Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Choosing a Green Vehicle

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Choosing a Green Vehicle

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON --

People interested in environmental issues love a good game of this versus that. Which is better for the environment: Paper towels or hot-air hand dryers? Cash, check or credit? Going to the theater or renting a DVD?

While it's an interesting diversion, such cases are all cocktail party chatter compared with options of driving. One-fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, according to the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund.

Environmental impact is one of many considerations when buying a car. Green cars are currently struggling to be price-competitive, leading GM recently to put a production hold on the highly publicized Volt.

But what if you wanted to base your choice on environmental merits alone? The biggest decision then is what sort of engine to buy. The traditional and still most common choice, the gasoline engine, is unsupported by an electric battery of any kind. Then there are hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Fusion, which use gasoline to power the car but can capture the gas engine's surplus energy as electricity to charge a battery.

There are also plug-in hybrids, which add the ability to charge the battery from an electrical socket while maintaining a gasoline backup. The Chevrolet Volt has grabbed headlines in this category and was the co-winner of the car of the year at this year's Geneva Auto Show. Finally, there are such pure plug-in automobiles as the Nissan Leaf. No gas, just a rechargeable electric battery.

Jeremy Michalek, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, published a study on the relative impacts of different factors last year. He found that a variety of factors affect a car's overall environmental impact. Some have to do with location, some with consumer behavior and some with manufacturing decisions beyond your control.

Consider, for example, what kind of fuel powers the car. There's no question that 100-percent electric vehicles have lower tailpipe emissions, because no fossil fuels are combusted during use. Total greenhouse gas emissions, however, are a different story. …

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