So energy is a big deal. Where we get it from, how much of it we use, and what consequences result from using it have massive implications on our planet and our species. One side of this coin is looking at the energy that we use to power our homes, offices, and grid-connected technology. Another side of the energy coin involves transportation, which gets us from A to B, along with most of the goods we purchase. So this got me thinking, what does the environmentally 'perfect' automobile look like? Is there such a thing? What powers this movement?
The most basic form of transportation is walking, which I gather has been around for quite some time. No seriously though, bipedal motion is great to get around, but not so practical for longer trips or for transporting goods. Put energy into your body (food), and you are rewarded with self-transport and burned calories. Bicycles are possibly the most-efficient form of transportation from an input/output standpoint. Zero emissions, some sweat, and lots of smiles. They can be equipped to haul goods, although large quantities of goods and long distances are not the most practical on a bicycle.
Public transportation is also great. Buses, trains, car-shares and the like are all great ways to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. Some forms are more environmentally friendly that others (hybrid buses, efficient trains, etc.), but in general this is a good form of transport, albeit not 'perfect.' A challenge with public transport in America is that due to the large size of the country it remains impractical in many places, and economic and ideological barriers impede progress on increasing these public transport networks.
As Americans, well, we sure love the automobile. The open road has always been synonymous with freedom, and nothing affords more practicality than hopping into your car to get from A to B, hauling everything you may need along the way. Granted there are environmental implications to petroleum-based transport, and they are not good. Drilling for oil can be dangerous, refining it causes pollution, and burning it causes even more pollution. People are taking notice, and fuel efficiency is becoming a much larger priority. Hybrid cars are everywhere now, along with efficient diesel motors, and electric vehicles. Since it seems the automobile is not going anywhere anytime soon, lets take a closer look at a car with an end-goal of virtually zero-impact transport.
My current vision of the 'perfect' automobile looks something like this: First off, it would be manufactured with recycled materials. There is plenty of steel and other necessary materials sitting in landfills that we could probably re-purpose into new cars. Rather than mining for more materials, let's use what we already have, even retrofitting existing cars when possible. The motor would be electric. It would have zero petroleum, zero natural gas, zero emissions. The car would be plugged in to an energy source that was entirely renewable, like solar, wind, or geothermal power. No emissions on the input, none on the output. And maybe it could even be charged while being driven (http://www.shft.com/reading/charge-your-ev-while-you-drive).
In theory, this car exists today. The Nissan Leaf, for example, is a completely electric vehicle. If you only plugged it into power sources that received their power from renewable sources, there would be zero emissions from transportation, minus whatever went into building the car. More recycled building materials coupled with renewable power sources built in (like the solar panel on the Prius), would come fairly close to my vision of the environmentally 'perfect' automobile. We should tell car manufactures that this is what we want, and we should tell energy companies that we want more renewable energy coming into the grid, as well as more affordable home options. I realize this is a rather idealistic message, but having this image in sight can help pave the way for what is to come, even if its not affordable or practical for everyone right now.
So what does your environmentally 'perfect' automobile look like?