Alternatives to fossil fuels are becoming increasingly more important for sustainable production, a cleaner environment, and energy independence. Today more than ever people are gaining concern about the environment. More and more people are looking into using alternative fuels including electric and hybrid cars, as alternatives to vehicles that are powered by gasoline or diesel engines. This raises the question of what they are and where can we find alternative fuel.
What Are Alternative Fuels?
The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 deemed eight alternate fuels that may be used as stand-alone fuel or may be mixed with petroleum-based fuels to save gas and improve emissions. They are:
Electric vehicles that operate off of batteries through the use of a fuel cell. Fuel cells are combustion and emission-free. Batteries must be recharged by plugging into domestically-produced electricity. Electric cars are environmentally friendly; there are no tailpipe emissions and provide low operating cost. Today much of our nation’s electric is powered by coal-burning power plants and creates no pollutants.
Hydrogen may be used alone as fuel cells, which create a chemical reaction to generate electricity. Unlike fuel cell electric vehicles, they are less efficient and produce tailpipe emissions. Hydrogen may be mixed with natural gas for cleaner operation of internal combustion engines. Hydrogen is expensive and proposes storage issues as it must be kept under high pressure to remain liquid causing challenges for light-duty vehicles because they often have limited size and weight capacity for fuel storage.
Natural gas burns cleanly and is widely available, however, production of natural gas produces methane, a detrimental greenhouse gas. Natural gas powered vehicles require two separate fueling systems, which take up passenger/cargo space since natural gas is stored in high-pressure fuel tanks.
Propane is a byproduct of refining crude oil. It puts off fewer emissions than gasoline and is already widely available. Propane vehicles can cost thousands of dollars more than comparable gasoline vehicles. However, the cost of propane is typically lower than gasoline, and propane-powered vehicles typically have lower maintenance costs so the return on investment can be quick.
Ethanol is produced from corn or grain. It is clean burning, renewable, and inexpensive. Low-level ethanol blends require no special fueling equipment and can be used in any conventional gasoline vehicle.
Methanol is used in cars that burn M85 fuel. This represents 85 percent methanol (wood alcohol) mixed with 15 percent gasoline for cleaner emissions and fuel economy. Methanol use in vehicles has declined dramatically, and automakers are no longer manufacturing methanol vehicles in the United States.
Bio-diesel is made from vegetable oil or animal fat. This can come from restaurant deep fryers. Bio-diesel can be mixed with diesel fuel, or the engines may be modified to burn it straight. Because of limited production and distribution capabilities, bio-diesel is not the primary choice for alternative fuels. Using biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
P-series fuel is a mixture of ethanol, natural gas liquids, and methyltetrahydrofuran. P-series fuel is high octane, clean burning fuel that may be used alone or mixed with gasoline. Because automakers are no longer making flexible fuel engines, P-series fuels, while not obsolete, are no longer as popular as they have been.
Where Can We Get Alternative Fuels?
In the Rogue Valley area, the Clean Cities Coalition is working toward cleaner air. RVCCC offers information to help you find better ways to save gas and shrink your carbon footprint. To find a list of locations to find alternative fuels or stations available to recharge your electric cars nationwide go to the U.S. Department of Energy. They can help locate alternative fueling stations wherever you are headed.