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We are hearing a lot about electric cars – are they really the solution of the future?

Electric cars can help to reduce the environmental impacts of transportation. However, while this technology promises to help reduce vehicle emissions, charging electric cars on household outlets could increase the demands placed on existing power generating stations, including coal, fossil fuel, nuclear, wind, solar and hydro power. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are released during power generation for the electrical grid.

As for their being the solution of the future – research continues to improve the battery life, range, and overall performance, efficiency and recharging time of battery electric vehicles. The new generation of electric cars delivers greater performance while offering similar practicality, in terms of the use of space and the weight limit, as conventional vehicles. For more information on electric, you can go to the fully electric vehicles section of the eTV website.

Is the eTV program studying hydrogen vehicle technologies?

The eTV program is studying a range of technologies, including hydrogen vehicle technologies. Fuel cells generate electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen. Depending on the source of the hydrogen, they produce zero or very low emissions.

In principle, fuel cells are similar to regular batteries. The main difference is that batteries store electrical energy while fuel cells continuously generate it as long as an external fuel source is supplied. As such, the performance of a fuel cell is not hindered by lengthy – and sometimes inconvenient – recharging times.

The range of a fuel-cell car depends on several factors, including driving style, acceleration, speed and ambient temperature. Hydrogen vehicles currently operate with a tank pressure of 35 Mpa (~5000 psi) or 70 Mpa (~10,000 psi), providing a range of up to 700 km. The range will likely increase as the technology improves.

What are alternative fuels?

While the definition of alternative fuels can vary, it generally refers to energy sources other than traditional petroleum ones such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Alternative fuel sources can offer many benefits, including the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or other vehicle pollutants.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is an environmental alternative to fossil fuels, mainly consisting of compressed methane (CH4) gas. CNG should not be confused with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is a mixture of petroleum and natural gases. The advantage of CNG over LPG is that it does not require expensive cooling processes and cryogenic tanks. However, CNG does require a larger volume to store the same mass of gasoline, as well as the use of very high pressures.

Biodiesel is a non-petroleum based diesel fuel produced from local, renewable resources. Using a process called transesterification, vegetable oils, used cooking oils or animal fats are converted into biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel can be used in pure form (B100) or may be blended with petroleum diesel at any combination (e.g. B20 contains 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel).

Hydrogen gas rarely exists in a pure state in nature because it bonds with other elements to make compounds like water (H2O) and methane (CH4). Electrolysis must be used in a fuel cell to separate the compounds into their respective elements, requiring electricity.

Is hydrogen fuel safe?

Yes. Great strides are being made in making fuel-cell cars and trucks more consumer-ready. The latest generation of fuel-cell vehicles is much less expensive, more powerful and provides increased reliability and durability and improved cold-weather operation. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles currently being developed by the major manufacturers are as safe or safer than conventional gasoline vehicles. Like gasoline, hydrogen is explosive and flammable. However, because any hydrogen fuel leak disperses rapidly, there is no dangerous pooling of fuel that could ignite in an accident or during a leak.

Safety is a priority in all aspects of hydrogen energy production, storage, distribution and use. Various government initiatives and industry associations are working to develop safety standards for the use of hydrogen as a fuel.

Is it normal for my fuel consumption to differ from the one listed in the Canadian Fuel Consumption Guide?

The Canadian Fuel Consumption Guide provides a reliable comparison of the fuel consumption of different vehicles, based on standardized testing methods. The ratings are published for typically equipped vehicles and are adjusted to reflect average real-world driving conditions in Canada. However, no test can match all of the possible combinations of traffic conditions, climate, driving habits and vehicle maintenance.

The ratings that appear on the EnerGuide Label for Vehicles and in the Canadian Fuel Consumption Guide show the fuel consumption that may be achieved with a properly maintained vehicle driven with fuel efficiency in mind. Your vehicle's fuel consumption may differ from published ratings. Many factors can affect the fuel consumption of your vehicle: your driving style and behaviour, vehicle acceleration, braking and driving speed, overall age and operating condition of your vehicle, temperature and weather, traffic and road conditions, and the drive systems and powered accessories (e.g. air conditioning) installed on your vehicle.

For more information on vehicle fuel consumption and related topics, including tips on how to get the most fuel savings out of your new vehicle, visit the ecoAction website.

As well, a Fuel Consumption Ratings Tool can help you to calculate and compare the rates for various makes and models, to help you choose the most fuel-efficient vehicle to meet your needs.

What are the rules/regulations for importing environmentally friendly cars into Canada?

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA), which regulates the manufacture and importation of motor vehicles, requires that all vehicles imported into Canada comply, at the time of importation, with the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) in effect on the date that the vehicle was manufactured. CMVSS publishes requirements that automotive manufacturers must meet to certify a vehicle for public road use in Canada – factors such as crashworthiness, roadworthiness, airbags, external lighting and seat belts. In addition, Environment Canada publishes emission standard requirements that must be met in order to import a vehicle.

Vehicle safety requirements vary widely around the globe. Vehicles manufactured for sale in countries other than Canada and the United States may not comply with the requirements of the CMVSS. If they do not comply with the CMVSS, they cannot be altered to comply and therefore cannot be imported into Canada. Vehicles fifteen (15) years or older are the only exception to this rule, as determined by the month and year in which the vehicle was manufactured.

For more complete information on importing vehicles, visit the Road Safety Directorate website.

What is more fuel-efficient – a diesel or a hybrid car?

The answer is not as clear-cut as you would think. Generally, advanced diesel engines may be as fuel-efficient as hybrid vehicles. However, a hybrid system can offer better fuel efficiency in stop-and-go traffic while a diesel system is the better performer under highway driving conditions. Some hybrids were designed to offer the performance of a larger engine but they still have the fuel efficiency of a smaller engine.

Are there any incentives or grants to assist in the purchase of an environmentally friendly vehicle?

On March 31, 2009, the ecoAUTO Rebate Program concluded its two-year mandate to encourage Canadians to buy new fuel-efficient vehicles.

However, the federal government introduced an Excise Tax on Fuel Inefficient Cars as an incentive designed to promote the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles in Canada. The excise tax is payable by the automobile manufacturer or importer at the time that the vehicle is delivered to a dealer, and applies to certain new automobiles such as station wagons, vans and sport utility vehicles.

What factors should I consider when buying a hybrid car?

The answer to this question is far from simple. A hybrid car is a fuel-efficient, eco-friendly mode of transportation. It is safe, reliable and as comfortable as a gas-powered vehicle. People drive hybrid cars for any number of reasons, including being environmentally conscious citizens and to save on fuel costs.

The initial purchase price of a hybrid vehicle can often be higher than a gasoline-powered model. However, despite the additional technologies, regular preventative maintenance costs for a hybrid vehicle are comparable to those of its gas-powered counterpart. Some insurance companies even offer customer discounts for green vehicles, so it is best to check with your insurer prior to making any purchasing decisions.

The decision to buy a hybrid vehicle is in essence a lifestyle choice. Talk to manufacturers, dealers and owners. Research the pros and cons of owning a hybrid vehicle. Test drive the different makes and models of vehicles – both gas-powered and hybrid – and choose the one that best suits your lifestyle. For more information on hybrid vehicles, you can go to the hybrid vehicles section of the eTV website.

Aren't diesel cars noisy and don't they produce heavy emissions?

The first diesel cars were indeed noisy and did produce heavy emissions. However, the new generation of advanced diesel engines are a remarkable improvement over the older generation of diesel engines that most Canadians remember. Thanks to new after-exhaust treatment systems and engine technologies, modern diesels tend to be quiet and produce fewer emissions. As with gasoline vehicles, modern diesel cars sold in Canada must meet stringent emission standards.

Diesel vehicles can offer several advantages over gasoline engines. They are typically more fuel-efficient and as a result, greenhouse gas levels are lower – this means that they are better from a climate change perspective. However, nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions are usually higher for diesel vehicles, which can have a significant impact on health and the environment. On the other hand, gasoline vehicles tend to be less efficient, emitting more carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons from their tailpipe. So, the bottom line is that both types of vehicles have their advantages and disadvantages. For more information on diesel vehicles, you can go to the advanced clean diesel vehicles section of the eTV website.

Why are there so few diesel cars in Canada?

The new car market in Canada is quite different from the market in Europe, for example, where diesel cars are more common. The price of fuel in Europe has been high for a number of years so consumers have demanded more fuel-efficient vehicles. As well, the emission regulations in North America differ from the regulations elsewhere in the world, requiring specific vehicle technologies to be used in order to comply with them. However, recent advances in clean-diesel technologies have made it possible for diesel engines to meet and exceed stringent Canadian emission standards. As a result, we will likely see more diesel vehicles on Canadian roads in the coming years.

Are the batteries in electric cars recyclable?

Like any other battery, the possibility exists to recycle the batteries in electric cars. Several manufacturers have developed a recycling process for the batteries in their hybrids. Every part of the battery is recycled - from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case and wiring. Some manufacturers even place a telephone number on their hybrid vehicle batteries that people can call in order to return the used battery, in exchange for a cash credit.

Where can I get a list of stations that sell alternative fuels?

Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency maintains a list of alternative fuel suppliers and associations.

I've heard about a car that runs on water – is this fact or fiction?

A number of independent projects have attempted to develop a water-powered vehicle. Basically, they work by separating the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, ultimately using the hydrogen to power the vehicle. However, a totally efficient process yields as much energy as is used to separate the water molecules. So the power does not really come from water - it actually comes from the electricity or heat used to separate the water molecules.

The bottom line is that a hydrogen-powered vehicle is more efficient than a "water-powered" vehicle because energy is not wasted in converting water into usable hydrogen energy.

Is there a pill or additive that I can use to improve fuel efficiency?

High gasoline prices have lead consumers to consider "gas-saving" pills or devices. However, you should be cautious about any devices or products that claim to save money or improve fuel efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States has tested a number of these products and devices and found the savings to be small, if at all. The simplest way to improve fuel economy is to drive sensibly – avoid excessive braking, acceleration, speeding or idling, keep the car's engine tuned, change the oil regularly and make sure that the tires are properly inflated.