White Paper- Steve LeBano

1. Hybrid technology in automobiles has been available in the U.S. market since 1999, and since 1997, over 5.8 million hybrids have been sold worldwide as of October 2012. Hybrids boast fuel economy that is typically higher than their standard internal combustion counterparts. In one way or another, a hybrid vehicle utilizes a combination of internal combustion and electric power while operating in a similar manner to contemporary vehicles. Hybrid technology can be found in anything from compact city cars to full-size SUV’s. Hybrids also appeal to buyers is that they are advertised to have improved economy as well as environmental friendliness compared to vehicles equipped with standard powertrains. Hybrids typically demand higher prices due to the cost of developing and producing the many additional components needed in hybrid powertrains.
2. Hybrid technology is not the economic and environmental savior that many consider it to be. Here are some points that support my thesis:

A. Buying a hybrid will not save you money as a result of fuel savings unless you plan to drive it for a LONG time. The average ownership period of a new car, which happens to be at an all-time high, is only approximately six years. In order to save money by purchasing a typical hybrid vehicle, gas prices would have to raise to about $8 a gallon in order to save money within a typical 6 year ownership period.
B. In addition, fuel economy often depends on driving style. On long trips cruising at highway speeds, many hybrid technologies such as start-stop and brake energy regeneration are not utilized. Also, If you’ve got a heavy right foot, you’re not doing your Prius’ gas tank any favors, considering that many hybrids revert to primarily gasoline power under heavy acceleration.
C. Hybrids produce on average 51.6 pounds of carbon dioxide every 100 miles, compared to the 74.9 pounds produced by a conventional car. This means that the average hybrid car produces only about 32% less carbon dioxide than a conventional car.
D. Hybrid batteries are produced using minerals such as lithium and cobalt. The mining processes used to obtain these minerals are extremely destructive to the environment. The batteries are also toxic, and although some manufacturers have made efforts to recycle them, there is still the possibility that many of these batteries will be disposed of in unsafe ways once nonfunctioning hybrid batteries inevitably become a more common occurrence in scrapyards.
3. Many believe that hybrids are light years ahead of standard automobiles, when in reality they are not as clean or economical as many perceive them to be. This idea is highly counterintuitive to popular opinion, which generally holds hybrid technology in high regard.
4. Smaller topics that could be taken from this could be:
– Economic value of hybrids
– Environmental impact of hybrids
– A study of the effectiveness of a specific hybrid vehicle, such as the Honda  Insight or the Toyota Prius.
5. I’ve been reading up on sources that compare ownership costs of hybrids vs. conventional cars, as well as studying the environmental impact of both hybrids and conventional cars.

Annotated Sources:

1. http://www.howstuffworks.com/5-reasons-to-not-buy-hybrid.htm#page=5

This section of How Stuff Works’ article on reasons not to buy a hybrid provided a great starting point for my argument against the notion that hybrids are green vehicles. It gives a few great examples such as battery materials and the fact that hybrids are still gas powered at the end of the day. I’ve always found How Stuff Works to be a reliable, highly informative, and rather humorous source.

2. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207094314.htm

This article provides good insight on the topic of sustainability in automobiles. One great point that this article makes is that the auto industry’s focus on development of high-efficiency vehicles, or HEV’s, may hinder the progress some manufacturers have made in the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which are highly sustainable.

3. http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/does-hybrid-car-production-waste-offset-hybrid-benefits1.htm

This is another great article from How Stuff Works that focuses specifically on the pollution created in order to build a hybrid. It discusses everything from the manufacturing process to the methods used to obtain materials that are essential for hybrid technology. Here’s a great little blurb from the first paragraph of this rather lengthy article: “Experts estimate that 10 to 20 percent of a vehicle’s total lifetime greenhouse gas emissions are released during the manufacturing stage alone .”

4. http://www.caranddriver.com/columns/aaron-robinson-out-of-africa-where-electric-vehicle-batteries-come-from-part-ii

I found this article to be a great resource on the impact of the mining processes behind hybrid batteries. The mining of minerals essential to hybrid technology has an incredibly deep impact. Cobalt in particular is mined from war-torn areas of Africa. The ecological impact of mining these rare materials is only one part of the argument. Here’s a quick quote: “In the DRC’s eastern provinces of  North and South Kivu, various rebel factions and the national army conduct mining at gunpoint or extract levies at checkpoints along the roads that fund their fighting.” This is just one example of the impact of how mining is a detriment to the social environment as well as the ecological environment of areas in central Africa.

5. http://www.autoweek.com/article/20110718/CARNEWS/110719890

This article specifically calls out a few of the biggest offenders concerning environmental-friendliness. Here’s a link to a scorecard to the study discussed in the article: http://www.hybridcenter.org/hybrid-scorecard/ While the study praises cars like the Prius, it scolds many of the hybrid suv’s and trucks available on the market. Brands such as BMW, Volkswagen, and GMC were hit hard in the testing results for offering products that offer little to no immediate environmental advantage. I’d also like to point out that this article and study is not concerned with manufacturing or material sourcing pollution either, which would surely be a detriment to the higher ranked vehicles and completely bury any hope of achieving eco-friendly aspirations for those that were ranked lower.

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4 Responses to White Paper- Steve LeBano

  1. davidbdale says:

    Steve, I love this topic and am eager to learn what you learn. It’s extraordinarily important that as a species we choose the right fuel for transportation and not be fooled by marketing nonsense. I’m hoping you’ll be rigorous and hold the car companies accountable for their claims.

    1. I’d also be delighted if hybrids actually are substantially greener on balance than conventional vehicles. So, go looking for counterintuitivity, but stay open to good news wherever you find it.

    I’m worried when you say ONE MAIN REASON is improved economy and environmental friendliness. If I get to choose (I wish I could) I’d ditch the improved economy angle altogether. The important counterintuitivity is the supposed but undelivered green benefit.

    You’re wrong when you say “hybrids demand higher prices” due to their higher costs. Higher costs don’t get to demand higher prices. Buyers pay more only if they perceive a value to the higher-priced item. Hybrids command higher prices because buyers think they’re superior vehicles or that they’ll recoup the higher initial cost through savings. Again, there are two topics here and you have room for only one. Focus on the vehicle’s supposed superiority, please.

    2. So far that’s what I expected, but it is disappointing.

    A. There’s no telling how high gas prices will go, sadly. The “easy” oil is gone, demand will rise as the world economies improve, and oil companies will suppress supply to get as much as they can get.

    B. That’s interesting and helpful information.

    C. For me, this is the beginning of the most important comparison, because it’s so easy to lie about. The car may emit less carbon, but the carbon produced to produce the electricity it uses is hidden in the calculation.

    D. Also extremely important and an often overlooked hazard of hybrids.

    3. Mm-hmm.

    4. Not as impressed with the subtopics yet, Steve. The economic value is a side topic as I see it; the environmental impact is the juice. “Environmental impact of hybrids” can’t be a subtopic of the topic: Environmental impact of hybrids, can it?

    The “specific hybrid study” is a good idea though. Read enough to discover the most illustrative example, then build your whole paper as a detailed examination of that one test case.

    5. Please ditch the “ownership cost” component completely.

  2. rickc1030 says:

    Being the authority on cars that you are, Steve, I really enjoyed reading into your paper’s basis. It’s amazing how so many people can just mindlessly buy a “hybrid” eco friendly car that may actually have the same impact as a non-eco friendly car or worse! You bring up a TON of great ideas and facts but I would probably say you may want to narrow down a bit. Specifically, I would focus more on that hybrid cars are not really as eco-friendly and probably focus less on the owner-ship part of it. I feel like that may be another argument entirely and would detract from your main point.

  3. lebano55 says:

    I’ve updated the paper with annotations and its ready for grading. (note: My annotations reflect the revised topic that we discussed and only concern environmental impact.)

  4. davidbdale says:

    There’s a lot of really fine writing here, Steve, and a much clearer focus. Even after sketching possible Causal Arguments for you in the A11 assignment, I’ve found many more intriguing cause-effect topics here to consider. You’ll have your pick for your second short paper, and no shortage of very interesting subject matter for your long paper. Very nice work.

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