While this technically includes mechanically-propelled vehicles, like bicycles, and wind-propelled vehicles, like sailboats, the category’s primary focus is on development of non-polluting replacements for cars, heavy duty trucks, buses, construction equipment, special-purpose military vehicles, boats, ships, locomotives, and aircraft that have traditionally been powered by gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, or other petroleum-based propellants. Most zero emission vehicles employ a highly efficient electric drive system integrating high voltage storage batteries, a high speed charging system, and one or more forms of onboard electric power generation, like brake regeneration or solar panels.

One of the most eager adopters of zero emissions vehicles has been municipalities worldwide – especially major cities – who have shared challenges of air, water, and noise pollution threatening the health and quality of life for its residents and visitors. In many ways, municipalities have been ZEV leaders by replacing old, heavily-polluting diesel- and gasoline-powered city buses and heavy duty work trucks with clean, quiet zero emission and electric hybrid transit buses, garbage trucks, construction vehicles, and more. Not only have these advanced zero emission transportation and work vehicles helped reduce exhaust and noise pollution everywhere that they have been adopted, but their proven performance has also led to accelerated adoption of zero emission propulsion systems for tour boat fleets, school bus fleets, commuter rail locomotives, taxi fleets, and more.

Configurations recognized as zero emissions vehicles under state and federal regulations and programs typically include:

  • Full battery electric vehicles that run on batteries alone and create zero emissions 100 percent of the time, using electricity to power a motor that propels the wheels and accessories. These vehicles are often augmented with electricity produced by regenerative braking and, in some cases, outer shell solar panels. Most charging of the batteries takes place at a charging station when not scheduled to be in service.   
  • Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, also called fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), run on electricity created through a silent, non-polluting process of mixing hydrogen with oxygen through a “stack” of proton exchange membrane electrodes. The only bi-products are heat and water. As with full battery electric vehicles, FCEVs also often use regenerative braking and outer shell solar panels to produce more electricity.
  • Plug-in electric hybrid vehicles that plug in to charge overnight, but also use a diesel- or gasoline-powered internal combustion engine to keep their storage batteries charged on longer trips. These do emit some carbon, but are significantly more efficient, clean, and quiet than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

Related topics to explore

American Public Transportation Association • Battery Electric Vehicles • Combined Charging Systems (CCS) • Conductive Charging • Electric Drive Systems • Electric Vehicle Association of America • Electric Bus Manufacturers USA • Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging • Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) • Global Electric Bus Integration • Inductive Charging Systems • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Power • Hydrogen Fueling Stations • Plug-In Electric Vehicles • Smart Charging • Solar Powered Automotive Charging • World Electric Vehicle Association • Zero Emission Bus Manufacturers • Zero Emissions Day • Zero Emissions Trucks • Zero Emissions Vehicles


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