By Maura Forrest
April 3, 2014
The cars of the future may have water-jets to power through floods. They may also be made of wood fibre. The clean automotive industry is experimenting with unusual ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of driving, and for making vehicles that can handle the effects of climate change.
A Japanese company has recently unveiled an electric car that can float on water. In heavy floods, a water-jet generator propels the vehicle across the water’s surface. The Fomm Concept One prototype is the world’s smallest four-seat electric car. The vehicle has two engines, one in both of its front wheels. The makers stress that the car is not amphibious – its aquatic abilities are only for use in emergencies. But they hope to market the vehicle in southeast Asia starting in 2015. The car is a testament to concerns about tsunamis and increasing flood risk, particularly in densely populated coastal cities.
The unveiling of Concept One comes as Mazda announces that it is working to develop a gasoline engine that is cleaner even than an electric car. The Japanese company hopes to move into production with its SkyActiv-G Generation 2 engine by 2020. The technology uses a high compression ratio, allowing the engine to burn fuel more efficiently.
While electric cars do not burn fossil fuels, the electricity they consume often comes from non-renewable energy sources, such as coal-fired power plants. And the manufacture of electric vehicles also has a sizeable carbon footprint. So when it comes to making cleaner cars, fuel efficiency is only half of the equation. In Canada, researchers at the University of Toronto are working with Ford Motor Company to produce cars made from natural materials. Mohini Sain, dean of the Faculty of Forestry, uses wood pulp fibres to produce a high-strength composite that can be used in car doors, hoods, and engine parts. “We are hoping to have a complete technology where we will be literally able to replace each and every component in a car using these kinds of materials,” Sain said in a phone interview. The biocomposite is lightweight, meaning that a car built with these natural materials will burn less fuel, further reducing the vehicle’s environmental impact.
In spite of all this green technology, there is still a question as to how important a role personal vehicles should play in a climate-friendly future. But Sain thinks there is a long way to go before we can give up our reliance on cars for transportation. “The education is not there right now,” he said. “We have to do a lot of education before we can get into that."
Photo Credit: Jan Horcik