The Future of Fuel

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I love cars, and I always have. But I recognize that cars aren’t, you know, the best thing for the environment. And while I’m not super into environmental causes, I’ve been trying to be a little more conscious about them, especially because I’m dating someone who really cares a lot about the planet.

So I thought I’d ask the experts: what’s next for cars and fuel? I want to keep enjoying driving and working on cars, but I know that there are environmental concerns about them, so I was wondering how the industry is addressing that.

Cars have been an integral part of American life for generations – and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. But you are absolutely correct to say that cars, trucks, and other vehicles are not great for the environment. Cars spew out 333 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, which accounts for 20% of the total carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere. Each individual car doesn’t make much of an impact, but there are so many of them – and when we use them instead of public transit, we multiply the number of engines running. Choosing to use cars also, of course, increases the number of cars on the road – which creates gridlock that, in turn, makes our trips less efficient and causes our cars to expend even more energy and release even more pollution.

But cars are changing, say the experts at automotive college NYADI. They’re becoming more efficient, which is good (though, the experts warned, this may make them tougher for you to work on in your spare time – modern systems with complex computers and sensors are not the simple shade-tree projects of yesteryear). Fuel efficiency is a concern for both environmental and financial reasons. Some passenger cars now use different types of fuel: diesel and even biodiesel vehicles are now more common, say the engineers at SeQuential, and we have also seen the rise of hybrid cars, which use electricity as well as traditional fuels, and even fully electric cars, which take traditional fuel out of the equation entirely. It’s hard to say now which of these is the most likely future of our vehicles, and some of these options are not yet as green as they could be. For instance, an electric car gets its power from our electrical grid, and we still burn a lot of coal for electricity. Electric cars are still more efficient than traditional vehicles, but there is progress yet to be made on all fronts.

The very way we drive may soon change. This may not be your favorite part of this answer, but self-driving cars are coming, and they may one day replace traditional cars entirely. There are some clear benefits to self-driving cars, including efficiency improvements that could actually limit the environmental impact of cars. Remember how traffic jams caused a drop in efficiency and an increase in pollution? Well, smart self-driving cars could reduce traffic jams, helping the environment.

There are ways to reduce your environmental footprint in the here and now by using public transit, carpooling, opting for more fuel-efficient vehicles, and driving carefully and in a fuel-efficient way. None of these completely eliminates the impact of cars, of course – but that doesn’t mean cars are doomed. Car manufacturers, computer scientists, fuel companies, and environmental experts will continue to innovate, and their work will almost certainly transform the cars we live with – while ensuring that cars remain a part of our lives.

“I think there are more politicians in favor of electric cars than against.” – Elon Musk

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