CarbonCounter Tool From MIT Reveals Climate Impact Of Cars

If you are considering buying a new car today, you probably want to know what its long term effect on the environment will be. EPA fuel economy ratings are helpful, but don’t tell the whole story. Researchers at MIT have come up with a new interactive tool that gives a more comprehensive picture of how good (or bad) a job 125 new cars currently for sale in America do at meeting present and future climate change objectives.

CarbonCounter Tool from MIT tracks climate impact of new cars

Based on research published in Environmental Science & Technology on September 27, the tool pulls together information on carbon emissions per mile and the expected vehicle, fuel, and maintenance costs per mile. Using the data, you can see exactly how inexpensive or environmentally friendly that new car you have your eye on will be. The tool also shows how close each car is to climate goals for 2030, 2040, and 2050. The tool asks you to put in your location because it bases its calculations on how green the electricity you get from your local grid is.

Not surprisingly, no vehicle that relies exclusively on an internal combustion engine meets the 2030 standard, although a few come close. What may be surprising is that plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars are actually less expensive in the long term, even though they cost more initially. It’s not all about fuel economy, Congressman Fred Upton. Lower fuel and maintenance costs more than make up the difference, the research says.

Most hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, and all battery electric vehicles, have emissions profiles that will meet 2030 greenhouse gas targets. But none meets 2050 goals, largely because the electricity used to recharge their batteries comes from a grid that still uses a lot of fossil fuels to generate electricity. Only someone who recharges a battery electric vehicle at home using a solar panel installation can claim to be truly emissions free. But with the cost of solar and wind energy tumbling, it is reasonable to assume that fossil fuels will only account for a very small percentage of the electricity we use by 2030 and beyond.

The Carbon Counter will allow users to fiddle with the inputs and even change the colors used to represent various categories of cars if you feel like customizing it to your tastes. Hopefully, it will prove to be a useful tool for car shoppers to use in order to see what the overall cost and climate performance of a new car will be before they buy it. If nothing else, it shines a spotlight on the popular Chevrolet Suburban for being the least environmentally friendly vehicle currently available to the motoring public. Congratulations, Chevrolet. You must be very proud.

The other thing the tool does is demonstrate graphically why experts say we must transition away from selling cars with internal combustion engines completely by 2035 if we have any hope of meeting the climate targets agreed to by the world community in Paris last December.

Source: Vox,  Graphic © MIT.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.