How often do you buy a new car? Not too often, I bet, and therein lies a major challenge to cutting carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Even though new cars, SUVs and light trucks are, on average, less polluting, it takes a long time for older vehicles to be retired and replaced with more efficient ones. And unlike houses, which can be renovated with insulation, weather sealing and more efficient appliances to reduce energy use and emissions, there’s no way to renovate cars to use less fuel and produce less global warming pollution. But that might be about to change, at least in a small way.
A new product that automatically stops and restarts a car’s engine at red lights makes it possible to cut emissions from an existing vehicle. The technology involves a control unit, easily plugged into the dashboard port that the repair shop uses to access the computer in your vehicle, and two relay switches added to the car’s fuse box. When the driver stops at a red light, the device can shut down the car. When the light turns green and the driver releases the brake pedal, the car starts up again. Hybrid-electric vehicles already include automatic start-stop for red lights and stop signs to save fuel. This new system, developed by a company called Voyomotive, allows drivers of conventional cars to modify their vehicles for automatic start-stop.
I don’t know if Voyomotive’s product is any good, or if drivers will like it. I’m simply intrigued by the idea that it is now possible to cut fuel consumption and global warming pollution from cars currently on the road.
Voyomotive estimates that automatic start-stop in a car driven in city traffic with 20 minutes of idling time daily could cut fuel consumption by 55 gallons and carbon dioxide emissions by 1,100 pounds per year. Most drivers probably don’t face 20 minutes per day stuck at stop lights, so the fuel and emissions savings would be less for the typical driver. Nonetheless, Voyomotive is demonstrating the potential for technological improvements that can cut emissions from vehicles long before they need to be replaced.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son.