans, particularly their desire to stop using traditional engines and try new technologies. The aim of this paper is to research the ability of hybrid cars to reduce oil dependence and the ways to achieve this goal. Besides, factors that encourage American customers to buy hybrid cars will be analyzed. On the basis of this research, additional ways to increase sales of the cars will be offered. Finally, future effects of hybrid cars will be investigated.
In fact, countries that sell oil to other countries have a significant impact on global economy and make other countries dependable on them. Unfortunately, the United States is one of the countries that depend on foreign oil. On the one hand, the statistical data of the Energy Information Administration demonstrates that the country purchases about 11.1 million barrel of the material daily. It is approximately 57 percent of oil that Americans consume every day. The rest of oil to satisfy the country’s needs is produced inside the U.S. Therefore, reduction of the use of oil for cars seems to be beneficial. On the other hand, the question of oil dependence is not so easy. First, just 71% of oil is utilized for transportation, so even if the country replaces oil in this respect completely, it will have to purchase 29% to satisfy other needs. Apart from that, it is determined that 29% of oil produced in the U.S. is used for other products, not for cars. The main idea is that the U.S. manufactures 8.3 million barrels of oil per day and if gasoline consumption is modified, the country requires 10.5 million barrels per day for other sectors. Thus, hybrid cars are able to affect only insignificant part of crude oil, so their widespread use will not lead to energy independence of U.S. The only solution is developing “hybridized” versions of other kinds of transport such as trains, airplanes, and trucks (Westbrook, 2001).
Impact on the Environment
One of the negative effects of traditional cars is production of carbon dioxide that causes global warming, which in its turn leads to melting of polar ice caps and increase of sea levels. In the future, this can result into flooding and destruction of homes of many people. Besides, cars increase toxic levels in atmosphere, which provokes numerous diseases and even death. Climate changes are also able to cause extinction of plants and decrease of food crops used by humans, which potentially may lead to wars between countries for better resources (Westbrook, 2001).
Apart from carbon dioxide, cars produce such gases as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. They are able to cause ground level smog that has negative effects on human respiratory system and growth of plants. However, there are also problems that are common for both traditional and hybrid cars. First, power plants will continue emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when producing electricity for functioning of hybrid cars. Other impacts include brake dust, materials released from oils, and a significant number of energy applied during car production (Westbrook, 2001).
Unlike cars that work on oil, electric vehicles are believed not to have direct emissions, but a large amount of harmful substances is released during generation of electricity for their batteries. About half of American electricity is manufactured by burning coal. If to calculate number of carbon dioxide for 100 miles driven, it will reach 115 pounds. As for electric cars, this number is approximately 44.5 pounds. Therefore, hybrid cars are still less harmful for the environment. In addition, these numbers do not include operations with oil that happen before the use of cars (e.g. transportation to filling stations) (Westbrook, 2001).
Apart from possible emissions that appear when generating electricity for charging batteries, plug-in hybrid cars also have some drawbacks. First, producing battery packs for these cars requires a significant amount of energy. There has not been identified an exact number of energy, but some experts state that it is able to ruin all positive effects from reduced emissions (Electric Power Research Institute, 2007). Second, there are difficulties with recycling battery packs from hybrid cars because they are usually made from lead, lithium, or nickel. If recycling is made wrongly, batteries may have a negative impact on the environment. For example, nickel and lead can pollute the groundwater, which that leads to emergence of acid rain and inability of people and plants to use the water safely. In addition, these materials are carcinogens, so humans may get diseases of the respiratory system. However, most producers try applying lithium ion batteries that are so toxic. Furthermore, some manufactures such as General Motors and Toyota say that their batteries are 100% recyclable, but it is difficult to believe due to their high price (The Boston Consulting Group, 2010).
Overall, hybrid cars are able to reduce negative effects of transport on the environment only if all countries start using eco-friendly kinds of vehicles, significantly decrease energy use, and find more efficient ways of recycling the waste. In other words, only hybrid cars in the U.S. cannot greatly affect the environment.
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Government has been demonstrating an active position towards regulation of sales of hybrid cars since their emergence on the market. For example, first cars had significant tax rebates and credits for consumers. This was made to raise their popularity. Besides, the government has always tried to convince people that hybrid cars are safe alternatives to traditional vehicles (Malone, 2009).
The President also pays attention to this issue. In particular, Obama has designed the plan “New Energy for America” for modifying strategies for energy usage. One of the sections of the plan is devoted to hybrid cars. For example, Obama’s Administration offers cancellation of tax credits for typical hybrid electric vehicles. Instead, rebates will be given consumers willing to purchase PHEV and EV that have complete electric charge of the battery (Malone, 2009). Therefore, the U.S. President and the government use different methods to encourage people to buy hybrid cars and increase efficiency of energy usage.
Hybrid cars have been used for quite a short time, so people have little understanding of the way they function. However, everybody should remember that hybrid cars have high voltage amount, which reaches about 650 volts. This can lead to people’s damage or even death in case of improper behavior with the vehicle. To avoid the danger, consumers need to remove their keys and stop the engine. Some car-producers use color-coding to indicate parts that have high voltage amount (e.g. usually orange color) (AA1Car, 2010). Besides, many cars contain an automatic protocol for an accident. In particular, when airbags are opened, the car’s computer makes certain actions that isolate the battery. In addition, consumers should not be afraid of explosions or release of acidic materials because most producers put batteries in a highly protective metal container (Consumer Reports, 2010).
Future Perspectives of Hybrid Cars and Summary
Findings of the research demonstrate that in the long-term perspective hybrid cars and plug-in hybrid cars might help the U.S. to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The vehicles’ sales can be raised by reducing prices and improving their general performance. One more way to increase market share of hybrid cars is introducing additional taxes for gasoline. The efficiency of this measure has been proved during an increase of prices for oil when sales of hybrid cars were higher than usually. However, additional revenues from oil taxes should be used for subsidies on eco-friendly vehicles as well as on creating more charging stations for them to reduce financial losses of customers (Malone, 2009). As for further perspectives of battery technologies, they are rather clear. They can be improved by making new materials that would help to improve power delivery and allow batteries save energy for a longer period (The Boston Consulting Group, 2010).
After solving all difficulties with cars, hybrid technologies could be transferred to other means of transport. For example, electric engines may be easily placed in separate car units in trains for generating power. This could be used together with magnetic lift railways as in Japan. Another way is just replacing traditional motors with electric ones and moving them on normal railways. As for large trucks, they need more powerful engines than small cars because they have to carry heavy loads. Experts believe that additional power can be gained by developing ultra-capacitors. Airplanes that use high percentage octane fuel, in the future might also start utilizing hybrid technologies. However, it would be more difficult to introduce new technologies on planes than on large trucks or trains. In particular, engineers would have to change configurations of their engines to place battery packs and ultra-capacitors. Jets that apply fuels based on non-oil sources do not need introduction of EV technologies, but they can be improved by adding the battery pack used by hybrid vehicles. This would facilitate power transportation to manage electronic equipment on jets (Kalhammer, Kamath, Duvall, Alexander, & Jungers, 2009).
To achieve these goals and to become a leader among producers of hybrid cars, American companies need to follow a few rules. First, they have to avoid investing in research and development of their own models of hybrid cars because they do not have time for this. Instead, the companies should study and improve technologies that have already been designed in other countries, particularly the ones relating to batteries. Second, investments have to be made not only in hybrid technology, but also in sales of vehicles by opening new plants for their production. Third, the companies need to pay a specific attention to marketing because Toyota and other market leaders have a large portion of sales in the U.S., so it would be difficult to attract customers to new products.
Overall, hybrid cars involve various social and environmental issues. First, it can increase the country’s oil independence. Second, these vehicles have a significant influence on the environment; particularly, they can reduce the amount of emissions of toxic substances that affect health of humans and a variety of plants. Third, hybrid cars have an impact on the government policy on transport. Thus, the government uses different methods to encourage people to use hybrid vehicles. Finally, new cars provoke safety issues, but researches demonstrate that people’s worries about this aspect are unnecessary. Moreover, hybrid cars are believed to have higher popularity in the future.