The more we know and do, the better we all will be.

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Nov 09

The Untaken Road: Used Cars, Not Hybrids

Those concerned about our environment’s health have taken to buying hybrid cars. It seems logical; hybrid cars have both a gas engine and an electric engine that take turns working. Most car manufactures adjust cars so that they get the optimum mpg at around 60 miles per hour; gas is expelled at less efficient rates when driving below or above that speed. This is where hybrid cars come in. The Prius’ electric motor, for example, works at speeds of 25 miles per hour and lower. Its electric motor runs at those speeds when the gas engine normally would, ultimately creating less greenhouse emissions.

Manufacturing Hybrids Uses A Lot of Energy

Nickel is a prime component in the production of most hybrid batteries. The top nickel producing countries are Russia, Indonesia, Philippines, Canada, Australia, New Caledonia, China, Cuba, and Colombia; therefore, car companies typically have to seek nickel from those countries in order to produce the battery necessary for hybrid cars. After buying the nickel from these counties, car companies must have the nickel shipped to counties that will refine the nickel; the top nickel refining countries are Russia, Canada, Australia, and Japan. From here, the nickel must be manufactured into nickel foam; China, Japan, and South Korea are the top manufacturers of nickel foam. Important to know is that despite there being an overlap of countries who mine, refine, and manufacture nickel for car battery production, car companies do what is cheapest for their manufacturing process. A company might buy nickel in Canada, get it refined in Russia, and then have it manufactured into nickel foam in China. The nickel used in Toyota Prius’ batteries is mined in Canada, refined in Great Britain, manufactured into nickel foam in China, and then finally sent to Toyota’s plant in Japan where the batteries are made. All the while, the nickel is uses energy when it is shipped on container ships and trains run on diesel; not to mention all of the energy consumed when nickel is mined, refined, and manufactured. And that’s just the battery. According to Matt Powers of Wired, a Prius has consumed 1,000 gallons of gasoline before it goes on the showroom at your local Toyota dealership.

Don’t Feel Too Bad: Manufacturing Non-Hybrid Cars Does Too

Non-hybrid cars, on the other hand, use lead as the prime component in their batteries. The top lead producing countries are China, Australia, USA, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Morocco, South Africa, and North Korea. Lead is manufactured mostly in third world countries, such a China, Vietnam, and Africa. North America and Europe have stopped manufacturing it because it is so toxic; also companies find that it is cheaper and easier to manufacture in third world countries because they have cheaper labor and less, if any, environmental restrictions.

In all honesty, it is more difficult to become knowledgeable about the lead based battery manufacturing process than the nickel based one; the politics involved with hybrid cars means there is an abundance of news stories and studies about nickel batteries. Yet, one can assume that all of the mining, refining, and manufacturing that is involved in producing lead based batteries is at least similar to that of nickel based batteries; there is plenty of energy wasted in the production of lead batteries, as well as in the manufacturing of the actual cars.

Perhaps Our Best Option

While we wait for the benefits that hydrogen cars will hopefully bring to the world (though that is a whole other controversial topic), our best option might be something none of us have thought of: used cars that are fuel efficient. Think about it. New cars, whether they’re hybrid, gas powered, etc., required a lot of energy to manufacture. We saw how much energy goes into producing car batteries. Can you imagine how much energy goes into producing the entire car? Some have proposed buying used cars. They argue that used cars have already consumed a lot of energy to produce so we should use them until they can run no more.

A 2008 USA Today article discusses cars from the early 1990’s that have fuel. GM’s Geometro’s fuel efficiency is similar to the Prius. A few are:

  • Ford Festiva: EPA-rated at mid-30’s miles per gallon.
  • Hyundai Excel: EPA-rated at mid-30’s miles per gallon.
  • Geo Metro: the 1993 Geo Metro XFI is EPA-rated at 46 miles per gallon.

 

Amy Shoemaker is a blogger and guest post author bringing to us her thoughts on being environmentally friendly. Additionally, Amy writes about the unfortunate abuse that takes place in nursing homes today.

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