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  • July 16

Hybrid Hype

Mike Feldmann, Staff Writer

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Many of High School South´s seniors drive their own car to school, and pay for their own gas. As the cost of owning and maintaining a car has increased, some have started looking towards other options. One alternative mode of transport that has increased in popularity significantly over the past decade has been hybrid electric cars. Automatically switching between a small gas motor and a zero-emissions electric one, the alleged difference between hybrids and the traditional internal combustion engine is vast. With the price of oil on the rise and the state of our environment looking dubious, it only seems natural that millions of Americans would look towards the next generation of transportation. In actuality, many studies are showing that hybrids may not be nearly as much of a solution as previously thought, which poses the question, are hybrids worth it?

Several recent studies have implicated that, when factoring the impacts of production, hybrids are no better, and in some cases are worse for the environment than regular gas vehicles.  In fact, according to a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology investigating this idea, it was found that the production of electric vehicles produces twice the climate change potential as compared to the production of conventional cars. Now many might argue that, though production of hybrid cars requires more energy and materials than their gasoline counterparts, manufacturing intensive hybrids are better in the long run, due to their better gas mileage.  Contrary to this, according to the NCPA, ¨a Prius costs $3.25 per mile driven over a lifetime of 100,000 miles, which is the expected lifespan of a hybrid. A Hummer, costs $1.95 per mile over its lifetime of 300,000 miles, which means a Hummer will last three times longer than a Prius and it uses almost 50 percent less combined energy¨. Considering that they are both manufacturing intensive and relatively short-lived, hybrid electric cars cannot be the answer to traditional gasoline and diesel engines.

Many people make the assumption that, just because the vehicle they drive is better on gas mileage, that they are helping the planet to rely less on oil. Be this as it may, the alternative, lithium, is little improvement. Recently, the EPA has ¨linked the use of extremely powerful solvents in the creation of lithium electrolytes and cathodes to everything from cancer to neurological problems. Specifically, the cobalt used in the creation of the most energy dense lithium-ion batteries is poisonous and extremely carcinogenic. Pulmonary, neurological, and respiratory problems have all been connected to cobalt exposure.¨ Carcinogens are cancer causing agents found as commonly in lithium as they are cigarettes. In addition to the health effects of lithium mining and production, the environmental consequences are just as severe. According to Elissa Torres from the Golden Gate Express, ¨The nickel found in the battery of a Prius is mined and smelted at a plant in Sudbury, Canada, which has had a profound effect on the surrounding habitat and NASA has labeled the area as a ‘dead zone.’ The area surrounding the plant isn’t habitable to any living thing. According to NASA, the area is used to test moon rovers.¨

The worst case scenario surrounding the transition from from gas and diesel engines to hybrids occurs from those who own one in heavily coal dependent states. According to Peter Braun from Digital Trends online, ¨EVs that depend on coal for their electricity are actually 17 percent to 27 percent worse than diesel or gas engines. That is especially bad for the United States, because we derive close to 45 percent of our electricity from coal. In states like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, that number is much closer to 100 percent.¨ While a reasonable transition from fossil fuels to green energy, hybrid electric vehicles cannot be seen as the solution to our current global climate crisis.

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Hybrid Hype