Cars must plug in to a greener future, says WWF

Posted: 1 April 2008

Plug-in hybrid cars and battery electric vehicles could provide the route towards a sustainable future for transport - by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert oil wars, says a new study.

"Cars of the future must be much more efficient -smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic - and they should, increasingly, be powered by electricity" says James Leape, Director General of WWF International, which published the report.

Plugged in: the End of the Oil Age considers the future of transport that is currently 95 per cent dependent on liquid hydrocarbon fuels. It also examines the potential impacts and practicalities of electricity, versus other oil substitutes that could be used to fuel future transport systems.

*We should all be relying more on walking and biking, on buses and trains, to get to where we need to go,* says James Leape. "But cars will inevitably remain a major part of the transport equation."

Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda Civic Hybrid
2007 Honda Civic hybrid 2-door coupé.
The report finds that vehicles running solely or partly on electricity supplied from the grid are significantly more efficient and may emit fewer greenhouse gases than many so-called *alternative fuels*, even when that electricity is mostly produced using fossil fuels. However, the development of less polluting power generation and more use of renewable energies make it certain that the comparative efficiency and pollution advantages of plug-in transport solutions will improve into the future.

More efficient

While oil becomes progressively more inaccessible, the alternatives to traditional extraction include the exploitation of oil sands, which generates three times the emissions of petroleum processing and causes devastation to the local environment. techniques to create liquid fuels from coal are also being pursued in the US, China, India, Australia and South Africa.

*Coal-to-liquid fuels are costly, energy intensive and extremely polluting, and have previously only been used on any significant scale in countries facing a state of emergency,* said report author Dr Gary Kendall.

The report also finds that electric vehicles can be three times more efficient than hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, and more importantly can already be achieved using existing technology and distribution infrastructure.

*Transport is the only sector still addicted to oil, which raises energy security fears as well as climate change concerns. There are currently about 800 million vehicles in the world and this number could double within 25 years - we need to make sure alternative transport solutions are delivered, rather than perpetuating the problem* says James Leaton, Oil and Gas Policy Advisor at WWF-UK.

The report recommends the removal of hidden and overt subsidies to liquid fuel use. Vehicles should be subject to similar energy labelling and efficiency improvement requirements as other energy-consuming appliances. It says that liquid-based measures of fuel economy (litres per 100km or miles per gallon) and CO2 emissions targets should be replaced with technology-neutral indicators of energy consumed per kilometre.

2007 Toyota Prius
2007 Toyota Prius
2007 Toyota Prius hybrid saloon.
Electric vehicles can be four times more efficient than their internal combustion counterparts. In a conventional mechanical vehicle, only 18-23 per cent of the energy contained in the fuel is converted into motion, whereas electric vehicles make use of up to 75 per cent of electricity taken from the grid.

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