Automobile Industry

Alternative Fuel Types and Vehicles

types-of-alternative-fuel-cars

The skyrocketing fuel prices, growing environmental concerns, mounting criticisms towards carbon emissions, and demand for alternative fuel vehicles continue to increase that generates an excellent opportunity for automakers to develop cars that do not use traditional bio-carbon-based fuel. It is important to know that alternative fuels have very low carbon emission which ultimately reduces smog, air pollution, and global warming. Following are some alternative fuels that can be utilized (some are already being used) to run our future cars:

 A green Tata/MDI OneCat car

Compressed Air

A car run by a compressed air is probably the most intriguing and alluring among all other alternative fuel cars. Such car may use only compressed air, or it can be a hybrid car which uses both compressed air and diesel, gasoline or ethanol.

When using the compressed air alone, the car could manage to drive around town at a speed of 35 mph.

What you can see in the picture is the Tata/MDI OneCAT which was then advertised to come out in 2008. Reportedly, the compressed car was the product of India’s Tata Motors and Motor Development International’s engine developer Guy Negre.

Natural Gas

Natural gas fuel is widely available in many countries through utilities that supply natural gas to homes and offices. Natural gas, as an alternative fuel, burns clean and produces fewer harmful emissions than gasoline or diesel, and can be systemized in cars and trucks. The drawback of natural gas as an alternative fuel is that it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21x worse than CO2, which ultimately makes it a big reason for global warming.

A biodiesel bus in Sweden

Vegetable Oil

Vehicles fueled by vegetable oil are no more a concept. There are now hybrid cars that run by vegetable oil and even trucks and buses that are powered by biodiesel (including soybean oil).

The world’s first biodiesel car rental is located in Maui, Hawaii. The USA features a fleet of eco-friendly vehicles. They include the Volkswagen “Bio-Beetle” that runs entirely on vegetable oil!

 A white Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle parked in a street

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells have attracted nature-loving motorists for several years. Undoubtedly, car makers face a lot of tough technical challenges in developing such cars (such as preventing Hydrogen cells from freezing or from catching flames inside the vehicle), but it doesn’t deter the creation of such eco-friendly cars.

In 2015, Toyota unveiled the first commercially-produced hydrogen fuel cell-powered car, the Toyota Mirai. These cars usually utilize the hydrogen in one of two methods; fuel cell conversion or combustion method. Hydrogen is converted into electricity through fuel cells in the fuel conversion process. While in combustion method, hydrogen is burned in the engine radically the same way as traditional gasoline. The only byproduct from the consumed hydrogen is water in both above techniques.

Fiat 147; the first modern car to use ethanol as a fuel

Ethanol

Ethanol is present in most of the gases that we use for our vehicles, though it must be present in a legally approved amount. But in 2010, Suzuki started making and selling cars that were fueled by 100% ethanol.

This alcohol-based alternative fuel is made by fermenting and refining crops such as barley, corn or wheat. To increase octane levels and improve the emission quality, it is blended well with gasoline. One problem associated with ethanol is that it has a negative impact on food prices and its availability.

Some cars and truck models carry the specification “flex fuel”, which means they can run on mixtures that contain up to 85% ethanol.

A Peterbilt 2007 US truck in Red

Propane

Propane, also known as ‘liquefied petroleum gas’ or ‘LPG’, is a byproduct of natural gas and crude oil that is a popular alternative fuel for vehicles. Propane is already used as a fuel for cooking and heating. There is a properly established infrastructure for propane storage, transportation, and distribution. The only adverse effect to this fuel is that it produces greenhouse gas, methane, a worse global warming causer.

Ease of maintenance and reduced emissions have stimulated the use of propane in police cars and school buses as well as heavy-duty trucks such as Kenworth and Peterbilt. Now, there are more than 270,000 propane-fueled vehicles on the road.

However, propane must be stored in pressurized tanks. Plus, its refueling infrastructure is limited as well. It costs about one-third less than gasoline.

5-water

To those naysayers who believe that water can’t run a car — well, it can and in fact does! A Japanese car, Genepax, is a water-powered car. By using one liter of water, this car can cruise around town about 80 kilometers per hour, for one hour. The water’s hydrogen electrons are the ones that generate electricity and thus, power the car’s electric motor.

BMW i3 charging on the street

Electricity

The electric car is the ultimate “green car” because it doesn’t give off harmful emissions whatsoever. It is powered by electrical energy that is produced through an electrochemical reaction that occurs on combining hydrogen and oxygen. Battery-powered electric vehicles stock power in batteries and can be easily recharged by plugging the vehicle into a standard electrical source.

Electric-powered cars enjoyed only brief popularity until cheaper gas-fueled cars became more widespread. But the advancements in battery technology, oil price increase, and the need to reduce carbon footprints greatly factored the revival of the electric cars in the early 21st century which made them the greenest option around when it comes to economical cars.

PHEVs or Plug-in Hybrids

Three plug-in converted Toyota Prius cars recharging at San Francisco City Hall public charging station.

Plug-in hybrids are much similar to electricity operated vehicles but have larger batteries that can propel the car to longer distances on electricity alone. Also, they generate zero emissions. Their batteries can be recharged by plugging into an electric power source. The estimated cost of the larger batteries is $7,000 for the plug-in version. Only four models of PHEV are presently available in the U.S. the best-known model of these is General Motor’s range assisted Chevrolet Volt.

A huddle of wood pellets

Wood Pellets (Biomass)

Many car manufacturers are looking for more resourceful means of reviving up vehicles. Now, they have also come up with cars that are powered by wood pellets! This is a type of fuel produced from biomass, which is an organic matter derived from dead or living organisms.

A bus in Nebraska powered by biodiesel.

Biodiesel

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel based on vegetable oils or animal fats, also some recycled cooked items. Car engines convert to burn biodiesel in its pure form, and biodiesel is also mixed with petroleum diesel and used in unmodified engines. This fuel is very safe, biodegradable, reduces air pollutants associated with vehicle emissions like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter.

P-Series Fuels

These fuels are a blend of natural gas, ethanol, and methyl tetrahydrofuran (MeTHF), a cosolvent derived from biomass. They are used in flexible fuel vehicles because they are clear, high-octane fuels that can be used alone or mixed with gasoline by merely adding to the tank.

Four Emerging Fuels

  • Biobutanol
  • Dimethyl ether
  • Methanol
  • Renewable hydrocarbon biofuels

These emerging alternative fuels may enhance energy security, reduce emissions, improve vehicle performance, and encourage the U.S. economy.

In addition to these, other alternatives such as ammonia may also be used when needed in small quantities.

Read more about alternative fuels in this book “Alternative Fuels: Transportation Fuels for Today and Tomorrow” by Richard L. Bechtold.

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