Automobiles of the Future: Alternative Fuel and High Efficiency Vehicles With the world wide depletion of oil fields and fossil fuels, as well as the ever rising gasoline prices; the demand for alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles is on the rise. Automakers are quickly developing new technology and new vehicles to satisfy these demands. The top three fuel saving vehicles, as far as automakers are concerned are: gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles, pure electric vehicles, and hydrogen/fuel cell powered vehicles. All three have many different benefits, advantages and disadvantages; but all three are extremely efficient, clean, and aid in overcoming the world wide depletion of petroleum and other fossil fuels. A number of these vehicles are coming into production shortly, if they havenâ€™t already. They unfortunately may also have some additional surcharges and a good or bad fuel infrastructure. With current technology as advanced as it has become with all of the research and development automakers have put forth towards the development of alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles, many ideas have not been as successful as the three mentioned above. There are several different kinds of these alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles, all of which will have many benefit, and will be in production extremely soon. Three types of alternative and high efficiency vehicles automakers have set their sites on are gasoline/electric, pure electric, and hydrogen/fuel cell vehicles. â€œThe gasoline/electric vehicle uses a combination of a four stroke gasoline engine with an electric motor. They use a somewhat large engine that is connected directed to the drive train as well as a thin electric motor attached to the engine.â€ (Howstuffworks.com) The gasoline engine provides most of the vehicles power to the smaller, lighter electric motor, which provides most of the power while at a cruising speed. The gasoline motor can basically shut itself down while it is idling and when the vehicle is decelerating, further stretching the fuel efficiency. This is the most common type of hybrid because it has been the easiest to develop, and uses the least amount of â€œbrand newâ€ technology. Another type of a gasoline/electric vehicle utilizes a generator, more batteries and a small engine, usually 10-20 horsepower at the most. (hybridcars.com) These vehicles can weigh hundreds of pounds more than the first type due to the added batteries and generator. Similarly, pure electric cars, obviously, use an electric motor and lack a gasoline or diesel motor. Many electric vehicles today were once gasoline powered cars. Meaning, the vehicle that started its life as a normal, every day gasoline powered vehicle was stripped of its â€œstockâ€ engine and was replaced by an electric motor. The electric motor gets it power from a controller. The controller gets its power from rechargeable batteries. â€œOne such car that has been converted into an electric car is a 1994 Geo Prism owned by John Mauney. His car is more of a typical electric car, getting about 50 miles per charge. It does 0-60 in around 15 seconds and takes about 12 kilowatt hours of electricity to charge the car after about a 50 mile trip.â€ (Howstuffworks.com) This may seem like a very short range, but if you really think about it, many people living in an urban town donâ€™t travel that far in a day. Another advantage of an electric vehicle is the noise, or the lack of it. Electric vehicles are virtually silent. In contrast, the third type of alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicle is the hydrogen vehicle. This vehicle does not run on gasoline, or electricity, but on hydrogen. These hydrogen powered vehicles are quit complex in design. One such design employâ€™s a Ballard Power System Proton exchange membrane (PEM) cell. A PEM cell is basically a solid plastic film, called a membrane. This membrane is permeable to protons when it is wet, but does not conduct electrons. Compared to other types of fuel cells, PEMâ€™s generate more power for a given volume or weight of fuel cell. â€œThe system employâ€™s three fuel cell stacks that contain a total of 400 PEM cells. The cars fuel cell system operates by electrochemically (chemical reactions brought by electricity) combining on-board hydrogen with oxygen taken from the air outside. Like batteries, fuel cells use electrodes (solid electrical connectors) in an electrolyte (electrically conductive medium). When the hydrogen molecules come into contact with the negative electrodes, the molecules split into proton and electrons. The protons are carried across the proton exchange membrane to the positive electrode of the fuel cell, generating electricity. The molecules of the hydrogen and oxygen are combined chemically, with water as the waste product.â€ (Howstuffworks.com) Now with all that in mind, A power inverter will turn the raw electricity into an alternating current (AC) that will power the electric motor. As a result of all the research and development, all three types of alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles use a tremendous amount of technology and innovation, some more then the others, and will hopefully be worth all of the efforts put into them. Efforts are always being made to make every vehicle more efficient. Alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles will have many benefits, to efficiency, to cleanliness to overcoming the world wide dependence on petroleum. Efficiency is one major benefit. For the hybrid vehicles, Honda claims that the hybrid civic gets 62.5% better gas mileage than the regular Honda Civic. (Hondacars.com) The Honda Insight gets an amazing 61 mpg in the city, and 68 mpg on the highway. The Toyota Prius gets on astonishing 60 mpg in the city, and 51 mpg on the highway. Pure electric cars arenâ€™t concerned as much with efficiency as they are with the total trip range. A typical pure electric vehicle will average about 50 miles per trip, on a full charge. New ideas are constantly being made, trying to improve the overall ranges. On the other hand, hydrogen cars generate an estimated 99 mpg. (nationalgeographic.com) Hydrogen vehicles are also following the trend; trying to become more efficient. The only problem with that is the fact that the technology put into these vehicles is extremely new. Engineers have not completely mastered the craft and are making design changes all the time. Efforts are being made though. Ford invested 1.8 billion euros (approximately $2.18 billion dollars, American) in environmental protection in 2003. (Daimlerchryster.com) Cleanliness is another big aspect of alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles. When the Honda Civic Hybrid is compared, side by side, to a regular Honda Civic, in fuel consumption, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons in produced in 1 year (estimated), with 12,500 miles per car, the hybrid wins every section, easily. The hybrid uses 107 gallons of fuel less; 263 gallons for the hybrid and 370 gallons for the standard. The Hybrid produces 31% less carbon dioxide then the standard, 5,089 pounds to 7,176 pounds. It uses 41% less carbon monoxide, 79.9 pounds to 135 pounds. It uses 89% less nitrogen oxides, with .8 pounds to 7.4 pounds. Finally, the hybrid uses 73% less hydrocarbons; with 8 pounds to 3 pounds (hybridcars.com). These are some pretty descent numbers that show an amazing amount of promise. Pure electric cars one-up these hydrogen powered vehicles. They produce virtually zero emissions because of their lack of a combustion engine, requiring some sort of explosion, flame, etc. They do not need anything to burn at all, so consequently, it produces no emissions. The hydrogen powered vehicle produces only one emission: water/water vapor. With the world wide oil crisis, and the depletion of oil fields, all of the 3 vehicles will help out with this tremendously. With the 48 mpg of the civic, 60 mpg with the Prius, and 61 mpg with the insight, all three are helping overcome the serious population problem our vehicles have today and are reducing the oil consumption, and aiding in making our world a cleaner place at the same time. Surprisingly, these three hybrid vehicles are the only ones of the three discussed that even needs gasoline at all! With the 48 mpg of the Civic, 60 mpg with the Prius, and 61 mpg with the Insight, all three are helping overcome the serious population problem our vehicles have today and are reducing the oil consumption, and aiding in making our world a cleaner place at the same time. The next thing that has to be asked concerns the production of these alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles. When will they come out? How much are they going to cost? What is the fuel infrastructure like? Surprisingly, the Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight, and the Toyota Prius are all currently for sale at a local dealership. â€œThe Honda Civic Hybrid made its debut in â€˜03. The Honda Insight made its debut in 2000.â€ (Hondacars.com) â€œThe Toyota Prius made its original debut in Japan in 1997.â€ (Toyota.com) Pure electric cars have also hit the main stream, but there is currently no car maker with a pure electric vehicle in production today. A new car maker, Hypercar INC, has been developing a hydrogen powered car for the past number of years. They expect to have its first model ready to roll off the production line by 2005. (Nationalgeographic.com) Hypercar INC also expects it to get 99 miles to the gallon of hydrogen. The cost of the gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles is, unfortunately a little pricey. The price as of a 2004 Toyota Prius is $20,810 M.S.R.P. (Toyota.com) The Honda Civic Hybrid has a price tag of $19,650 M.S.R.P. Where as the regular civic costs $15,360 M.S.R.P. as a reference to the additional surcharges. The Honda Insight will run $19,180 M.S.R.P. (cardirect.com) Now these prices may seem a little high, but the government has thrown in some incentives. If you buy a Hybrid vehicle this year, you can claim a $1500 deduction on your 2004 tax return. Some states are also allowing hybrid drivers to drive in the car pool lane while driving solo. (Hybridcars.com) Now it may not be a big deal for gasoline/electric hybrid drivers/owners because a gas station where they can fill up is probably just around the corner. The same goes for pure electric vehicles as well. A full charge is just an electrical socket and 12 kilowatt hours away. Now there is going to be a very limited amount of hydrogen fill up stations due to the difficulty involved in actually obtaining the hydrogen. Not only is it difficult to mine this hydrogen, but it is also very difficult to transport it. Moving large volumes would require compressing it, or liquefying it. Either way it is a long and tedious procedure. Another problem is hydrogenâ€™s volatility. It ignites at a wider range of concentrations and requires a very little amount of energy to ignite. (hybridcars.com) In total, all three types of vehicles have many benefits, but hydrogen vehicles may have some draw-backs. Overall, all three types of vehicles, the gasoline/electric hybrid, the pure electric vehicle, and the hydrogen/fuel cell vehicle all have many benefits. They might also be coming into production soon, unless they already have; like the Honda Civic hybrid, the Honda Insight, and the Toyota Prius. Due to their high efficiency, the three different types of alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles will play a large role in the downfall of the oil and fossil fuel crisis. All three will aid in the downfall of the greenhouse gasses which cause global warming. They will definitely combat the negative effects that the new sport utility vehicle craze has left on our precious atmosphere. With technology as advances as it has become, and gasoline prices ever increasing, automakers have quickly noticed the increased interest in more economical vehicles. They have begun a researching and developing alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles. These alternative fuel and high efficiency vehicles have several benefits with minimal draw backs.