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Make Way for Green Cars

From fuel cells to hybrids, auto industry is investing in alternative fuels

By Nicholas Wu | null null , null
Kid Reporter Nicholas Wu in front of a Honda Insight hybrid at the Detroit Auto Show in January. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Wu) <br />
Kid Reporter Nicholas Wu in front of a Honda Insight hybrid at the Detroit Auto Show in January. (Photo courtesy Nicholas Wu)

The United States consumed almost 138 billion gallons of gasoline in 2008. That is more than the total consumption of South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia combined! Much of that gasoline is burned in automobiles, which contributes to one-third of the country’s total carbon dioxide output—a key contributor to global warming.

Environmentalists want to cut back on the air pollution caused by gas-burning vehicles with “green” cars. Green cars run on alternative fuels that cause little, if any, pollution.

One example of a green car is the Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell car, which was presented at the 2009 North American Auto Show, in Detroit, Michigan, in January. Fuel cell cars run on hydrogen, a very common gas produced by a chemical reaction in the car.

A fuel cell car looks just like an ordinary gas-guzzling model that drives much quieter. In fact, during a test drive by Scholastic News, the engine barely made a sound.

Auto companies are making cars like the fuel cell Equinox to “alleviate our dependency on foreign oil,” said William Perkins of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. He told Scholastic News that much of the oil and gas consumed in the U.S. comes from other countries. Many of those countries are politically unstable.

Another common green car is the hybrid. A hybrid is powered by a combination of two energy sources, usually gasoline and electricity. Rechargeable batteries power an electric motor. In some hybrids the electric motor powers the car at low speeds, but when the vehicle exceeds 40 miles per hour (mpg), a gasoline engine takes over. With the gasoline motor only being used part of the time, the car uses less gasoline and averages 45 mpg. That increases the efficiency of a car by 50 percent!

Another green fuel, which is plant based, is E85. This fuel is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline and is mainly available in the Midwest. E85 cars are almost exactly the same as a gasoline-powered car. The only problem with E85 is that its efficiency depends on the type of plant, like corn, that is used to make the ethanol.

Fuel for Stimulus
Alternative fuels and green car technology play an important part in the current economic stimulus plan signed into law recently by President Barack Obama. Called the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the law provides tax incentives and money for research and development.

Tax credits will be given to gas stations that sell alternative fuel or hydrogen. Other tax credits will be given to people who buy plug-in hybrid cars, or cars that can be recharged in an electrical outlet. To support battery manufacturing for plug-in cars in the United States, $2 billion in grants was awarded to battery manufacturing companies. President Obama’s goal is to put one million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015.

“If we don’t use this crisis as an opportunity to start retooling, then we will never catch up and be able to compete effectively against Japanese and Korean automakers.” President Obama said at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, recently.

Said Perkins at the Detroit Auto Show, “The future of the auto industry is very bright!” And that was before Congress passed the stimulus plan.

About the Author

Nicholas Wu is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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