The UN recently announced that Algeria, the last nation still using leaded
gasoline, finally stopped selling the toxic fuel as of July 2021. It was a major milestone for the health of the human race and the planet.
Americans haven’t used leaded gas for a long time. The process of phasing out the fuel type began in 1975 and officially ended in 1996. But other countries didn’t make the change as quickly. As of 2018, Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria still used the stuff.
Now, a new race is on to see who can phase off of fossil fuels altogether. Automakers are in a collective arm wrestle over who can electrify their lineup the fastest, and countries all over the world are setting goals for transitioning to
clean energysources to curb global warming.
Why did it take so long to get rid of leaded fuel?
Concerns about the health effects of leaded gas surfaced as soon as it was invented in 1921, and bans on the fuel began with Japan’s in 1980. Some countries followed suit in the following 20 years, but by 2002,
National Geographicsays 117 nations were still producing or selling it.
That’s when the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) got involved. Focusing primarily on African nations, they set out to convince governments to join in the transition away from adding lead to gasoline.
The hardest countries to convince were the ones with refineries, and manufacturers of the lead additive worked out some shady deals to keep their toxic product flowing into fuel tanks. But over the last decade, the UNEP worked with the remaining nations where leaded fuel was still sold to end its use in automobiles.
Where are we in the transition to cleaner fuels?
It’s funny that leaded gas is getting so much press right now since most people haven’t thought of it for years. Right now, everyone is focused on being fossil-fuel-free and carbon-neutral by 2050.
The energy source auto industry and environment experts are most focused on is electricity—specifically, the
lithium-ion batteriespropelling EVs. Most of the hope for transitioning off fossil fuels rests on lithium batteries, but they aren’t perfect. Mining for lithium can be environmentally harmful, and recycling the batteries is difficult.
Industry leaders like Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and General Motors (GM) are also developing models that run on
hydrogen fuel-cell technology. While technically EVs, since they run on electricity, hydrogen cars are "re-fillable," giving them longer range and faster "charging" times than typical electric cars.
How can I switch to a greener car?
There are still some barriers to buying environmentally-friendly vehicles. While charging and refilling infrastructure has improved for lithium-based EVs, it’s still a struggle. And it’s even worse for hydrogen cars. But the biggest barrier for most people is cost.
Electric cars start at around $30,000, but most of them cost much more than that. Hydrogen cars are even more expensive, starting between $50,000 and $60,000.
On top of that, home charging stations cost between $1,000 and $10,000, and refilling with hydrogen can cost twice as much as refilling with gasoline.
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