The green race begins

THOUGH no commitments have as yet been made by industrialised countries to reduce &rbon emissions, car manufacturers in the West are already gearing themselves up for renewable and cleaner technologies in the near future.

The European Community is pushing for stabilisation of carbon emissions by the year 2000. In Germany, environment minister Klaus Topfer has called for a 25 per cent to 30 per cent reduction in emissions by 2010. In California, strict regulations demanding zero emissions from cars by 1998 are in force.

In anticipation of more widespread restrictions, companies across the world are developing engine prototypes which can run on electricity, hydrogen, compressed natural gas and even vegetable oil. Mazda is looking at hydrogen as the alternate fuel of the future. It unveiled its first hydrogen- powered HR-X at the environment-conscious Tokyo Motor Show last October. Daimler Benz has also developed a bydrogen-propelled engine prototype using metal hydrates as a fuel source. in Brazil, buses running on compressed natural gas are on the road. Some 250 such buses were bought by Rio de Janeiro transport company ID transport thousands of delegates to UNCED. Conlurb, the state-owned garbage disposal company in Brazil, intends to buy these engines and run them on biogas generated from the organic garbage collected.

Nearly four-and-a-half million vehicles today ply on Brazilian roads, run exclusively with alcohol obtained from sugarcane. On an average, these motors emit 50 per cent less carbon monoxide and release hydrocarbons which are less toxic. Some dual fuel cars also exist in the country. The addition of alcohol has eliminated the need for lead, which is a highly toxic gasoline additive. Brazil presently consumes some 180,000 barrels of gasoline and 200,000 barrels ofalcohol aday, saving nearly US $20 billion dollars in foreign exchange, earlier spent to import fuel.

Electricity is the cleanest fuel scientists have came up with so far. Audi has developed the Audi Duo, a full-size station wagon that is powered with gasoline for highway dil-Ang, but can also be used on electricity in the city. General Motors has invested millions ol dollars to develop a two-seater Impact which has a 190-kin range on a single battery charge.

The new emphasis is not going to be on clean fuels alone. From the manufacturing process through the cars' lifetime, manufacturers are attempting to reduce wahes. Daimler Benz in Brazil is developing car parts like handles and linings from jute, coconut fibre and rice husk.

Another innovation Audi has made is seat cushions that do not emit CFCs.

A major recycling effort is being made by Nissan in Japan. It recycles 100 per cent of the steel, aluminium and other metal scraps generated during production.

Sven Hunhammar, project coordinator for energy and development at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, however, cautions against overoptimism. He says. At will be a while before these vehicles actually hit the road in anv large number. Most companies are developing them to show that they are interested in the environmental cause." At least corporate ads have definitely become green.