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Satish Kalepu Satish Kalepu Sunday 09 August 2009

 “Go Green!” - everyone is speaking of it, including auto manufacturers who are contemplating various options to launch eco-friendly cars. From cars that run on water to cars that run on air, we examine a number of eco-friendly options so that you can see what is on its way.

Nissan LEAF - Fully Electric five-seater

Last week Nissan announced its soon to be launched, “LEAF”, world’s first eco-friendly car with a seating capacity of a minimum five people. The Nissan Leaf does not have even a tail pipe because the car is a completely zero emission car! The car is powered by 90KW of Lithium ion batteries and the performance is nearly equivalent to a compact turbo diesel car. The car gives a 160 KM run with one full charge. There are batttery power indicators in its system which allows to check for power available and possible distance coverage so that the driver can plan his trip.

The price of the car is yet not determined but in the American market, it is expected to be pitted against Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf and Dodge Caliber. As we know, in India the Reva electric car for two people has already existed in the market for more than a decade.

Air Car

Now, battery powered cars are still somewhat in our current experience. But, there are a number of cars coming our way which seem like science fiction.

Tata Motors is planning to launch their “Air Car” which will be powered by compressed air. The compressed air car can run solely powered by compressed air or combined as a hybrid vehicle with gasoline, diesel or electric powered car. Compressed air cars can be fuelled at air using an air compressor and are cheaper than vehicle fuelled by fossil fuels. Compressed air cars do not need spark plugs, starter motors, mufflers or even a cooling system. However, one of the principal disadvantages of this technology is the indirect use of energy. This is because conversion of one form (potential energy ) of energy into other (kinetic energy) results in energy loss.

Moreover, the technology is still in its early stages and the storage tank capacity is very limited. Re-fuelling can be done at home but it takes at least four hours to refuel the tank. The compressed air car delivers a mileage which is less than that delivered by a petrol car. The car runs at a top speed of 68kmph and can run for 200 KMs with a full tank.

Water cars

Water fuel cars use water to boost their energy. You can even use tap water to fuel your car - you do not need any specially treated water to power your car! You need to install a small water fuel kit in your car under the hood of your car. The water is injected in the kit so that producing a gas which is in turn passed into the regular fuel increasing the efficiency of the car. This further reduces the consumption of regular gas to increase the mileage of the car.

Hydrogen Fuel Cars

Hydrogen fuel cars also promise zero emission technology where the byproduct is only water vapors. These cars come with fuel cells that turn hydrogen into electricity by using several scientific processes.

Hydrogen is split into electrons to produce electricity that is required to run the car.  Nearing a full fledged launch, Honda and Toyota are gearing up to adopt hydrogen fuel technology into mainstream technology used to power their cars. Still, hydrogen cars are more like a science project than a fully built eco-friendly car that is commercially viable.

To sum up

The mentioned technologies - water fuel cell cars, hydrogen fuel cars or compressed air cars, all these are still in their early stages, even in the USA. There are people who have opted for water fuel cars and auto manufacturers are ready to launch compressed air cars commercially. However, the pricing of these cars and specifications such as mileage, re-fuelling, maintenance costs, power, suspension, etc. still remain ambiguous.

Tata Motors has already delivered on its promise to manufacture the world’s cheapest car. The world is now awaiting Tata Motors to deliver the air compression car too!

Nissan’s Leaf is a fully zero-emission car which is also commercially viable. Clearly, it is the age of “green cars” and we all are waiting for the same.

It’s a welcome thing that all manufacturers are working hard to come up with concepts aimed at saving fossil fuels and Tata motors is not lagging behind  in this regard. Still, we should keep in mind that the main drawback of alternative fuels is the lack of practical utility in the line of petrol and diesel cars.

However If Nissan is successful in launching the LEAF  then it should set a benchmark in the alternative fuel segment. Of course, whether there would be an impact in India remains to be seen!

Would you be willing to pay more for a environmentally friendly car? Or does your wallet take priority? Please share your thoughts below.