Eco-friendly transport: The greener way to get around

Taking the environmentally friendly road can be complicated. David Wilkins offers some simple milestones to a better future
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's probably harder than you might think to change your motoring habits to help to save the planet. Several related but distinct subjects become hopelessly mixed up - saving money, energy security and the need to contain or reduce CO2 emissions, for example. Detailed data on tailpipe emissions for different models are available but it's difficult to find information about the overall environmental impact cars have over their lives, including manufacture and disposal. What do you do with all those batteries when an electric or hybrid car is scrapped? And not only consumers are confused; the muddle is reflected in official policy. Take the London Congestion Charge; electric vehicles and hybrids are exempt because they are considered environmentally friendly, but what has that to do with congestion? Slow electric vehicles may contribute to congestion more than petrol-powered cars. But follow the advice here, and we think you'll do more good than harm.

DRIVE YOUR EXISTING CAR BETTER

Cut out the powerslides. Even if you run a Jaguar or a Ferrari, say, you can do your bit next time you get behind the wheel by sticking to speed limits, driving smoothly, avoiding excessive acceleration and braking. This style is also safer. Turn off your air conditioning and use cruise control where possible. Satellite navigation can help you avoid getting lost and wasting fuel. Some modern cars have mpg read-outs; watch them. A new car will be much greener than the equivalent of, say, 20 years ago but it isn't always the answer. Keeping your old motor going could be an option: a great deal of energy is consumed in the manufacture of a car - although Ford, for example, now uses renewable wind energy at its UK engine plant. It may also be possible to convert your existing car to run on other fuels such as LPG.

SWITCH TO TWO WHEELS

Scooters came into fashion in the 1950s and made that form of two-wheeled transport, at least, irreversibly sexy. Anything powered on two wheels will use less fuel than a car. The world of bikes doesn't bother much with alternative fuels, although you'll find some interesting electric examples in these pages. The US firm Hayes Diversified Technology produces multi-fuel motorcycles that can run on diesel and aviation kerosene, mainly for the military, which likes to simplify its supply lines; it's handy for it to operate motorcycles that run on the same fuels as its other vehicles. Honda and the US firm eCycle have developed experimental hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell bikes. Cycling is best of all, of course.

DO EVERYTHING ONLINE

It seems obvious; order everything online from home instead of driving to the shops. But you'll undo the good work if you end up booking cheap flights, speccing up your new SUV online, or ordering stuff from the other side of the world just because it's a few quid cheaper. The more local (eg, seasonal produce) the better.

BUY CARBON OFFSETS

Climate Care ( www.climatecare.org) helps you to calculate the impact of activities in terms of CO2 emissions, and provides a mechanism for off-setting these. Payments made via the site are spent on renewable energy, energy-efficiency measures and reforestation. For example, £10 spent on these activities is claimed to offset 1.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to about 4,000 miles of car travel. The CarbonNeutral Company ( www.carbonneutral.com) manages an offset scheme for Honda that applies for the first three months of ownership. Do carbon offsets really work? Well, at the very least, they're a start.

USE ALTERNATIVE FUELS

The one that's getting the attention at the moment is E-85; 85 per cent bioethanol, a renewable fuel made from, say, rapeseed or wheat or sugarbeet, and 15 per cent petrol. E-85-capable versions of the Ford Focus and the Saab 9-5 are on sale, and Morrisons has opened the first dozen E-85 pumps in East Anglia and Somerset. Another option is LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), which has lower CO2 emissions than petrol; LNG (liquefied natural gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas) technologies are compatible with diesels. Take those stories about running diesels on chip fat with a pinch of salt; you still need to pay duty.

LOBBY FOR FUTURE FUELS

As well as the alternatives such bio-ethanol E-85 that are available today, other technologies are on the way. Hydrogen fuel-cell technology, for example, has been demonstrated by Honda's FCX and Mercedes' F600 Hygenius. Don't hold your breath though, a lot of development is still required and the fuel suppliers will have to roll out new distribution arrangements. Tell the Transport Secretary, Mr Darling, to chivvy them along.

USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Go on - admit it. Even creaky buses, trains and tubes do a better job of moving people around than cars at peak times. When it comes to greenness you really can't beat public transport. Using the train instead of the plane is an especially sound idea.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Don't be swayed by fashion, do some research and make comparisons. Take the hybrid Lexus RX400h; this achieves 34.9 mpg and CO2 emissions of 192g/km. All excellent for a luxury SUV but if you don't need such a big vehicle, you will still do better with something smaller that doesn't have a fancy hybrid drive.

SHARE YOUR CAR

The first car-sharing lane on a UK motorway is due to open in 2007 near Leeds. Liftshare ( www.liftshare.org) allows you to register your journey in an attempt to find a sharer. That also means you could chop your fuel bills in half. Oh - and make a note in your diary; National Liftshare Day is on 14 June this year. Alternatively, you can join a car club (see Car Choice, page 5).

TRY AN ELECTRIC OR HYBRID CAR

Electric and hybrid cars help address local pollution problems - there are no local emissions when running on electric power. Electric vehicles such as Piaggio's Porter Electric and the G-Wiz (see our Verdict test, back page) need to be plugged into the mains overnight, while hybrids like Toyota's Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid and some luxury Lexus models have both electric and petrol power. This graphic shows how they work:

At very low speed the electric motor on its own can power a hybrid

Under acceleration the petrol engine adds some oomph to the car

Going downhill or braking the wheels sends power to batteries

When idling at the lights the engine cuts out, so saving more energy

Search for used cars

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