If you take the total environmental cost of a vehicle as the point from when the car was first designed to when it is dismantled, or hopefully recycled, hybrid vehicles don’t quite match the hype they are currently getting.
A hybrid is a complicated vehicle, requiring lots of new technology and high tech components. A hybrid vehicle is harder to build because of its complexity, which means more energy is used in building the car. Some hybrids can charge their batteries from mains power, and this could be generated by â€˜dirty’ technologies such as coal fired power stations or nuclear power. This is especially true for the pure electric cars on the market – it depends on how the electricity is produced as to what end effect your car is having on the environment.
While hybrids are considered clean technology by most people, any hybrid with an internal combustion engine will still produce pollutants. Catalytic converters handle most of the contamination, but there’s still that good old greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Even hybrids pump this out, they just pump lower amounts of it, and mostly because most hybrids have engines that stop when the vehicle comes to a halt.
Another thing to consider with hybrids is the battery that stores the electricity. Most hybrids use a nickel metal hydride system, which requires nickel mining, which is often done in open cast mines with all the attendant pollution that goes along with excavating large holes in the ground. Luckily, nickel metal hydride batteries are non toxic and they can be recycled, but at a cost.
A hybrid also requires plenty of copper wire for the electric motors, further increasing the actual cost and environmental effect of constructing the car. Hybrids are also commonly 10 percent heavier than a similarly sized car, which means more power has to be produced than usual to achieve comparable performance. This is why many hybrids these days are actually mild hybrids, with a generator that produces electricity as the vehicle slows down, taking weight off the alternator, allowing it to work less, and therefore save fuel. Not as much as a hybrid, but the system is much simpler and easier to produce.
Once the car is built and on the road, the popular perception is that you are â€˜doing your thing for the environment’ and this is true to some extent because a hybrid will use less fossil fuel than a conventional car, regardless of the way you drive it. Remember that a hybrid will probably never match the listed fuel efficiency because of the way the efficiency test is done, and because unless you only ever drive on heavily congested streets you won’t be utilizing the hybrid system effectively. Drive on the highway, for instance, and the petrol engine will be working all the time, negating the effect of the hybrid system.
Above all, remember you are not saving the planet by driving a hybrid or even a fully electric car, you are merely minimizing your impact on the environment.
Note: This is however one side of the coin. Hybrid cars do have some negative environmental impact but it is far less then the the positive aspects of the car.