Not every effort to clean up car emissions and cut down on gas guzzling is a painful compromise. Jalopnik readers picked out ten clean car technologies that most definitely didn't suck.
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10.) Brazil's sugar ethanol
Suggested By: I Can Be Stig?
Why it doesn't suck: Really successful, innovative biofuels are still years away for the US market, but for over three decades Brazil has been developing their massive sugarcane crop into ethanol. It is the most successful alternative fuel there is, and it's made from a renewable plant resource.
The only problem is that the same analysts who praise Brazil's sugar ethanol agree that its production model could not be transported into just any country, and most definitely not the US. It's a great achievement, but it's not a global solution.
Photo Credit: Sweeter Alternative
9.) Modern aerodynamics
Suggested By: ChiefPontiaxe
Why it doesn't suck: After falling out of fashion for a good half-century, aero experienced a resurgence in the early 1980s with the Mercedes 190, the Ford Taurus, and the Audi 100/5000. We gave up the big grills of the ‘70s for smoother, sexier curves.
The only problem is that cars are starting to look identical, with the wind governing each new design.
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz
8.) Ultra-low-sulfur diesel
Suggested By: smalleyxb122
Why it doesn't suck: Diesel seems like a great idea until you're stuck just behind a huge old truck. They cough out tons of soot that just rain into your lungs and onto buildings. Sulphur is what forms much of that soot, so ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD), with only 15 ppm of sulfur vs. 500 ppm for low-sulfur fuel, is definitely a good thing. Where it needs to be is in China, where some cities have 500 ppm diesel and the rest of the country runs on 2,000 ppm.
Photo Credit: Haaveilla
7.) Modern valve technology
Why it doesn't suck: There are all kinds of fantastic valve technologies that are making cars more powerful, more efficient, and more able to adapt to different conditions while you drive. Honda's variable valve timing is one, and Koenigsegg's upcoming pneumatic valves are another.
The first emissions-related technology implemented in the US was actually related to valves, which reader TacoTacoMMmm explained.
The first automotive emissions control technology in the nation, Positive Crankcase Ventilation, was mandated by the California Motor Vehicle State Bureau of Air Sanitation to control hydrocarbon crankcase emissions. Positive Crankcase Ventilation withdraws blow-by gases from the crankcase and returns them with the fresh air and fuel mixture in the cylinders. This was the first early step towards cleaning up emissions and looking to make cars burn more efficiently. It's now standard equipment on basically everything that has a crankcase.
Photo Credit: Fiat
6.) Kinetic Energy Recovery System
Suggested By: Spiegel Says You're The Fairest Of All
Why it doesn't suck: Known simply as KERS, this is a kind of hybrid that's very different from what you'll find under the skin of a Prius. Rather than use a battery, KERS converts braking energy into electricity (regenerative braking), by storing the energy in a flywheel. The flywheel spins, holding the charge until it is directed to send the power out to an electric motor. There are also hydraulic systems.
It's pure motorsports technology now, running in Formula One, in a single Porsche GT car, and soon in two Audi hybrid Le Mans prototypes. The goal there is not just to save fuel, but to provide a kind of power-boost button. That's the kind of eco-hybrid we like.
Photo Credit: Porsche
5.) Turbocharging + downsizing
Suggested By: e36r56
Why it doesn't suck: Turbocharging alone will not make your engine drink less fuel. Pairing a turbocharger with a smaller motor, however, and you have a package that produces as much power as a larger-engined car, but drinks not much more fuel than a non-turbo small engine car. In little cars like Corsas and Polos and Mini Coopers, power stays the same, efficiency goes up, and gas mileage goes up; it's a win/win/win.
Photo Credit: Kevin Stephenson
4.) Fuel injection
Suggested By: Picklehaube
Why it doesn't suck: Fuel injection is another engine technology that is aimed at efficiency, which happens to make car burn less fuel and produce less pollution. Early systems were crude, but today's direct-injection gasoline and diesel engines are amazingly capable of atomizing fuel to burn as effectively as possible with the air inside the cylinder. With computer control, fuel injection is variable, a keyword in making internal combustion engines more efficient.
Photo Credit: Audi
3.) Catalytic converters
Suggested By: dogisbadob
Why it doesn't suck: The way these things work is that exhaust flows in and carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides react with a chemical catalyst inside. They then convert into and are released as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water.
There are many who opposed the implementation of the catalytic converter, now standard in all cars. Ford opposed American regulations in the ‘70s, then European regulation in the 1980s along with the British government. Their argument was that engines alone should become less polluting, and eating up exhaust gasses in a catalytic converter was short-sighted. Now engines themselves not only run more efficiently, but they run in conjunction with cats as well. They really have worked in cleaning up the air.
Photo Credit: Cateran Catalytic Converters
2.) Electric cars that aren't terrible
Suggested By: forgeryfade
Why it doesn't suck: This is the tzero sports car, built by AC Propulsion. The company wasn't actually very good at building them so a company was set up to produce more. That company was Tesla Motors, and they ended up turning the tzero project into the overhyped-but-still-cool Roadster. Beyond the Tesla there are tons of electric conversions of BMWs and Porsches and purpose-built electrics that are cool in their own right, batteries or not.
Photo Credit: AC Propulsion
1.) Banning leaded gasoline
Suggested By: stratity
Why it doesn't suck: The rise and fall of leaded gasoline is a long and fascinating history, but the short version is this: GM's research division managed to work out an affordable octane booster in the early 1920s that allowed them to build more powerful engines. It was called tetraethyl lead (TEL). Everyone knew it caused numerous health problems, but it was wildly successful anyway. "Ethyl" was added to over 90% of all gasoline in the country by the 1930s. In 1936 it was so well supported that the Federal Trade Commission prohibited any of Ethyl's competitors from calling leaded gasoline dangerous.
It took until the late 1960s for the environmental movement to try and get leaded fuel banned. It goes to show how slow regulations in the automotive industry go, as it took until 1995 for it to be formally banned, though it had been practically eliminated in the US by the mid 1980s.
Leaded gas was on sale in Europe up until 2000 and it can still be found in developing nations, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. The additives that replaced tetraethyl lead aren't great, but they're much, much better than leaking lead across the country, one car at a time.
Photo Credit: Ethyl Corporation