Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The World’s Seven Greenest Vehicles

By Lindsay Wilson

According to Wikipedia a ‘vehicle’ is “a mobile machine that transports passengers or cargo. Most often vehicles are manufactured, such as bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, trains, ships, boats and aircraft. But somehow a ‘green vehicle’ is a “road motor vehicle that produces less harmful impacts to the environment than comparable conventional internal combustion engine vehicles running on gasoline or diesel.”

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Wikipedia, but I do find it a little ironic that ‘green vehicles’ are pigeonholed as cars. On a full lifecycle emissions basis cars really aren’t that green compared to other options.

Here’s my take on the world’s seven greenest vehicles.

nissan-leaf7: < The Nissan Leaf  pic here >

A huge chunk of global passenger kilometers are covered by automobiles. Better cars are hugely important for the future. The Nissan Leaf is the leading all-electric car in Japan, the US, UK, and Norway. Using low-carbon electricity, electric car emissions are down around 50 g CO2e/pkm (passenger kilometer), almost all of which comes from the manufacturing of the vehicle.

thecoach6: < The Intercity Coach pic here >

It may surprise you, but the typical diesel bus can often have lower emissions per passenger kilometer than the best electric car. Intercity buses travel at efficient speeds on highways, have decent occupancy and tiny manufacturing emissions as they are spread over so many passengers. Studies range from 35-85 g CO2e/pkm.

schoolbus5: < The School Bus pic here >

Even more surprising, school buses typically have quite low emissions. This is not because they are super-efficient, or that they do smooth highway miles, but simply because they have such high occupancy. Emissions per passenger kilometer are typically in the 20-50 g CO2e/pkm range.


tgv14: < High Speed Rail pic here >

High-speed rail can be very low carbon, particularly with the right juice. We’ve taken the Eurostar and French TGV from London down to the Pyrenees a couple of times, and emissions are about a tenth of what they would have been from a flight. The largely nuclear electricity in France means emissions of 17 g CO2e/pkm on their high-speed network. Typically emissions are from 10-60 g CO2e/pkm depending on fuel source.

light-rail3: < Light Urban Rail pic here >

Any form of electric train can provide very low carbon miles if it has the right juice. Busy trams, metro or light rail systems can also have low emissions. The example below is from Bergen in Norway, where hydro power is dominant. Lifecycle emissions can range from 10-50 g CO2e/pkm depending on fuel source, efficiency and occupancy.

eBike2: < The Electric Bike pic here >

There are 200 million electric bikes in China today! Almost 30 million e-bikes will be sold in China this year alone. That is about half the number of passenger cars globally. In coal-reliant China an electric bike has average lifecycle emissions of 22 g CO2e/pkm. Depending on fuel mix they are typically in the range of 5-30 g CO2e/pkm.

flying-pigeon1: < The Flying Pigeon Bicycle pic here >

The ‘Flying Pigeon‘ is the most popular vehicle of all time. More than 500 million have been produced since 1950. Based on the 1932 Raleigh Roadster the popular model came in black, with one speed, 28-inch (710 mm) wheels, a fully covered chain, sprung leather saddle, rear rack and rod brakes. This is an old-school classic. In China, where the diet is relatively low carbon and electricity carbon intensive, this bike edges the eBike at around 10 g CO2e/pkm.

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