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Published on March 8th, 2012 | by Glenn Meyers

10

Top Eight Alternative Fuels



Gasoline and diesel are still fossil fuel kings of the fuel supply chain but alternative fuels are now swinging the scale more toward green.

A growing number of people believe alternative fuels will have an expanded role in the cars and trucks of tomorrow. According to Larry West, such interest has been spurred by three important considerations:

  • Alternative fuels generally have lower vehicle emissions that contribute to smog, air pollution and global warming
  • Most alternative fuels don’t come from finite fossil-fuel resources and are sustainable
  • Alternative fuels can help nations become more energy independent

With this in mind, we learn that the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 identified eight alternative fuels of note – some that are used, others considered more experimental in nature. Regardless, the fuels on this list have the potential to serve as full or partial alternatives to gasoline and diesel. Here is our Top Eight list of alternative fuels.

1. Ethanol

An alcohol-based alternative fuel made by fermenting and distilling crops such as corn, barley or wheat. It can be blended with gasoline to increase octane levels and improve emissions quality. Positive: Materials are renewable. Negative: Ethanol subsidies have a negative impact on food prices and availability.

2. Natural Gas

Natural gas is an alternative fuel that burns clean and is already widely available to people in many countries through utilities that provide natural gas to homes and businesses. Positive: Cars and trucks with specially designed engines produce fewer harmful emissions than gasoline or diesel. Negative: Natural gas production creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times worse for global warming than CO2.

3. Electricity

Electricity can be used as a transportation alternative fuel for battery-powered electric and fuel-cell vehicles. Battery powered electric vehicles store power in batteries that are recharged by plugging the vehicle into a standard electrical source. Fuel-cell vehicles run on electricity that is produced through an electrochemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen and oxygen are combined. Positive: Electricity for transportation is highly efficient, and we already have an extensive electricity network. In the case of fuel cells, they produce electricity without combustion or pollution. Negative: Much electricity is generated today from coal or natural gas, leaving a bad carbon footprint. (Nonetheless, electric vehicles are still the greenest option around when it comes to cars.)

4. Hydrogen

Hydrogen can be mixed with natural gas to create an alternative fuel for vehicles that use certain types of internal combustion engines. Hydrogen is also used in fuel-cell vehicles that run on electricity produced by the petrochemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen and oxygen are combined in the fuel “stack.” Positive: No bad emissions. Negative: Cost. And also the lack of fueling infrastructure and difficulty of putting it in place.

5. Propane

Propane—also called liquefied petroleum gas or LPG—is a byproduct of natural gas processing and crude oil refining. Already widely used as a fuel for cooking and heating, propane is also a popular alternative fuel for vehicles.  Positive: Propane produces fewer emissions than gasoline, and there is also a highly developed infrastructure for propane transport, storage and distribution. Negative: Natural gas production creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times worse for global warming than CO2.

6. Biodiesel

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel based on vegetable oils or animal fats, even those recycled after restaurants have used them for cooking. Vehicle engines can be converted to burn biodiesel in its pure form, and biodiesel can also be blended with petroleum diesel and used in unmodified engines. Positive: Biodiesel is safe, biodegradable, reduces air pollutants associated with vehicle emissions, such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Negative: Limited production and distribution infrastructure.

7. Methanol

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, can be used as an alternative fuel in flexible fuel vehicles that are designed to run on M85, a blend of 85 percent methanol and 15 percent gasoline, but automakers are no longer manufacturing methanol-powered vehicles. Positive: Methanol could become an important alternative fuel in the future as a source of the hydrogen needed to power fuel-cell vehicles. Negative: Automakers are no longer manufacturing methanol-powered vehicles.

8. P-Series Fuels

P-Series fuels are a blend of ethanol, natural gas liquids and methyltetrahydrofuran (MeTHF), a co-solvent derived from biomass. P-Series fuels are clear, high-octane alternative fuels that can be used in flexible fuel vehicles. Positive: P-Series fuels can be used alone or mixed with gasoline in any ratio by simply adding it to the tank. Negative: Manufacturers are not making flexible fuel vehicles.

Photo: horatioNailknot_Rob Elam

Source: Environmental About.com

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers is editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.



  • Vinay Krishnan

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  • Jgerardi12

    Electric batteries in cars can have adverse affect on the environment. We need to make sure where they are being recycled,because some do slip in through the cracks and its taken apart in places like China.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We’re already recycling rechargeable lithium laptop/etc. batteries.

      Toyota already has EV battery recycling processes in place.

      China is past its “period of poverty”. They are in the process of cleaning up their manufacturing processes. For example, they have hired a US company to help them deal with their rare earth mining/processing waste problems.

      • Jgerardi

        Just last year 60 Minutes had a segment on how a US company said they were recycling their batteries, but followed them all the way to China. In the amount the size of their population China is highly populated with people willing to work in those conditions.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m not sure I get your point.

          Yes, China provides cheap labor. But their labor prices are rising.

          Yes, China has created some enormous messes in their move to a manufacturing country. But they are beginning to establish stronger pollution controls and clean up their messes.

          Look at the pressure currently on Apple to improve the treatment of workers who build their products. Look at the local Chinese communities organizing to cut the pollution they’re exposed to. Look at the fact that China just capped the amount of coal that can be burned per year, something that not even the US is willing to do.

          I don’t think it legitimate to assume that how batteries were dealt with yesterday is indicative of how batteries will be disposed of tomorrow.
          Additionally, I suspect that once we start seeing a significant number of EV batteries totally “used up” it won’t make sense to ship them long distances. More likely we’ll have many small recycling plants spread around countries. This won’t be labor intensive work.

  • Steve

    The simplest and cleanest; Hydrogen now lets fix the cost factor.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Hydrogen is not simple. Some of the biofuels are ‘drop-in’ replacements for oil. Hydrogen would require a brand new distribution system.

      Hydrogen today is not clean. It is pulled from natural gas. The carbon in NG is coming from underneath the Earth’s surface when we should be leaving it down there where it won’t screw us up.

      Fixing the cost, if we’re talking cracking H2 out of H2O in order to get clean H2, that is a major problem.

      First, that would be a very inefficient use of clean electricity. Much more efficient to use electricity to charge EVs.

      Second, we’d have to build a total ‘cracking’, distribution and use infrastructure. We’ve got a liquid fuel distribution system and ICEVs. We’ve got the electric grid and affordable EVs seem to be just a few years away.

      We don’t have affordable, long-lasting hydrogen fuel cells, so the cost might be sky high.

  • Captivation

    #3 – Electricity is the only real alternative and solar is the best source.

  • http://www.talksolarpanels.co.uk/ James Hawkins

    Nice summary Glenn. I must admit, having read through, it seems you missed the ultimate fuel… coffee ;)

    • Glenn Meyers

      And foot power!

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