According to recent sustainability reports, the UK is improving in lowering automotive emissions and producing green and eco-friendly cars. Whether it’s from people trying to save on the ever-higher cost of petrol or from wanting to do their bit for the environment, the demand for environmentally friendly vehicles is growing.
With more and more high-end car makers producing stylish green vehicles, we decided to have a look at some future technologies to expect in the cars of the future. Expect to see more developments in hybrids, some familiar renewable energy sources and some potentially game-changing technology of the future.
Lightweight materials will make cars greener
A relatively simple way that many companies are making their new cars more fuel efficient is by changing the materials that they are built from, replacing the usual steel body panels with carbon fibre and aluminium to shed weight and reduce fuel consumption. Carbon fibre has been used frequently in low-volume, high-price cars to replace body panels and seats in sports cars like the new Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster. However, this is gradually spreading to higher volume models at lower price points. For example, BMW is developing extensive carbon fibre bodies for their new range of electric cars. The reduced weight of these materials also improves performance and means that other components like engines and brakes can be made lighter as well, as there is less mass to move and stop.
More ambitious goals in car materials are being led by companies like Ford, whose new F-150 pick up truck features body panels and pickup bed made from aluminium. Although this vehicle may not seem relevant to the UK, the fact that Ford sells over three-quarters of a million of them worldwide means that it is a very big deal globally. Saving over 300kg in body weight, it shows that even with heavy-duty vehicles, manufacturers are looking for greener solutions.
More effective plug-in Hybrids and range extenders will save you money
Hybrids are the best-known option for those looking for a new car which reduces their carbon footprint and saves some money on fuel. For the last decade, the market leader here has been Toyota, who continue to see strong sales in Europe. Hybrid cars make use of large rechargeable batteries that help the petrol engine to power the car, reducing its reliance on fuel. With more sophisticated batteries being developed and prices reducing, the electric motor is becoming more important than the petrol motor. Many new hybrids are now ‘plug-in’ or ‘range extender’ models, where car owners can charge their batteries from mains electricity at home and when parking up. As shown by this tongue-in-cheek Cadillac advert, global attitudes to eco-chariots are changing. Plug-in hybrids are becoming more popular, with websites such as this showing nationwide locations for charging points in the UK. Currently, it can take six to eight hours to fully charge a battery with a standard supply like the one you have at home, although occasionally you will find rapid points that provide a massive increase of 80% charge in just half an hour. With plug-in stations popping up across the country, we can expect to see these sorts of cars continuing to increase in popularity.
The plug-in hybrid, however, still relies on fossil fuels to share the load, and the environmental benefit depends on where the power in the grid is coming from. Companies like Ford and Toyota are starting to incorporate solar panels into the roof of some of their models to provide some clean and free electricity. As much as it would seem like a natural idea to use empty roof space for solar panels, it would still take a week of constant charging in strong sunlight before it would reach full battery charge. So it’s really a boost rather than a primary source of electricity.
Hydrogen fuel cells may finally be around the corner
A recurring non-starter of automotive green technology has been the hydrogen fuel cell, where hydrogen is used to generate electricity and produces nothing but water as waste. The biggest problem of the fuel cell model has been the cost of installing the infrastructure. To provide refuelling stations for fuel cells all over the country would be so expensive to make it seem impossible. This hasn’t killed off development though, with several manufacturers still working to bring fuel cell cars to production. Mercedes-Benz have said that they could have cars in production tomorrow if the infrastructure could be provided, and Toyota has bitten the bullet by announcing a new fuel cell vehicle for release next year. Whilst the infrastructure still remains an issue, progress is being made. The state of California, for example, is promising to install up to 70 stations by 2016. And when it comes to environmental regulations, where California leads the rest of the world tends to follow.
For lovers of cars and the environment it may finally be something to get excited about, but perhaps not too soon, as price estimates still place the hydrogen fuel cell powered car at just shy of £60,000. It’s not necessarily the affordable option for members of the public, and the UK currently only has about 11 hydrogen fuelling stations, but it’s a promising step forwards towards mainstream adoption of green technology. Still, if you’re desperate to have your own hydrogen-powered car, you can find conversion kits online.