Automotive engineers at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) unveiled a minivan design intended to show that automakers could build affordable vehicles with existing technology that would meet or exceed the global warming pollution standards for cars and trucks that have been adopted by California and 10 other states. Automakers are currently fighting these standards in court.
The minivan—the UCS Vanguard—utilizes off-the-shelf engine, transmission and fueling systems and other technologies that would save consumers money, maintain vehicle safety and performance, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40%. The Vanguard is not a hybrid.
Today’s announcement confirms that we already have the technology and the tools to combat climate change and that now it is simply a question of the political will. Oregon is committed to transitioning to a new generation of cleaner vehicles, and this project demonstrates a clear path forward. It is my hope this will encourage the rest of the nation to join Oregon and the other states already pledged to reduce auto emissions.—Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski
California’s standard requires a 34-percent reduction in global warming pollution for cars and light trucks and a 25-percent reduction for larger trucks and SUVs within the next 10 years. Oregon and nine other states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) have adopted the California clean car standard.
Several other states, including Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas, are considering or about to adopt the standard.
California is the only state allowed under federal law to set air pollution standards higher than those imposed by the federal government. Other states have the authority to follow California’s lead.
The Vanguard minivan design has eight key components—including improvements in the engine, transmission, air conditioner, fuel system, tires and aerodynamic design—that can be found piecemeal in more than 100 vehicle models on the road today. The Vanguard uses conventional, non-hybrid technology to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The Vanguard’s six-cylinder engine features cylinder deactivation to shut down half the cylinders in a large engine when full power is not needed. Stoichiometric direct injection places the gasoline directly into the combustion chamber, thereby allowing better mixing of the fuel and air and improved control over the combustion process.
Turbocharging uses the waste heat from the vehicle’s exhaust to compress the air entering the engine’s combustion chamber. This boosting of the inlet air pressure results in higher engine power output, which allows the vehicle designers to select a smaller engine with less global warming emissions.
Variable valve lift and timing reduces engine losses by better controlling the flow of the air and fuel into the engine—leading to more efficient combustion and better performance.
Replacing mechanical components such as power steering with more energy-efficient electrical components can reduce engine load. When this electrification of components is coupled with a high-efficiency advanced alternator, global warming emissions can be reduced even further.
The minivan’s automated manual transmission electronically adjusts its six gears to increase performance and efficiency.
Stronger hoses and tighter connections in the Vanguard’s air conditioning system reduce the amount hydrofluorocarbon, which leak into the air. The minivan also uses HFC-152a, a refrigerant with a much lower global warming potential (120 times more potent than carbon dioxide) than HFC-134a (1,300 times more potent).
Direct CO2-equivalent emissions of refrigerant from a 152a system can be reduced by 95% or more compared with a baseline 134a system because of the smaller amount of refrigerant needed, lower leak rate, and lower global warming potential. Indirect CO2–equivalent emissions can be reduced by up to 10%.
The Vanguard is designed to run on either pure gasoline or a mixture of gasoline and as much as 85% ethanol. Using 85% corn-based ethanol can reduce global warming pollution from 10% to 30%, according to UCS. Using cellulosic ethanol could cut global warming pollution by as much as 90 percent. There are currently 32 types of flex-fuel vehicles on the road.