How "green" is your card? | Teen Ink

How "green" is your card?

April 29, 2008
By Anonymous

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the average mileage for new cars in the United States was 24.7 mpg in 2004. Proud owners of Toyota Priuses brag that they are getting 40-50 mpg from their electric and gas hybrids. But to a group of high school students from Indiana, that is nothing. One of their vehicles has achieved a jaw dropping 2,843 mpg in this year’s Shell eco-marathon competition.

Just a few months ago, many people touted ethanol as the fuel of the future, the clean alternative to fossil fuels. Well, ethanol is clean all right. It’s also cleaning out America’s wallets. How? Ethanol is mostly made from corn in United States. Corn is also a major source for food and animal feed. Less corn means higher prices for food products and unhappy Americans. Now, surging prices have also spilled over into soybeans, wheat and rice, threatening starvation in developing countries.

Not only this, but corn based Ethanol is “dramatically accelerating global warming” and also leading to large-scale destruction of rainforests as Brazilian farmers rush to fill the demand gap of soybeans left by American farmers who move to produce corn instead of soybeans, according to Time magazine. Unfortunately, the deforestation of the Amazon Basin, a major CO2 trap, is basically canceling out any good that the use of the ‘natural’ fuel would have accomplished.

Now we are back to square one as pump prices move ever closer to 4 dollars. Although some are still hopeful about a breakthrough from cellulose ethanol research, which makes ethanol from biomass such as leaves, straw, and wood chips, the technology is still years if not decades away.

In the mean time, conservation is our best choice. While many Americans mumble and grumble about the prices, they don’t really use any less gas. One can hardly blame them because there is no real feasible alternative. However not all hope is lost. As the teens from Indiana have shown us, nothing is impossible if you try.

Every year, oil giant Shell sponsors an eco-marathon race (ironic, considering that it is an oil company), where teams build earth-friendly vehicles and compete in different categories. The goal is simple: travel as far as possible and use as little fuel as possible. These vehicles are required to be less than 350 pounds, and some of them achieve incredible things.

“When we first arrived, I wasn’t sure a small high school like Mater Dei could compete with all these elite colleges,” said Justin Stute, Mater Dei High School team captain. “But our first run broke the record and then our second car did even better.”

And win they did. The vehicle built by Mater Dei High managed to got 2,843 miles to the gallon beating the defending champion Cal Poly’s 2,752 and walked away with the grand prize of $10,000.

The Shell eco-marathon started in 1985 in France, attracting thousands of young engineers and scientists from 20 European countries. Built on the incredible successes in Europe, the Shell eco-marathon expanded to America in 2007. This year, the event features 32 teams from Canada, Mexico and the United States. The current worldwide leader is a french technology school, which set the record in 2003 with an insane 10,705 mpg.

With that mileage, one could practically drive from California to the east coast and back on one gallon of gas.

Granted, these race cars are hardly family sedans. They are more like motorized tricycles with a plastic shell. However, if the same sort of technology used by these cars were somehow commercialized, the impact could be huge. A 300 mpg family car would work wonders in reducing our oil dependence and fighting global warming. The competition also featured a wide array of possibilities from the
super-effective internal combustion engine to hydrogen fuel cells and solar power. Many of the entrants had highly impressive gas mileage that every major car company should strive to emulate.
Maybe the world is doomed to watch from the sidelines as the oil wells run dry.

Maybe the perfect new energy will not be found until the next century. Maybe we’ll just have to go on buying expensive corn products. But with people like the eco-marathon-ers on the planet, I don’t think that they’re going to stop trying. Our future is in their hands.

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