The green movement pisses me off. At a recent party I got cornered by an eco-hippie who accused me of pillag-ing the environment due to my penchant for high-performance cars and the fact that I own quite a few of them. She ranted on about how GM killed the electric car and other conspiracy theories. Then, she proudly alluded that she drove a "super-efficient" 30-year-old VW bus. I told her that her old VW was classified as a "gross emitter" by the California Air Resources Board and made as much pollution as 500 to 1,000 modern ULEV cars and polluted as much as several hundred high-performance cars, like my Evo-the car that triggered her rant.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for tough emission standards and good fuel economy. I just think that engineers and scientists should be the ones figuring out the best way to do this-not tree huggers or, worst of all, celebrity advocates and politicians. I think that many of the "green" solutions popularized lately belong on the wheel of bad ideas rather than in our garages. Some of my favorite of these bad ideas are plug-in electric cars, biodiesel, and hydrogen power.
Electric cars actually pollute more than a conventional ultra ULEV and are nowhere close to zero emissions. Electricity is generated by converting chemical to electrical energy at a pollution-creating powerplant with lots of adiabatic loss; more losses are then occurred during transport via high voltage wires. The biggest of these losses occurs when charging the battery, converting the electrical energy back to chemical energy. The chemical energy is then converted to kinetic energy that drives the car. In order for this to be truly viable we need a battery breakthrough, since current batteries are too inefficient. Did I mention that when the battery wears out it creates several hundred pounds of uber-toxic waste?
Sure, biodiesel makes tree huggers happy but NOx and particulates from french fries are just as toxic as stuff made from dead dinos. Sure, it recycles old cooking oil or can be made from renewable sources like corn (which takes a lot of water, energy, and fertilizer made from, you guessed it, petroleum to grow), but you have to add sodium hydroxide to the oil, then mix in a bunch of methanol (which is made from petroleum or natural gas that must be synthesized with an energy and greenhouse footprint of its own). Then, the heavy hydrocarbons in this mix are saponified and must be washed out of the mix with lots of water. The waste slurry is toxic. It is actually soap and perhaps reusable, but it's still a toxic waste issue.
I like fuel cells. They kick ass, have high adiabatic efficiency, and near zero pollution. Hydrogen burns clean in conventional intercooler engines as well. If this sounds like the answer, then consider that it takes a lot of electrical energy to make hydrogen since it's created by the electrolysis of water. It usually takes burning something nasty or splitting atoms-another potentially unpleasant process-to make a lot of electricity.
Is it hopeless? Does performance fit in here? It's not going to be easy but some of our best minds are working on the problems, and solutions might become available if politicians can be kept out of it. Some potential solutions have the ability to generate plenty of performance. Stay tuned, I'll probably rant more on this subject later.-Mike