Vehicle emissions are one of the primary causes of smog and poor air quality. In addition, these emissions can also be harmful to the environment and may cause a number of health problems, such as emphysema, headaches and even certain types of cancer. This is a problem in countries like the United States, where people rely heavily on their vehicles for transportation. Vehicle emissions are generated from internal combustion engines, primarily those that rely on both gasoline and diesel fuel. These emissions leave the car through its tailpipe and contain pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and the greenhouse gas known as carbon dioxide. In addition, there is also the release of volatile organic compounds that are known as evaporative emissions, which comes from evaporating gasoline. As most people aren’t prepared to completely give up their vehicles, there are other options available, such as zero emissions vehicles (ZEV). Since ZEVs have no internal combustion engine, these vehicles do not release tailpipe exhaust or evaporated emissions. There are different types of ZEVs, some that are currently available and some that have not yet been released.

Types of ZEV

There are many types of vehicles that fall under the category of a ZEV. Any type of manually powered vehicle, such as a bicycle for example, is considered a type of zero emissions vehicle. Electrical vehicles are also ZEVs. They run off of an electric motor that relies on a battery. The battery is rechargeable and requires charging approximately every 100 to 200 miles depending on the vehicle. Fuel cell vehicles are another type of ZEV. These are vehicles that run using cells made of pure hydrogen. The cells work by converting hydrogen fuel and oxygen into the electricity that runs the vehicle’s battery. Currently, the availability of fuel cell vehicles is limited.


In California, regulations regarding the number of zero and low emissions vehicles state that by 2025 at least 15 percent of new cars must be zero or low emissions. This will increase the production of zero emissions cars so that there will be approximately 1.4 million of them available in California. In some states, regulations are also in place regarding production requirements. The California Code of Regulations, Title 13 sets the California standards. Manufacturers must sell and deliver a minimum percentage of ZEVs each model year. The minimum requirement changes approximately every one to two years. These California regulations and standards also apply to certain other states, such as the state of New York.


Researchers are in the process of developing additional environmentally friendly methods of charging zero emissions vehicles. Although most ZEVs require electricity to operate, creating the energy that powers them up can still put a strain on the environment. Roughly 45 percent of electric power comes from coal and 23 percent from natural gas. In the case of fuel cells, they rely on hydrogen to create the necessary electricity. Solar power is a more clean and environmentally friendly way to charge the vehicle’s battery without any excess strain on the environment. Solar charging is currently in various stages of development and vehicles will likely still need to be charged on the electrical grid during consistently rainy or inclement weather conditions.

The Future of Zero Emissions Vehicles

The future of zero emissions vehicles appears to be a positive one. As current technology matures and grows, people will become increasingly confident and comfortable in choosing a ZEV over an average vehicle. This will likely happen as the car’s electric batteries become less expensive and give drivers a longer driving range on a single charge. Charging stations will also become more readily available with an increased appearance at gas stations and public establishments, such as restaurants and grocery stores. Experts also believe that fuel cells and their charging locations will become more popular. In fact some states, such as Connecticut, have plans in place to switch their public buses to use fuel cell technology.

Public ZEVs vs. Private ZEVs

The differences between public and private ZEVs is basically the same as public transportation versus private transportation. Public zero emissions vehicles are vehicles that are available for public transportation, but do not have any form of emissions. They are typically meant to carry large numbers of people from one location to another. Types of public ZEVs include trolley cars or buses, trams and electrical trains and buses. High speed rail is also a type of zero emission vehicle for the public. Private ZEVs are vehicles that are used for non-commercial purposes. Typically these types of vehicles include electric cars and boats.

Government Resources (tax or other benefits)

The benefits of buying a ZEV vary depending on the state. These incentives can range from rebates to tax incentives. On a Federal level, the Internal Revenue Service offers a Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit on qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles. These vehicles may be passenger vehicles or light trucks. The total amount allowed for credit is $7,500, however the credit equals $2,500 for vehicles that use a battery with five kilowatt hours’ worth of energy. For each kilowatt-hour beyond the initial five, there is an additional $417 tax rebate. These cars must be for use in the United States and not for resale purposes. In California there are rebates for zero emission light duty vehicles.

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