Global warming is a major issue in the United States today, and lately, it seems it’s been in the news more than ever. In 2008, a pivotal election year, every major or minor candidate running for office would be remiss not to address issues of fuel conservation, carbon emissions reduction, and alternative energy sources. New and used cars and trucks alike burn gasoline to enable motion, and gasoline burning is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Over time, the cumulative effects of global warming can include significant increases in Earth temperatures; the melting of polar ice caps, and severe weather incidents resulting in property destruction and losses of human life. One easy way to reduce CO2 emissions is to reduce the amount of fuel burned per day, per month, and per year.
Americans who live in major cities — such as New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore, or Atlanta — often have the option of helping to reduce total yearly carbon emissions by taking public transportation. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that using public transportation saves $1.4 billion worth of gasoline each year. However, many Americans do not live in areas where subways, buses, or trolleys are available or convenient. Some American suburbs are too sparsely populated to support extensive public transportation; meanwhile, the infrastructures of many exurban areas cannot support bus or light rail systems at all. In order to effectively reduce American CO2 emissions each year, individual drivers must seek solutions to excessive personal vehicle gasoline consumption, including car, truck, and SUV gasoline use.
In March 2004, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the manufacture of the first “advanced hydraulic hybrid” SUV. NextEnergy, a Michigan nonprofit organization states that hydraulic hybrid cars, trucks, and SUVs use a regenerative braking system. This means that when the hybrid driver brakes his or her car, truck, or SUV to a stop, the vehicle motor pumps fluid from a low-pressure chamber to a high-pressure chamber. The fluid that is pumped is hydraulic, and has the ability to pressurize the braking system by compressing nitrogen gas in the high-pressure chamber. As the system is pressurized, energy is stored by a system battery, to be used during vehicle acceleration or in other driving modes.
Hybrid cars, trucks, and SUVs are seen as Earth-friendly inventions. By capturing kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost during the vehicle braking process, and using this energy to charge the vehicle battery, hybrid vehicles reduce the total amount of gasoline the car, truck, or SUV must burn to generate motion. Therefore, this type of technology results in significant fuel savings for the consumer. In many hybrid vehicle models, the gasoline-driven engine completely shuts down during stops, resulting in heightened vehicle fuel economy.
Global warming is much more complex than just carbon dioxide emissions, however. Several chemical compounds created by fuel production and use contribute to the “greenhouse effect,” or the warming of Earth surface temperatures that results from gases trapping heat in the atmosphere. The fact that burning gasoline releases CO2 into the atmosphere is fairly well known. However, several other principle gas compounds contribute to the greenhouse effect, too.
Gasoline combustion, in addition to releasing CO2, releases nitrous oxide, NO2, into the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, NO2 has 296 times the impact of CO2 per unit of mass over longer periods of time. Therefore this compound, though less often discussed than CO2, is another deleterious chemical by-product of fuel consumption. Furthermore, the production of fuel itself contributes harmful compounds to the atmosphere. Methane gas, CH4, is released during fuel production activities. The IPCC estimates that methane has a dire effect on global warming, as well – it warms the Earth 25 times as much as CO2 per unit mass over long periods of time. Automobile manufacturers and drivers alike can readily conclude then that production and consumption of fuel has major, long-term consequences for life on Earth.
During the driving process, a significant opportunity for fuel waste occurs when a car, truck, or SUV is stopped with the motor still running; for example, at a stoplight or an intersection. A hybrid engine reduces incidents of gasoline waste and total chemical atmospheric release because it draws from stored energy to power the motor when the vehicle is idling or traveling at the lowest speeds. The smaller, more fuel-efficient hybrid engines also enable them to reduce greenhouse emissions by using less gasoline overall. Consumer pocketbooks benefit immensely from reduced gasoline consumption, of course. More importantly, experts from institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change estimate that hybrid vehicles will lessen or halt the effects of greenhouse gases on the Earth.