The U.S. has been working feverishly in the last several years to develop more energy efficient ways of living. Amongst these inventions are hybrid cars, wind turbines and biofuels. But how green are they really?
Hybrids are powered by a combination of battery and gas meant to reduce the amount of emissions and fuel consumption.
The downside to their claim of being green is that the batteries used in hybrid cars contain mostly rare irons and minerals such as lithium, ore and dysprosium. These are not limitless resources and 95 percent of these reserves are found overseas.
Scientists estimate that if hybrid manufacturers continue using lithium as the main component in these batteries at the current rate, lithium availability will reach a peak and only be more readily available if it was recycled.
There is a form of an alternative energy vehicle that runs purely from electrical charge. Once again, these require batteries, even more so than the hybrid, and they also require an electrical plug to draw energy from the owner’s local power grid.
Most of the energy used by these vehicles is produced by coal, and coal is not a renewable resource.
There is a big rush to build facilities with the capability to recycle the influx of hybrid batteries expected by 2020. The United States Department of Energy has granted Toxco $9.5 million to build a specialized recycling plant in Ohio strictly for electric car batteries.
It’s very difficult to pin down statistics on the actual recycling of hybrid cars, as they are a fairly new development. But keep in mind that they require oil to be produced, just as a regular car does.
There is oil in everything from the interior materials, to the tires. It takes seven gallons of oil to make one car tire.
One of the worst examples of a “green” failure is biofuels. Biofuels are typically made up of plant-based materials such as corn and soybeans.
The New York Times stated, “In the United States, Congress has mandated that biofuel use must reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022.”
The grain that is used in the making of the ethanol for one tank of gas in an SUV could feed a person for a year. The grains consumed by biofuels in 2009 could feed 330 million people on average consumption of 199 pounds per person, per year according to the USDA. Twenty-five percent of the grains grown in the United States go to the production of biofuel.
Wind turbines have been placed in specific areas with high winds. In Keller, Texas, a wind turbine was built at a middle school at the cost of $16,000. The estimated return on investment for this one wind turbine, assuming it will not need any repairs, is 26 years.
University of Texas installed three similar turbines on a grant from the State Energy Conservation Office of $2 million. The expected ROI of these turbines, again, assuming they need no repairs, is 40 years.
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