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Autonomous Cars and the Environment: What You Need To Know

Autonomous Cars and the Environment: What You Need To Know

By Guest Blogger Scott Huntington

Ever since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in the early 1900s, the automobile industry changed forever. Transportation via car was no longer a luxury of the affluent, but a mainstay in American culture accessible to virtually everyone.

Much has changed over the last century; the automotive industry has blossomed into a multibillion-dollar enterprise featuring competitors from around the world. In 2000, amid a push for alternative fuel sources, Toyota released the Prius to the American market. This vehicle was the first hybrid car in the United States. As environmental concerns over the future of cars continue to grow, many are looking to driverless cars as the answer to curbing carbon emissions.

No, this isn’t something out of a science fiction movie; autonomous cars are real and they are coming faster than you think. In fact, Google has a working prototype of a driverless car and Delphi Automotive recently attempted the world’s first cross-country road trip in one of these vehicles.

An Autonomous Solution?

Self-driving cars have many social and economic benefits, but can they really be helpful from an environmental perspective? One major concern is the vehicle’s fuel source. Driverless cars are still cars, and further reliance on fossil fuels aren’t exactly helping the environment. Automotive engineers have to figure out the most eco-friendly way of streamlining this method of transport. While it is difficult to determine the long-term environmental benefits without a larger sample size, you can find some speculative points below:

  • Fuel efficiency: Researchers at KPMG believe that driverless cars will be considerably more fuel-efficient than vehicles that use human drivers. If every car is driving at the same speed, the cars could, theoretically, bunch together, effectively cutting gas usage by at least 30 percent.
  • Lighter vehicles: The hope is that automated vehicles will lessen the amount of car accidents per year. Considering the fact that 81 percent all car accidents are due to human error, driverless cars should be met with widespread support. With less emphasis placed on accident prevention, cars will likely be more durable and use less material.
  • Ridesharing increase: Recent data from the International Parking Institute suggests that cars remain parked 90 percent of the time. Services like Uber and Lyft are beginning to mitigate the stigma associated with ridesharing. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to turn ridesharing into a normal occurrence. Fewer cars on the road translates to increased environmental stability.

Convenience at a Cost

Driverless cars open up a realm of new possibilities for people who are unable to drive, such as minors, disabled, elderly, intoxicated or medically unable. Ridesharing is already causing significant tensions between taxi companies and other sources of public transportation; what happens if autonomous vehicles become the preferred method of transport among Americans? Other mediums would quickly become obsolete.

Despite the prospect of a less-stressful work commute, the increased number of driverless cars on the road will outweigh any proposed environmental benefits. Experts foresee a 160 percent jump in people’s need to travel by car. Autonomous vehicles may be the next step in the automobile industry, and their effects on the environment remain will be seen soon.

 

About the Author

Scott Huntington is a writer and auto enthusiast. Check out his site, offthethrottle.com for more.

 

Source: Green Tech News

What about Solar-Isopropanol Powered Cars?

By Guest Blogger Ali Lawrence

For decades, we’ve heard about the promise of the electric car. These cars don’t produce any tailpipe emissions, they’re less expensive (they cost about one-third or one-quarter less per mile than their gas-guzzling counterparts), and you can fill them up at home. On top of that, they’re practically silent, meaning you won’t have to hear the loud whirr of the engine as you drive from Point A to Point B.

The cars — which have theoretically been coming down the pike since the ‘70s — still have yet to make considerable inroads in the market, despite the soaring success of companies like Tesla Motors on Wall Street. In 2013, for example, 96,000 electric cars were sold in the United States, representing about one-half of one percent of the market that year.

So while electric cars have yet to take off — it remains to be seen if they ever will —scientists are working on alternative green energy sources they hope will one day power the automobile.

Using the Sun for Fuel

At Harvard, researchers recently revealed they figured out how to convert solar energy into liquid fuel, a breakthrough that may very well have substantial implications as we search for alternative fuel sources.

Here’s how it works: Scientists use sunlight to break apart water into hydrogen and oxygen. By using a bacterium and adding carbon dioxide, they’re able to convert the gases into isopropanol, a liquid fuel generally used in cleaning, pharmaceutical or cosmetic applications.

Who knows whether scientists will be able to leverage isopropanol to power cars in such a way that allows them to move quickly over long stretches of road. After all, General Motors believes “range anxiety” — a driver’s fear of their electric car running out of juice and leaving them stranded on the highway — is a primary inhibitor of EV adoption. So in order for an electric car to really be successful, it has to be able to cover lots of ground.

But they will most assuredly be trying.

Will Isopropanol Be the Gasoline of the Future?

Charged with the task of ensuring the planet remains livable for future generations, many environmentally conscious car owners are proactively looking to reduce their carbon footprints, finding a more fuel-friendly vehicle like a hybrid (if not a fully electric car), taking public transportation or carpooling.

Believe it or not, Americans consumed 13 percent less gasoline in 2012 than they did in 2007, though they still burned through 123 billion gallons of gasoline. This reduction was driven in part by new, alternative forms of energy.

While we still rely on gasoline, researchers are pursuing a variety of substitutes, including ethanol, methanol, compressed natural gas, biodiesel, electricity and hydrogen. These alternative fuel sources have helped reduce our collective carbon footprint — but we can certainly do better.

The breakthroughs at Harvard certainly give us a glimmer of hope that we as a society may very well be able to begin seriously weaning off gasoline and oil in our lifetimes. The sun is one of our most renewable resources, and as such we should do all we can to leverage its power.

Imagine driving a solar-powered car that doesn’t shut off at nighttime or on a cloudy day. Thanks to the researchers at Harvard, it appears as though we’re a step closer to experiencing that reality.

 

About the Author

Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties.

 

Source: Green Tech News

New Roof Tile Coating Cleans the Air

New Roof Tile Coating Cleans the Air

roof tiles clean the air

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way that we could get rid of pollution without actually having to do anything? Well, researchers at UCR in southern California believe they have a solution that fits the bill. A new coating for roof tiles can absorb smog pollutants, and can clean the area’s air daily if given a chance by homeowners.

By spraying clay roof tiles with titanium dioxide, UCR students discovered that 88% to 97% of nitrogen oxide pollution can be cleaned from the air. The calculations suggest that 21 tons of nitrogen oxides can be removed from the air with the adoption of the roof tiles on one million homes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make much of a dent in the 500 tons of pollution emitted every day in Southern California.

Despite the 4% reduction rate, it’s worth noting that the research delivers positive results. With even a small coating of titanium dioxide, there is effectiveness being exhibited. It’s a small step in the average homeowner taking an effort to reduce air pollution, without actually having to do more than apply a treatment to their roof. The average sized home would only require about $5 worth of the coating to treat their existing roof.

These types of roofing tiles are available commercially already, although they are fairly expensive. A small study completed by the UC Riverside engineering students showed that pollution concentrations can decrease in as little as 20 minutes when using titanium dioxide coated roof tiles.

These new roof tiles aren’t the first invention to harness the pollutant eating capabilities of titanium dioxide. In the Netherlands, a city street comprised of titanium dioxide coated pavers was proven to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution by 45%.

The research on titanium dioxide coatings and their effect on air pollutants, specifically nitrogen oxide, shows a positive step towards dealing with environmental issues. Because the coating is relatively easy to use and requires very little from the consumer, it can be a way to proactively deal with smog without negatively affecting the appearance of the neighborhood.

Titanium dioxide is a compound that is already added to a variety of consumer products, such as paint, makeup, and sunscreen. The UC Riverside students would like to continue their research to determine if the addition of titanium dioxide to paint used on walls would also have an effect. If so, adding this type of paint to concrete dividers and walls along major highways can help reduce the air pollution emitted from traffic.

While the concept isn’t anything new, and the research study was small, the findings are a big step in the right direction for dealing with pollution. Better air quality is something that many major cities struggle to maintain, and something as simple as a coated roof tiles (or painted walls) can have a large impact. The next step is to think large scale, and apply the pollution eating aspect of titanium dioxide in a bigger project.

 

Source: Green Tech News