Nonetheless, Ford last year unveiled a prototype of its popular Escape Hybrid SUV that runs on E85. Like the gas-electric hybrids now on the road, the E85-electric hybrid Escape maximizes fuel economy by alternating between its internal combustion and electric engines. And it never needs to be plugged in because its high-capacity batteries store electricity generated from braking and other processes in-car.
Ford estimates that if only five percent of U.S. vehicles were powered by ethanol-electric hybrids oil imports could be reduced by 140 million barrels a year. Such vehicles would also produce about 25 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2)—a chief contributor to global warming—than traditional cars and trucks. What’s holding up mass production, says Ford, is a lack of E85 fueling outlets—only 1,200 exist across the U.S.
Not to be outdone, General Motors (GM) has its own ethanol-electric hybrid in the works via its Sweden-based Saab subsidiary, which unveiled a prototype in 2006. The company claims that, whereas Toyota’s gas-electric Prius emits 104 grams of CO2 per kilometer, their E85-based hybrid should emit just 15-20 grams. Industry insiders don’t expect to see such a vehicle available to the public until 2010 or later.
With regard to diesel-electric hybrids, though diesel spews particulates and other nasty ground level pollutants into the environment, it contributes significantly less CO2 to the atmosphere than gasoline. And biodiesel, a form of the fuel derived from plants, is both carbon-neutral (burning it contributes no additional carbon to the atmospheric balance of the pollutant) and cleaner burning in regard to particulates. It can be used interchangeably with regular diesel in most diesel engines. Thus combining biodiesel with an electric motor in a hybrid car or truck would yield one of the cleanest burning engines on the road.
GM and Chrysler have already collaborated on developing a diesel-hybrid platform that combines dual electric motors with a diesel engine to offer unparalleled fuel efficiency. But whether such vehicles ever see the showroom floor—and whether consumers will be able to even afford them—is anybody’s guess.
CONTACTS: GreenerCars.org, www.greenercars.org; E85vehicles.com, http//e85vehicles.com.