Alternative fuels

What are Alternative Fuels?

A simple definition is anything that is not the typical fossil fuel currently in use to power a vehicle today.

Alternative fuels can be anything from hydrogen, electricity, methanol, ethanol, propane, or even nuclear.

These alternate fuel sources give the auto industry life beyond regular gasoline and diesel, which we are consuming at an alarming rate.

When we think of the fuel sources we have at our disposal, we are going down a checklist. First fossil fuels, unfortunately, they are decreasing due to how long we have relied on them to power vehicles. Now is the time hybrid technology, electric vehicles (EVs), and more are making a strong case.

Types of Alternative Fuels

Hydrogen

Believe it or not, hydrogen cars are already here. The problem with why we are not seeing them is supply and demand. There are a few cars at test sites being tested and improved, so when it is their time to shine, they’re fully ready. We also see the hydrogen fuel market at a standstill due to refueling.

When is the last time you saw a hydrogen fuel cell refueling station? The reason they aren’t more common is cost. The technology to build them is there, but it is so expensive that refueling a car would outweigh the benefit of having one.

Electricity

Charging an electric car

Electric vehicles (EVs) are here and now. The first modern and mass-produced electric car being the Toyota Prius proved that there was, in fact, a market for electric vehicles in the 21st century. With electric automobiles showing the world they were here to stay, nearly every automaker started development.

However, there are many upsides to EVs. One being instant power, with the use of a brushless motor the cars can have immediate power and torque when demanded.

The next upside is range boosting when coupled in a hybrid format. In just an EV format, the car has range limitations such as; battery capacity, how many batteries, and other factors the vehicle or driver imposes on the cells, factors such as; the radio, air conditioning, brightness on displays, and more.  A hybrid electric vehicle uses both batteries and gasoline by burning fuel only when the batteries are running low.

EVs are making a strong and compelling case for an option that is here to stay; they are selling well and are the backbone to many supercars and hypercars that are coming out. With the EPA enacting regulations to phase out large gas-guzzling engines, it is only a matter of time before the combustion engine of today is a relic in the garage brought out for special occasions if at all.

Ethanol

Ethanol is a current fuel source in use today. Often seen at the pump as “E85” or more popularly called flex-fuel. This fuel source contains a higher percentage closer to 85% of ethanol in the mixture. Cars running on flex-fuel tend to get lower fuel economy due to flex-fuel having less energy as opposed to gasoline.

However, less energy does not mean less power. What it does mean is lower fuel economy.  Many gas stations have started offering flex-fuel as a pump option. Many Biofuel stations also provide similar types of fuel in conjunction with flex-fuel.

Methanol

Methanol was once used before in cars. It was still in its test cycle where it performed admirably. One difference noted was power loss when comparing it to a gas power car. Methanol also carries less energy than the typical gas power car. Again less fuel economy but more power, that is why racers want this stuff in their car.

Although we do not see methanol consumer cars, they are in the racing circuit. It is only a matter of time before this alternative fuel source comes back around for another shot at the consumer market.

Propane

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or also called propane, propane is currently on the road, would you be able to spot one driving down the street? Even next to you at a stoplight? Most propane vehicles are running in fleet work, public transportation, and even some police vehicles.

Propane vehicles have a subcategory; a car can be dedicated which runs exclusively on propane and nothing else. Alternatively, bi-fuel, which is just like a hybrid that we see today, can run off two different fuel sources, whichever is available in the area or at the time of purchase.

With the exception of EVs, propane also carries less energy than gas-powered vehicles, which means less fuel economy but not drastically. On the other hand, propane is significantly higher in octane so the engine can receive better power numbers. The increased capability explains why it is used in fleet work today — almost the same benefits of gas but better power to handle a more significant workload.

Nuclear

Nuclear fuel rods

The last alternative energy source is Nuclear. Is it possible to ever see a nuclear-powered car? Due to safety, the answer is no. The idea is great when we think about how a Navy aircraft carrier or submarine can go years without being refueled. The reason this fuel source will not be in vehicles is simply safety.

There is simply no material that can keep a driver safe from that exposure. Aircraft carriers have multiple walls that are many feet thick containing that radioactivity. Also, if we can run vehicles off a small portion of nuclear material, how would we store it? Also, what if there is the chance of needing to refuel how would we handle the waste product? Where would we store the waste product?

There are too many questions and not enough answers for this alternative. Hard to believe one of the cleanest energy sources available is also the most dangerous to human life. A nuclear car has the possibility of never needing to be refueled, burns clean, and can handle to workload no problem. On the other hand, there are too many questions and safety concerns, with very few answers and solutions.

Bottom Line

  • There are many more alternative fuels vehicles that are being tested and considered to take the place of gasoline. However, without the market, or adequate testing, they are still years off before we see one on a showroom floor.
  • In the case of nuclear, we will never see that in a car, even though it is one of cleanest and useful in a long term usage situation.
  • Electric vehicles are the way of the future right now, and companies all around the world are getting their technology together to produce a better, more affordable car than their competition.

What if EV recharging stations and gas companies partnered and started having EV recharge capabilities at your favorite gas station? Would you then consider the purchase of an EV? Alternatively, would you consider another Alternative fuels vehicle? Let us know in the comments below.

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