Are Hybrid Cars Really Greener?

hybrid carsTrying to go green is always a challenge. There is a sea of information – and misinformation – to be had on what choices are actually greener, and which just seem that way. Hybrid cars are one such item.

Hybrids were advertised as the salvation of the auto industry. As gas expenditures were choking the world, and oil companies were returning record profits, Hybrids burst onto the scene claiming that they could save the consumer money, and keep the Earth alive a little longer than their straight gas counterparts.

The detractors were quick to appear, namely because those that did not have hybrid technology in development did not want their customer base to flee to greener pastures. One of the biggest claims that held water was that producing a hybrid car caused so many emissions that even if you drove one, there was still more pollution being pumped into the air, between the emissions of the car and the emissions of production, than if you were to just buy a standard vehicle.

There is some truth to this. A study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory – a fully objective group – to determine how green the creation of hybrid cars was.

What they found was a little shocking. While it could never be said, as some claimed, that a Hummer was greener than the average hybrid, creating a hybrid car was more difficult and more costly than standard manufacturing practices. The cause is due to the hybrid batteries. Making a hybrid battery uses a notable amount of fossil fuels to be burnt in its creation against a basic combustion engine. These fuels dump a much larger quantity of greenhouse emissions out into the atmosphere before the car is ever even started.

The breakdown works like this. An average automobile’s total greenhouse gas emissions account for between 10% and 20% of their total lifetime emissions. A hybrid’s battery contains materials not used in standard autos, namely nickle for NiMH batteries, and Lithium for Li-Ion batteries. Mining these additional materials uses equipment that burn fossil fuels and create carbon-dioxide. The average battery in a hybrid accounts for between 2% and 5% of their overall lifetime emissions, on top of the 10 – 20 percent already mentioned.

The well goes even deeper, though. Not only do these metals have to be dug out of the Earth, but most companies don’t do it themselves, they buy them from the cheapest seller. This is typically China. China can afford to be the cheapest because they mostly ignore environmental safeguards in their mining processes. So, in making the batteries cheaper to produce, and more affordable to use, many corporations were buying raw materials that had been mined with no environmental regard.

Some of the environmentally unsound practices of the Chinese included not only high-emission vehicles, but severe ground and water pollution that did irreparable harm to the land the metals came from. So to make the batteries for the green cars, there was now more toxins in the air, on land, and sea.

The good news is, many of these practices have stopped, or companies have made sure to buy only from more reputable – albeit more expensive – places to help make their batteries.

The end result is that right off the line, a standard combustion automobile is greener than a hybrid. But that balances out as time goes on, since the hybrid does produce significantly lower emissions. The tipping point where a hybrid balances the scales is at 257,495 kilometers (160,000 miles). When both cars reach that juncture, the hybrid reclaims the lead as the greener vehicle, having made up for the additional emissions used in its creation.

Thanks for reading our article! If you’re looking to purchase rechargeable batteries or battery chargers, be sure to visit Electronics Warehouse. As an added bonus, use promo code EWBLOG for 10% off of your purchase, just for reading this article!

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