What is a Zero Emissions Vehicle?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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A zero emissions vehicle or ZEV is a vehicle that emits virtually no pollution when operating, or when standing still. Some types of zero emissions vehicles don’t emit pollution when they’re operating, but they may still rely on power sources that are pollutants. For example, if you have a battery operated car, you may be charging it with power that comes from natural gas or coal, though the ultimate goal is to create ZEVs that don’t rely on any power source that would pollute the environment.

Though this idea seems fairly new, there’s an old machine that is a fine example of a zero emissions vehicle, the bicycle. By using human power alone, and even though that human may occasionally rely on other things, like gas power to heat his or her home, the bike emits nothing when in transit. Horses, in contrast, are not a good example of a zero emissions vehicle because horses emit methane gas when in transit and when in the stable for the night. Another good example of a zero emissions vehicle is a motorless sailboat or a rowboat, which relies on human power or wind power to run.


There are a number of companies that are striding into the market to offer their versions of zero emissions vehicle types. These include several versions of electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and compressed air vehicles. The EV1, for example, marketed in the early 90s was a General Motors® vehicle that at first showed some promise of gaining considerable market share. However, numerous things combined to stop the sale or lease of these cars and most of them were destroyed, much to the annoyance of people who were fans. The issue of how the EV1 was disposed of is the subject of the film, Who Killed the Electric Car? , which presents a look, though biased, at the car and the various political forces which may have contributed to its demise.

However, crisis in using fossil fuels, and their damage to the environment is causing concern and the desire exists for companies to create an affordable, easy to use zero emissions vehicle, in addition to converting a large portion of public transportation to ZEV standards. A few companies have been praised for their cars, including Tesla, which introduced an electric sports car in 2006 and is beginning to produce more standard vehicles to run on solar power and electricity alone.

Other companies like Honda are producing a limited amount of cars run on hydrogen fuel cells. The main difficulties now with zero emission vehicles is that they are expensive for the average consumer, and it also may be difficult to power them or find things like hydrogen to fill them with. This makes them tough to market, though certainly people with higher incomes may be able to afford to purchase them and power them as necessary.


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