Yellow Cabs Turning Green?

Taxi cabs represent only a small portion of the cars on city
streets. But they’re on the road for long periods of time. As Brad Linder
reports, that’s why some cities are looking at battery powered cabs as
a way to reduce vehicle emissions:

Transcript

Taxi cabs represent only a small portion of the cars on city
streets. But they’re on the road for long periods of time. As Brad Linder
reports, that’s why some cities are looking at battery powered cabs as
a way to reduce vehicle emissions:


The typical New York taxi cab is on the streets for 10 hours at a time.
Earlier this year, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission wanted to
see if an electric vehicle could make it through an entire shift. But
the test cab from manufacturer Hybrid Technologies rarely made it
through half a shift before running out of juice.


Commission spokesman Allan Fromberg says that’s just not good enough:


“It was unfortunately not possible to do that. When
you’re getting 40 miles and you know, the average shift would probably
take a taxi cab about a hundred miles.”


Fromberg says there are more than 13,000 gasoline and hybrid electric
cabs in New York right now. He says the city would be interested in
approving a 100% battery-powered cab as long as it can
survive a regular taxi shift.


For the Environment Report, I’m Brad Linder.

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End of the Internal Combustion Engine

  • Fuel cell-powered cars will be much simpler and cheaper to build than internal combustion engine-powered vehicles. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company)

Hydrogen fuel cells have been billed as the next big thing for cutting
down on vehicle emissions. Cars that run on these fuel cells emit only
water. Automakers are investing heavily in the technology, and there
are still some major obstacles. But as Dustin Dwyer reports, there is
at least one big advantage for automakers to push fuel cells:

Transcript

Hydrogen fuel cells have been billed as the next big thing for cutting
down on vehicle emissions. Cars that run on these fuel cells emit only
water. Automakers are investing heavily in the technology, and there
are still some major obstacles. But as Dustin Dwyer reports, there is
at least one big advantage for automakers to push fuel cells:


Of course, automakers want to be seen working on something that could
be good for the environment, and people in the industry will tell you
there are a number of reasons for pushing fuel cells. But there’s one
reason that might matter more than all the others.


(Sound of music…”money, money, money”)


Yep, money.


And if you don’t believe ABBA, you can just take it from Larry Burns.
He’s the head of research and development at General Motors. GM says
it’s spent more than a billion dollars developing fuel cell technology.
That’s money a company like GM can’t afford to waste.


At a recent energy symposium, Burns broke it all down, and talked about
the real reason GM is involved in the technology:


“First of all, we want to accelerate industry growth, for business
reasons. In fact, if I was up here telling you we were doing it for
reasons other than business reasons, you shouldn’t take me sincerely.”


So, what are those business reasons?


For Larry Burns it starts with the fact that today only 12 percent of
people worldwide own a car. To get the other 88 percent, Burns says
future vehicles need to be cheap and clean.


Some will debate whether hydrogen vehicles would truly be clean. They
say, at best, hydrogen just shifts the pollution upstream to the power
plant.


As for the cheap part, that’s also a problem. Right now, prototype fuel
cell cars cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. But fuel cells
have a few things going for them on the cost front. Take Ford’s new
HySeries Drive Hybrid Edge prototype.


Engineer Mujeeb Ijaz looks under the hood:


“So I guess the first thing you’ll notice when you look under the hood
of the Edge is it doesn’t have a lot of equipment here. In fact, it’s
quite empty.”


It’s empty because all the important stuff, including the fuel cell, is
tucked in a sleek package hidden underneath the vehicle.


The fuel cell itself is only about six inches high, and about as big
around as a coffee table. That’s an incredibly simple design compared
to today’s complicated and clunky internal combustion engines:


“There’s a lot of technology that goes into it, but from a fundamental
standpoint, when you lay out a fuel cell and you lay out an engine,
we’re not dealing with a lot of unique parts.”


So, unlike an engine that has to be machined and assembled in different
ways for most vehicles around the world, a fuel cell only has a few
parts that get stacked together the same way every time. That means
once they ramp up to mass production, fuel cells could save automakers
a lot of, well…


(Sound of music…”money, it’s a gas”)


But before automakers can save all that fuel cell money, they still
have to answer all the questions about where the hydrogen itself comes
from, how to get it into gas stations, and how to store it in the
vehicle.


Automakers say they can make it work. But not everyone agrees. Joseph
Romm
is an expert on energy issues, and he says, a lot of the problems
with hydrogen fuel cells might be out of automakers’ hands:


“Each of them probably requires a major technology breakthrough, and
you just don’t know. You might see a breakthrough in five years, you
might not see a breakthrough for fifty years.”


Romm wrote a book called The Hype About Hydrogen. He says fuel
cells have long been thought to be just over the horizon:


“Fuel cells are always just 10 or 20 years away, and so it allows the
car company to seem like they’re doing something for the environment,
without actually having to do anything.”


Romm says he’d bet on better battery technology and biofuels to cut
down on gas use.


Regardless of who’s right, what’s clear is that the auto industry could
be on the verge of a revolutionary change, one that could be good news
for the environment: the end of the internal combustion engine.


It won’t happen just to make people feel good, or to save the
environment.


It’ll happen for a reason you can bank on.


(Music)


For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer.

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Tailpipe Inspection Programs Lack Oversight

A federal study is raising questions about the effectiveness of tailpipe testing programs. The programs are supposed to help reduce air pollution from cars and trucks. Chuck Quirmbach has details:

Transcript

A federal study is raising questions about the effectiveness of tailpipe testing programs. The programs are supposed to help reduce air pollution from cars and trucks. Chuck Quirmbach has details:


The inspector general at the EPA says many of the 34 states that do tailpipe tests are failing to file reports on the effectiveness of those programs. So, the EPA watchdog says it’s not sure about claims that those states are reducing emissions.


The American Lung Association is also concerned about the report. Association spokesperson Paul Billings says the findings cast doubt for the public.


“We want to make sure we’re not seeing gross emitters, vehicles that are polluting way too much, because we all suffer the consequences of too much air pollution in our cities.”


Billings urges the EPA to step up its effort to get information from the states, but he says staff cuts at the federal agency may be hampering enforcement. The EPA has to respond to its inspector general within a few months.


For the Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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