The four seasons: Will car fumes drive them away?

Vehicle-powering gas made out of sunflower oil? It sounds unlikely, yet it’s feasible. The use of alternative fuels is just one, if not the only, measure that can contribute to the reduction in the environmental fallout from the circulation of 1 billion cars over the entire planet (the EU has proposed that 20 percent of fuel become alternative by 2020) – a major cause of air pollution, the greenhouse effect and the hole in the ozone layer. In an interview with Kathimerini, the first words uttered by Constantinos Arkoumanis, a university physicist, specialist in car engineering, member of the Royal Academy of England, and dean of City University’s School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences in London, were hair-raising. «The four seasons have been lost. And if we continue like this, in 50 years at the most, large parts of the Earth will be be underwater due to the melting of the ice caps. The extent of the disaster will depend on how much the temperature rises, that is, between one and, at the most destructive, five degrees,» he said. Scientists have been sounding the alarm for some years now over the greenhouse effect and the hole in the ozone layer, but the measures taken so far have proved inadequate. The average person also does not appear to have awakened to the size of the disaster bearing down on the Earth, despite the fact that one of the basic causes of greenhouse gases are vehicle exhaust emissions. «On the planet today, there are 1 billion cars in circulation, causing serious environmental damage from the effects of fuel consumption.» Solutions, of course, exist. What remains is to make the corresponding decisions and, chiefly, to implement them immediately. According to Arkoumanis, if efforts are concentrated solely on car engines, fuel consumption can be reduced in four different ways, as follows: – Increased production of diesel engines, since a diesel engine consumes on average 20 percent less fuel compared to gas-powered engines. At this juncture, 43 percent of new cars in Europe use diesel fuel. – Conversion of gas-powered engines so that they use the more economic method of direct fuel injection into the combustion chamber. – Promotion of hybrid cars, which work on batteries as well as using an engine. The engine charges the battery as the car moves along, or the car can work solely on power from the battery (in cities, say) like an electric car, with the result that there is a significant reduction in pollutants. According to Arkoumanis, the hybrid car is the intermediate stage between today’s technology and the electric vehicle. «We hope that fuel cells – the greatest hope for a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels – will be mass-produced in 15 years’ time and at a cost the consumer will be able to bear,» said the professor. – The use of alternative fuels, and not natural gas or petrol. For example, fuel can be produced from plants, such as sunflowers, while biomass can produce both fuel oil and gas. Already, the EU has suggested that by 2020, 20 percent of fuel should be from alternative sources. It’s essential that these solutions be implemented in combination so as to meet the mass needs for fuel but not to increase the costs for the car industry. Arkoumanis, who has great experience of the inner workings of the car industry through his many collaborations with some of the giants of car manufacturing, says the four ways would increase the cost of a car by 5-10 percent. But consumers would be able to absorb such a rise, since more economic fuels are expected to counterbalance the higher price. Moreover, the consumption of natural resources (oil and natural gas) is leading to the depletion of reserves, with repercussions on prices and the economy. People must become aware that they are all responsible for the environment that they have been damaging for so many years now.

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