Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Some of its parts

14.01.2004


Civil engineer Heather MacLean examines environmental impact of automobiles from plant to scrapyard


Professor Heather MacLean
Image: Susan King



Although she leads a national research team on automotive life-cycle assessments, studies the future of hybrid electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars and takes the subway to work, the car sitting in her driveway is a rusty 1987 BMW. And although she rarely drives it, her attachment to the vehicle speaks volumes about the challenges of shifting to newer, low-emission vehicles. “I like my car because I like how it feels to drive it,” she says ruefully.

But MacLean also has a unique grasp of the impact of automobiles on the environment. As co-ordinator of a national research team using a cradle-to-grave approach to examining the creation, use and disposal of automobiles in Canada’s auto sector, MacLean is looking for ways to enhance these systems in the future, affecting both conventional and alternative fuel/propulsion system vehicles.


The team was recently awarded $315,000 from the AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence and several industry sponsors to study how methods such as life-cycle assessment are perceived and utilized in the automobile industry and whether barriers exist to widespread use. It will also look at case studies examining such issues as technological advances in the industry and their implications throughout the life cycle of the vehicle.

Japan and some European countries have end-of-life directives when it comes to vehicles, says MacLean, which the North American auto industry is studying should similar policies be developed here. For example, before a car is scrapped some parts are removed and reused, remanufactured or recycled. “If manufacturers were responsible for their vehicles at the end of life, they would most likely do things somewhat differently,” she says.

MacLean’s team will measure factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, solid waste generation and releases of toxic materials from both conventional and alternative fuel/propulsion vehicles (such as hybrid electric systems and fuel cells). For biofuel-powered cells, she notes, they might examine factors such as amount of land used or fertilizer application. Hydrogen fuel cells may produce emission-free vehicles, but the origin of the hydrogen may itself produce pollution. Or if a car runs on “clean” battery
power, how much do the batteries cost, how long do they last and are they charged with electricity from a coalfired power plant?

MacLean completed her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Dalhousie University and followed up with an MBA from St. Mary’s University. Her initial career plans involved the manufacturing industry and she spent several years doing environmental engineering consulting work. But she ultimately decided to pursue further education that would mesh both public policy and engineering.

She ended up at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., where she completed both her master’s and PhD. During her doctoral work there, MacLean looked at the environmental impact of alternative technologies for automobiles, which eventually led to her research on life-cycle analysis.

MacLean says that while alternative automobile technology has advanced, many economic issues remain unresolved. “They’re much more costly to manufacture,” she says. “Companies aren’t making any profits on these things,” and, she adds, manufacturers aren’t making many of these vehicles. Nor are consumers buying. According to MacLean, auto manufacturer surveys have found that while people say they’re willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly vehicle, in practice they wouldn’t. “Unless the costs are basically equivalent to what they could get for a gasoline vehicle, the alternative isn’t going to sell, except to a very small number of people who are willing to buy green.”

And MacLean admits that until it rusts badly or starts to cost too much money she is in no rush to replace her aging Beemer. “Why would I go out to buy a $30,000 hybrid car and save a couple of emissions when I could continue to take the subway,” she says. “If we continue to have very low-priced gasoline and fairly inexpensive vehicles, we’re not paying a whole lot for the pollution that we’re putting out.”

And, she adds, people don’t necessarily act out of a sense of responsibility or for the common good — they have to be motivated to do it because it’s in their best interest. “Unless the government comes up with policies or incentive programs that help people make the best choices, then they’re not going to.”

Nicolle Wahl is a news services officer with the department of public affairs.
U of T Public Affairs, ph: (416) 978-6974; email: nicolle.wahl@utoronto.ca

Nicolle Wahl | University of Toronto
Further information:
http://www.newsandevents.utoronto.ca/bin5/040112g.asp

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling of PET Bottles: New Ideas for Resource Cycles in Germany
25.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF

nachricht Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>