21 May 2007 - 09:34
  • News Code: 105131

HEV production has already begun in the large car markets, and it is growing.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are the best way to achieve a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases produced by vehicle exhaust fumes, until hydrogen-powered models become viable. They are even more environmentally-friendly than the use of biofuels.

Powered by an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, HEVs are becoming an attractive alternative in the light of the most recent reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which recommend urgent measures to curb global warming, say Brazilian experts.

Automotive engineering professor Marcelo Massarani at the Polytechnic School of Sao Paulo University told IPS that HEVs can cut pollution caused by vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 80 percent, “and sometimes by up to 90 percent.“

An HEV is still 10 to 20 percent more expensive to buy than a conventional car, but in Sao Paulo there would be an average net saving of 18,000 reals (8,800 dollars) over the life of the vehicle, Juliana de Queiroz concluded in her master’s thesis, which was supervised by Massarani.

This amount includes savings on fuel, lower medical costs for pollution-related diseases, and carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions up to 2012.

The advantages of HEVs are recognized, but “there is a lack of political will“ to take measures to promote their production, Massarani said. In Brazil, an obvious means of stimulating their use would be tax incentives. A tax of 33.3 percent is levied on cars in this country, twice the proportion charged in Europe, he said.

Massarani said he was planning a seminar at his university this year, to which government authorities, representatives of the car industry, researchers and environmentalists would be invited, to discuss strategies to encourage hybrid vehicles and remove obstacles from their path.

HEVs use a battery-powered electric motor and a generator that produces electricity from fuel. That is to say, it still uses gasoline, diesel or ethanol fuel, but in much lower quantities than conventional vehicles.

“The electric motor is far more efficient,“ especially during initial acceleration,“ Jayme Buarque de Hollanda, head of the National Institute for Energy Efficiency (INEE), told IPS. “When the vehicle stops in traffic, it uses no energy, and during braking “the motor generates electricity.“

The energy wasted by a conventional vehicle when the motor is idling is estimated at 17 percent in the United States. An HEV consumes no energy at all during these periods, de Hollanda said.

A gasoline or diesel motor is inefficient, as “only about one-third of the fuel energy goes towards driving the car,“ and the rest is wasted as heat or exhaust fumes, said Antonio Nunes Junior, president of the Brazilian Association of Electric Vehicles (ABVE).

The HEV is not “a leap forward in technology,“ as it uses already existing technology, which is “arranged in a new structure that creates a new paradigm,“ de Hollanda said.

It is a “more efficient, less polluting and cheaper solution,“ but its entry into the market “is a slow process,“ as the entire chain of production must be adapted, requiring large investments and the certainty of a return, he said.

HEV production has already begun in the large car markets, and it is growing. More than 320,000 hybrid cars were sold in 2006. Of these, 252,636 were sold in the United States, or 19.2 percent more than last year, and about 40,000 in Japan, Nunes Junior said.

In Europe, which has more than 70,000 HEVs in circulation, sales expanded by 56 percent last year.

One drawback is the higher initial cost of the vehicles, although this is offset within four to six years by fuel economy. Another is the limited range of HEV models available, which means potential clients may not find the type of car they are looking for, in terms of vehicle size, for example, he said.

But there is broad agreement that “electrically driven cars are the future,“ whether in the shape of HEVs, or cars powered by lithium ion batteries, which will soon have wide-ranging functional autonomy, Nunes Junior said.



News Code 105131

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