This topic never fails to annoy me. But then you all knew that already, didn’t you?
Every day now I see advertising trying to convince me to buy what is known in Swedenland as a “miljöbil” – an environmentally friendly car. These cars are almost always ethanol hybrids – that is, cars capable of running any mix of gasoline and ethanol. They are invariably advertised with green colours and happy babies and flowers that spring into life as the smelly hunk of metal and plastic zooms by, carrying its single occupant.
This is bollox, people. Ethanol is a hydrocarbon. It may come from “natural” sources but so does oil and coal. Ethanol has as much CO2 emission as gasoline, and a few extra dangerous compounds given off when the engine starts up. And a lot of evidence today points to ethanol manufacture, storage and transport leading to essentially as much net CO2 emissions as gasoline. And lets not forget the fact that ethanol also requires farming land for its manufacture – a good deal of it – while oil comes mainly from under the sea.
Making a car run on ethanol isn’t such a huge breakthrough as the car companies tell us. Cars have always been able to run on ethanol. Of course, running them just on pure ethanol will damage the engine after a while, but almost every car can run 10 or 15% ethanol added to gasoline with few ill effects. Tweaking the engine is not a “breakthrough” in any way that makes sense.
Today in Stockholm you receive a bunch of perks for switching to a miljöbil. These include a purchase grant and exemption from the city congestion charges, despite the fact that your ethanol car takes up as much space, makes as much noise and spews out as much crap as any other car. The only difference is that you get to feel smug about it. And in fact many perfectly ordinary gasoline cars are listed as “miljöbil” because they are fuel-efficient or have lower emissions than normal.
And then of course you could buy one of these cars and NEVER put any ethanol in it. And I’m sure that many people do just this. Ethanol is hard to find anyway, and if all the perks are yours regardless, why even bother to put the right fuel in? Who’s going to know?
You could just as well call a Nuclear submarine “environmentally friendly” by including a hundred sets of oars and suggesting that the crew could, if they wanted to, row the thing home. Or call an SUV “environmentally friendly” by welding on a few hooks where you could, if you wanted, attach horse tackle and have the beasts pull you along. The reasoning is exactly the same – just by adding the possibility of a thing is no guarantee that the thing will be used.
And then we need to consider that half of the CO2 emissions from most cars have already been released before you even set foot inside the thing. Building the car and making the materials used in its manufacture see to that. The actual choice of fuel makes very little difference.
Ethanol cars are complete and utter greenwash. It is simply the car companies trying to tweak your conscience in order to sell you more crap. Electric hybrids may be better, but they still have to be manufactured. The only true way to make your car environmentally friendly is to make an electrical or solar-powered car, from car parts that you already have, or just not buy the thing in the first place. How about that for a car ad:
“Save 100% of your emissions, all of your fuel costs, and never pay a parking fee or congestion charge ever again! As well as this you pocket 15 thousand Euro, tax free!”
I’ll have one of those, please!