Wed, Oct 7, 2009
Three hundred million. That number has two very important meanings in this country.
First off, it is the number of people that currently live in the United States: three hundred million Americans who are out there trying to live their lives in whatever way they see fit. But that quality of life may be affected very soon, and that brings us to the second meaning of the number.
A Numbers Game
Each year in this country, automobiles emit roughly 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These emissions retain heat and thus cause temperatures to rise all over the country (a process you are probably already aware of known as the greenhouse effect).
But there are steps being taken to change all of this. And there is one company out there who is showing everyone that going green is not only environmentally friendly, but economically friendly as well.
A Company Takes Charge
And that company (as you may have guessed from the title) is Toyota. And even though automobiles are a large cause of the problem, the Japanese based company is stepping up in an attempt to rectify past mistakes and work towards a greener future:
- The Toyota Motor Corporation, founded in 1937 in Japan by Kiichiro Toyoda, is one of the largest automobile manufacturers on the planet.
- As an industry leader, Toyota is taking steps to develop new automobile technology that is both safe for the consumer and safe for the Earth. But like any good business, Toyota has a personal stake in all of this.
- While it is a noble gesture to reduce the carbon footprint they leave on the planet, Toyota is also a business, and businesses need to make money. Many people wonder how it’s possible to help the planet and help yourself, but Toyota makes it work.
Although it may not seem immediately obvious, one need only look at Toyota’s Prius as a shining example of how a company does not need to go broke in the struggle to fight for our planet’s well being.
Prius: Setting the Standard
You may be familiar with Toyota’s most successful development for the green cause, the Toyota Prius. The Prius is doing great things not only for the planet, but for Toyota’s stockholders as well.
The Prius, a hybrid vehicle (called such because it uses both combustible gas and electricity for power) has been lauded for its fuel efficiency and reasonable price tag. Since its release, it has become one of the most popular cars worldwide with over a million models on the road today.
Due to its popularity, stock in Toyota has skyrocketed, making the company’s value higher than it’s ever been.
This is due to the fact that the Prius, while initially limping by with razor-thin profits, has become a huge moneymaker for the company, accounting for an estimated 10% of Toyota’s profits.
How was this done? Over the past decade, Toyota was able to refine its method of production for the vehicle and cut down on harmful emissions by 56%, reduce its energy usage by 30%, and eliminate a whopping 95% of waste produced.
This means less money spent on emissions taxes. Less money spent on energy bills. Less money spent to pay for landfill dumping. And that all equates to more money in the company’s pockets.
And like any good company, Toyota recognizes its success and is looking to expand on it with newer, better materials.
A Perfect Future
Besides the Prius, Toyota has been active in developing new technology to one day develop a 100% completely green car (or the eco-car as they call it):
- Seeing that they were able to save so much on a vehicle that is merely a hybrid (that is, still using gasoline), Toyota is looking to up the ante with cars that are completely independent of crude oils.
- If a car that only uses gasoline part of the time can save them some money, just think of how much money they will be able to save on emissions, energy, and waste on vehicles that use gasoline none of the time.
- And to achieve that goal, Toyota has been moving away from the traditional combustion engine and has begun developing cars that run fully on electricity, hydrogen, or biofuels.
The company wholeheartedly believes that these power sources will fuel the vehicles of the future, but you may still not be convinced that you should give up your old combustible engine car. So lets take a lot to see how these alternative energies actually work.
The electric-powered car is fairly straightforward:
- Instead of a combustible gas engine, the car is outfitted with an electric one. The result is a cleaner, quieter, and much more eco-friendly vehicle.
- The electric engine has about 70% fewer parts than an internal combustion engine, meaning that you wouldn’t have to worry about things like oil changes or tune-ups ever again.
Look for Toyota’s first fully electric model (something ideal for the urban commuter) by 2012.
A Car Powered on Water?
Sort of, but not really:
- Hydrogen fuel cells work by converting hydrogen and oxygen gases into water, a process that has the fortunate byproduct of electricity. Thus, the fuel cells act as a sort of battery to power the car.
- But unlike the traditional battery that requires recharging or replacing, the hydrogen fuel cell does not have an expiration date. As long as the required components are present, the fuel cells constantly power the car with electricity.
Unfortunately, the cost of a car implementing this technology is pricey, but Toyota hopes to have an affordable version of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle out by 2015.
It’s Like Diet Gasoline
And last up are biofuels, the oft-forgotten member of the alternative-energy trio:
- Biofuel works much like normal gasoline, but instead of using fuel that had to be drilled out of the Earth, a biofuel engine uses renewable sources such as plant oil or animal fat to turn into ethanol, which in turn would power our automobiles.
- Much less harm would be done to the Earth, and our cars would run just as well.
Although Toyota does not currently have a car running on biofuels, they have recently entered into a project with four other companies in order to make the biofuel car a reality. Like the hydrogen fuel cell car, expect to see Toyota’s biofuel car on the roads by 2015.
These new technologies all sound great, right? It sounds like Toyota is really trying to do all it can to put a giant band-aid on our planet. But, at the risk of sound like a cynic, there is a downside to everything:
- Electric cars have an incredibly short range (around three hundred miles or less) and can cost upwards of $10,000 to replace a damaged battery. And for those of you who are more concerned with the environment than price, cars running on hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels aren’t as clean as they seem.
- The hydrogen gas needed to run the fuel cells are produced via electricity, and a lot of electricity is still being produced by way of fossil fuels. Those same fossil fuels run our dirty, non-ecofriendly cars and put CO2 into our atmosphere.
- Regarding biofuels, twenty-percent of the world’s CO2 emissions are a result of deforestation, a necessary process in producing biofuels. So if your car were to run on corn or soy, the process in getting that energy source would have put CO2 into our atmosphere. Some see this not as fixing the problem but as transposing it.
There is also the problem of production. While the Prius is now relatively cheap to make, the technologies for hydrogen fuel cell and biofuel cars aren’t at the point where they can be produced with little cost to the company. This means that the initial launch of those cars will be much more expensive than your normal gas-fueled car and will only be within the reaches of the wealthy.
But with every problem comes an eventual solution, and while it may not be easy to overcome these dilemmas, Toyota is working tirelessly to perfect the technology for a greener planet and a cheaper ride.
Working Towards the Future
Toyota acknowledges these problems and they committed to overcoming them:
- The company is spending an estimated one million dollars per hour (or roughly $61,320,000,000 per year) to work towards advancing the technology to save this planet. They are laser focused on developing the technology to bring to the world the perfect car…an Adonis of a vehicle.
- They currently offer seven different kinds of lower-emission vehicles, and the company is working to increase that number in their quest to create their ideal eco-car.
As far as cost is concerned, one must remember that the Prius barely made Toyota a profit when first introduced. But over the years as the technology has significantly improved, costs were reduced. It appears to be only a matter of time until Toyota will be able to do the same with other existing technologies. We just have to be patient.
The ideal vehicle they envision will have the zero emissions of hydrogen fuel cells, the renewable factor of biofuels, and the simplicity of the electric engine. That is the goal Toyota is working towards. That is what we can look forward to for our future and our children’s futures.
By Stephen Giordano. Steve is a recent graduate from the University of Delaware with a BA in English Literature. A lifelong lover of reading and writing, Steve’s dream job is to one day work for a major magazine publisher in New York City. He can be reached at Stephenagiordano@gmail.com.