Could Your Next Car Become an Engine for the Environment?

California has certainly been at the forefront of the green movement, with the government and the citizens always striving toward renewable and sustainable resources, but could their be a way that we could actually reverse some of the impact we’ve had on the atmosphere? Over the last decade, there has been more of a push to produce vehicles that use less fuel and emit fewer pollutants, but as we create more advanced and innovative engines, there is an opportunity to not only become more fuel-efficient but actually improve the air around us using our cars.

In California, there is a body known as the Air Quality Management Board. Like the EPA, this organization assigns air-quality ratings to cars depending on the amount of emissions they produce. These designations include ratings such as Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV), Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle (PZEV), and even Zero Emission Vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf.

While joining me for coffee some years ago, one of the members of the Air Quality Management Board remarked that one of the vehicles tested did such a good job of controlling emissions that the air exhausting from the tailpipe was actually cleaner than the air that was entering the engine. You read that correctly. The vehicle was so effective at prohibiting its own harmful emissions that it was actually scrubbing existing pollutants from the air.

This conversation has weighed on my mind for many years as I ponder whether we have been considering vehicles all wrong. When we think about making environmentally friendly vehicles, we are often looking for a way to get from point A to point B while having as little impact on the environment around us. However, using advances in technology and engineering, it could be possible to create an engine so clean that our cars could actually become, for a lack of a better term, atmosphere purifiers. We could be purifying and actually improving the air as we make our daily commutes instead of adding to the problem.

This idea has intrigued me for quite some time. However, like all advances in technology and design, there are also many questions that can be raised. One of the largest concerns with this idea would be the cost associated with creating these ultra clean vehicles. Another question would be whether or not the added functionality would place an insupportable burden on the engine.

Most of the efforts regarding improving the design of vehicles tend to focus on factors such as passenger comfort, safety, and fuel efficiency. While these are all significant factors that should be considered, haven’t these areas garnered plenty of attention throughout the evolution of the modern vehicle? Maybe it is time to look beyond only trying to make the car more efficient and enjoyable, and look for ways that vehicles can transform into part of our environmental solution for future generations. I don't claim to have the recipe for doing this. But I hope visionary management, public policy, and talented engineers could move passenger vehicles from polluters to purifiers.