Get Started with Vehicles

Beginner
Volkswagen Rabbit Converted to Electric Drive
Green wheels: This Volkswagen Rabbit, converted to run on electricity, recharges its batteries from a grid-tied solar-electric system.
Electric Car Charged with Solar Power
This car recharges its batteries from typical grid electricity or, in this case, from the homeowner's solar-electric system.
Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle
An electric vehicle and the solar-electric arrays that power it—and the owner's home.
Volkswagen Rabbit Converted to Electric Drive
Electric Car Charged with Solar Power
Solar-Powered Electric Vehicle

Get Started with Vehicles

Deciding to use an alternative vehicle takes some commitment, although switches to some vehicles are easier than others.

The simplest change is purchasing a vehicle intended to run on diesel fuel, and instead run it on biodiesel—a fuel made by modifying vegetable oil. This fuel is available commercially at a slightly higher price than petrodiesel, but with a minor investment and some know-how, it can be made at home—and from used restaurant fry oil. Compared to petrodiesel, burning 100% biodiesel can cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, and hydrocarbon emissions are also significantly reduced. However, burning biodiesel produces slightly more smog-producing nitrogen oxides. Another downside to adding to biodiesel use is the huge amount of croplands that would be necessary to grow fuel for a large number of biodiesel vehicles.

Some veggie-oil proponents go a step beyond biodiesel by burning straight vegetable oil in their vehicles, eliminating the need for converting the fuel. In fact, the original diesel engine was invented with the intention of burning vegetable oil. But vehicles have to be modified to run thicker-than-petro veggie oil by adding fuel-heating systems and an additional fuel tank for starting on a less-viscous fuel. Vegetable oil can be purchased in bulk somewhat cheaper than petrodiesel. With some effective filtering, these vehicles can also use reclaimed waste veggie oil from restaurants.

Hybrid-electric vehicles are becoming quite popular because they can get very good fuel economy from their standard gasoline engines. The engine is combined with a battery/electric motor, and the car electronically juggles the use of the motor and engine to get the best economy. The hybrid batteries are small, and won’t get you very far without using the engine.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles, which have a larger battery that’s large enough to provide energy for short trips without using the gasoline engine. Once back home, you can just plug the car into the grid to recharge the battery. If recharging is not an option, the gasoline engine will still get you where you need to go. Some automakers are introducing plug-in models, and kits that add larger batteries to turn hybrids into plug-in hybrids are available.

Of all the vehicles, electric cars are the most economical to operate. A few commercial EVs are now available from standard automakers. New battery technologies are becoming more widespread and therefore cheap enough to put them in production EVs. But commercially available EVs are still comparatively expensive, and have the disadvantage of being limited by their range. But if most of your driving is local, they can be a great fit. Plus, there are inexpensive conversions that are happening. People start with a solid standard vehicle, take out the gasoline engine and all of its fuel related components, then add batteries and an electric motor.

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