The State of Alternate Fuels for Gasoline and Diesel in Automobiles

There are many issues pertaining to the usage of conventional fuels in automobiles, as they release high levels of emissions which pollute the environment. According to a study by Environmental Defense, U.S. automobiles and light trucks are responsible for around 50% of all the greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles globally.

As these fuels are generated from limited resources, the increase in demand is resulting in increased fuel prices. Apart from this, major portion of these fuels are bought from foreign countries.

So, automakers and other researchers have been working on a variety of alternatives to conventional fuels. They came up with few fuel technologies that could reduce the emissions and are available at lower prices. These fuels help the government in producing alternative fuel independently.

Hydrogen fuel:
Few drivers have started thinking about the environment and the impact of their cars on the environment. Fuels like hydrogen can reduces the emissions.

But implementation of hydrogen fuel is facing many practical challenges, as of today. The biggest challenge is creating a refueling infrastructure. Building a basic network of hydrogen refueling stations would cost billions. Presently, most of the hydrogen fuel is produced by refining natural gas. This reduces 55% in greenhouse-gas emissions, compared with today’s gasoline-fueled cars. But critics argue that instead of supplying the energy to produce the hydrogen fuel, it would be simpler to put the equivalent energy directly into an electric car’s battery. Few more hurdles are lack of infrastructure and lack of raw material.

Bio-diesel is a fuel made from vegetable oil and is treated with lye that makes it more viscous, and with other substances to make it last longer in storage. It is mostly used with the combination of petroleum diesel, in mixtures such as B5 (5 percent bio-diesel to 95 percent petroleum diesel), B10 (10 percent bio-diesel), and B20. Currently, 100 percent bio-diesel, called B100, costs about $3 a gallon compared with about $2.60 a gallon for regular diesel.

Most diesel engines can run on B20 without modifying the engine. Though it costs a bit more than petroleum diesel, it uses 20 percent less petroleum and burns cleaner.

Natural gas:
About 12 million vehicles around the world are running on CNG these days, but only about 1,10,000 of them are in U.S. CNG has a wide opportunity to replace the gasoline usage.

Natural gas allows to change the transportation system from expensive, carbon-heavy gasoline and diesel towards carbon-light natural gas which is affordable and can be produced in America.

CNG emits 30% less carbon dioxide and 97% less carbon monoxide than regular gasoline and is half the cost of gasoline or diesel.

CNG industry is now expanding by slowly overcoming the lack of filling stations and consumer acceptance. The vehicles that run with CNG are also eligible for federal tax credit.

Ethanol is also known as grain alcohol. In U.S., it is majorly made from corn, but it can also be produced from grains like wheat, barley, potatoes, sorghum or sugarcane. The advantage of using ethanol as fuel is the carbon dioxide from it can be absorbed by the plants that grow fuel.

All the vehicles that were being sold from 1980, can run on gasohol (a mixture of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol). The present federal administration allows higher levels of ethanol for gasoline used in new cars with E15(15% of ethanol and 85% of gasoline), this would also benefit corn growers. This fuel can be used in all the later models of 2001. Auto makers strongly oppose this fuel, as it may reduce the efficiency and damage the engine when used in the models before 2001. Some public-health advocates also say that they emit hazardous CO2 levels polluting the atmosphere and are concerned about the level of deforestation that may happen to grow corn.

Today fuel with higher levels of ethanol is available. E85(a mixture of 85% of ethanol and 15% of gasoline) can be used only in FFVs(Flexible Fuel Vehicles). The main reason for E85 not to be used in non FFVs is that ethanol contains slightly less energy than gasoline. Additional 10% to 30% fuel is needed to gain the required energy.

Though the concept of electric cars is not new in the automobile industry, few problems like battery capacity, efficiency and mileage are still yet to overcome.

The usage of lithium ion batteries has led to fully electric vehicles such as Nissan leaf that can travel about 100 miles once the battery is fully charged.

Technologies such as turbochargers can help in improving the efficiency of gasoline-powered engines, resulting in the reduction of the electric vehicle purchases mainly in U.S.

Electric cars will play an increasingly large role in far future, but in the near future they may not have much impact on the gasoline fuel cars.

Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV):
These are the hybrid cars with an added battery. PHEVs have been in development for years and they can effectively reduce the emissions. However, the lagging battery technology is the main reason for PHEVs being not successful in the market.

PHEVs use both electric energy and gasoline. Batteries in plug-in hybrid cars can supply power sufficient for 40 miles. 80% of daily commuters who travel less than 40 miles can run their car completely on electrical energy. If the driver needs to travel beyond 40 miles then the gas engine comes on to recharge the battery and propel the car. Models like Toyota Prius use nickel-metal hydride batteries. If these batteries are replaced with lithium-ion batteries, the scope of PHEVs may increase more.

Air powered cars:
Air cars run on compressed air that is stored at a high pressure in thermoplastic tanks which are surrounded by carbon-fiber shells. The air released through the pistons in the engine drives the wheels. Air cars plug into a wall outlet, allowing an on-board compressor to pressurize the car’s air tank to 4500 pounds per square inch and this takes about 4 hours to fill the tank with full pressure; then the air is released to power the car’s pistons.

Each car has an on board pump which can refill the tank overnight. This will be great for urban driving as the journeys are typically few miles.

These bio-fuels and electric energy can show impact on the usage of conventional gasoline and diesel. Using these fuels as substitute for regular fuels, poisonous emissions can be reduced and drivers can get the fuel at low price.
Colin Campbell, a petroleum geologist and former consultant to oil companies, has stated that petroleum will run short world wide in about 20 years. Apart from pricing and supply issues, usage of gasoline and diesel results in global warming and health hazards.

Thus, the increased usage of these alternate fuels in automobiles can bring a positive impact on environment as well as economy. Urban people have a better chance of using electric cars for their daily mobility as it may not be more than 40 to 50 miles. The usage of these alternate fuels can be improved when they are made available along with conventional gasoline and diesel.

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Updated: February 17, 2016 — 5:27 am © 2009 - 2017