Alternative fuel cars. With the depleting oil reserve and increasing pollution throughout the world, different countries have moved their focus towards finding a substitute for conventional gasoline-powered engines in a bid to make our environment cleaner and safer.
Several countries across the world have also set different deadlines for their countries for achieving zero-emission norms.
Although this is a move toward the right direction we need to be practical at the same time too and find out what fuel alternative we have to make the transformation smoother.
We need to consider several factors like efficiency, usage patterns, cost and other vital aspects which will drive the change in the future.
When we think about alternative fuel, there are about a dozen substitutes like electricity, vegetable oil, natural gas, solar power and many more.
But we need to find out the right alternative to gasoline-powered cars based on our infrastructure and feasibility so that the transformation can take place without much hassle.
Making an immediate switch?
It is also important to consider the amount of energy used in the manufacturing process of new and old vehicles. Some people would argue and say that we need to remove all gasoline and diesel-powered cars from the road immediately to replace them with more energy-efficient ones.
But they are not considering the amount of energy that would be wasted in doing so. A considerable amount of energy went into the production of all gasoline and diesel-powered cars.
Therefore it is important to maintain vehicles that are already on the road to get the most out of the energy that has been used in the manufacturing process and to save the energy in the manufacturing of new ones.
Eventually, all vehicles that are currently on the road will need replacing and by that time, I would hope that most manufacturing companies will have switched to greener energy sources for production.
So today we will research and find out the avenues through which we can make alternative fuel cars a reality in the years to come.
Electric Vehicles (EVs)
Electric vehicles are perhaps the 1st option which comes to our mind when we think about alternative fuel cars.
Electric vehicles are gasoline-free and they store the electric energy in batteries that provide power to the motor.
Electricity has the potential to be 100% renewable!
Plus, electricity can be generated 100% from renewable sources such as solar, wind and water power.
The good news is that the acceptability of electric vehicles is slowly growing these days since their introduction in the mass market a few years ago.
Incentives to buy!
Government incentives and price cuts on electric vehicles are the main driving factors for the growth in this segment.
Several companies like Nissan, Tesla and many more are offering good discounts on their rage of electric vehicles to attract the buyers.
There are more than 11 models of electric cars on sale from the leading manufacturers since 2013.
However, the limited operational range and fewer charging stations continue to be a major deterrent for the consumers in this segment. However, this is something that is slowly changing.
Hydrogen Fuel Cars
Hydrogen fuel cars have always been the favorite for researchers across the world due to their tremendous potentiality.
Thus they are engaged in extensive research to manufacturing affordable hydrogen fuel cars which can change the whole dimension of the automobile industry in the future.
Hydrogen is a highly preferred alternative.
It can be produced anywhere, even domestically and burns cleanly. Moreover, hydrogen fuel cars are 2 to 3 times more efficient than traditional gasoline or diesel engine cars.
However, the cost of building the fuel cells and the lack of a proper network of refueling stations act as a restraining force in the growth and expansion of fuel cell cars.
Although tests are being conducted on a small fleet of fuel cell vehicles they have currently failed to reach the consumer market commercially. This wouldn’t be hard to fix and could be viable in the future.
The world’s first hydrogen-fueled train has recently broken a record in Germany. It appears to take the same amount of time to fill up with hydrogen as it does diesel and has zero emissions.
One tank will cover 1000 km.
They are currently more expensive to build, however, they are cheaper to run.
Gas Electric Hybrid Cars
The first hybrid cars that reached the U.S. in the year 1999 were the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.
After that, with the improvement of technology, more and more hybrid vehicles started coming in and now the situation is such that there are more or less 40 gas-electric hybrid cars that are available for sale in the U.S. market.
These hybrid cars use electricity to partially power themselves and it results in significant fuel efficiency and very less pollution.
The power is drawn from the battery during low-speed operations and to start or stop the engine.
The battery then charges itself automatically from regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine and therefore the car does not need to be plugged into a power socket to charge the battery.
This makes them more reliable because you won’t need to worry about finding a charging station in the middle of a long journey, nor will you need to wait for it to charge.
Toyota Prius in one of the best-selling hybrid cars available in the market which has got good acceptability among the consumers.
They are still using gasoline, however, this might be the stepping-stone to switching to 100% energy renewable transportation.
Hopefully one day there will be a hybrid that uses electricity and a gas which is renewable.
Solar Powered Cars
You might have heard about the solar car test in Australia where a solar-powered car covered almost 2,000 miles running at a speed of 56 miles per hour across the remote Australian land.
This might sound to be interesting because solar power is totally clean, free from any pollution and 100% renewable.
There are certain things that you need to figure out before jumping to any conclusion.
The photovoltaic cells which are required to capture the sunlight and convert it to electricity were quite expensive to make.
The car was made of titanium composite which is very lightweight material and costly at the same time. The car was carrying only a single driver, so there are currently limitations on the weight.
It ran all through the daytime and was therefore exposed to sunlight the entire journey. It would not have performed as well as running during the night.
However, the technology of solar power is always evolving. The first models (as with all technology) certainly had their flaws. For example, the amount of power each cell created was very small as was the life expectancy of the cells.
Today’s solar power cells are much more advanced and ever-advancing. I would expect that we will see improvements in this area of transport down the road.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Cars
Cars running on natural gas in the liquefied or compressed form can be a great alternative to traditional cars running on internal combustion engines.
This is because they burn more cleanly and deliver superior mileage than gasoline-powered cars.
As per the estimate from the energy department, more than 115,000 vehicles are running on the road powered by natural gas and a large number of them comprises of medium and big sized trucks. That’s pretty impressive!
Honda Motors Corporation has been offering a gas-powered civic since 1998 in its wide range of vehicle categories.
However, it costs more than traditional gasoline-powered cars and has less power and a limited range.
Although you need to remember that the price of CNG is quite less than gasoline and it is produced domestically and emits lower pollution.
Steam Powered Cars
It might sound interesting to you but you need to remember that between the years 1899 to 1905 the Stanley Steamer overtook all the gasoline-powered cars in the U.S.
The history of steam power vs gasoline
Steam engines were in development right from the 18th century and you must have heard about steam engine railways at that time.
Gasoline driven cars were at a very nascent stage during that period.
But with the development of internal combustion engines and self-starters, gasoline-powered cars caught up the race quickly and emerged as the undisputed champion.
General Motors continued their research on steam-powered cars and launched two models in the year 1969 but failed to acquire popularity due to heavy boilers, inefficient running, and excessive weight.
So due to a lack of technical advances, gasoline-powered engines took the lead.
Steam power today
It is interesting to note that in the year 2009 a modern steam car clocked a speed of 139 miles per hour and broke the speed record set by Stanley Steamer in the year 1906.
Steam engines today waste zero energy due to the increased quality in the manufacturing process. It can burn and produce power from crude oil, garbage, and wood.
The car built weighed more than 3 tons and consisted of long and big steam tubing. This car was particularly large and would be unpractical for today’s roads.
However, the potential for steam engine cars is phenomenal. There is currently a car being developed in Singapore, although it is in its early stages of development it is looking like a promising option for the future.
Ethanol & Fuel Flex Cars
As per the U.S. government, renewable fuel mandate in the year 2007 requires a certain amount of liquids derived from renewable sources to be added to gasoline and nothing can be the best alternative than ethanol for this purpose.
Ethanol is prepared from corn and it has got its way into the fuel supply of the country.
More than 84 models of cars and other vehicles are carrying the designation of ‘fuel flex’ and they are capable of running on mixtures that contain 85 percent of ethanol.
However, the manufacture of ethanol has faced certain obstructions recently due to the realization of the fact that it contains less energy and as a result returns less mileage than gasoline.
Moreover, ethanol delivers fewer miles per gallon and requires a lot of energy for its production.
This results in a lot of carbon dioxide production which is harmful to the environment.
Last but not least many people also consider the usage of ethanol as a fuel to be illegal as it consumes more than 40 percent of the corn production and increases its price in the market to a great extent.
Biodiesel Powered Cars
Biodiesel driven cars can be a good alternative to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles and can be manufactured naturally from products such as restaurant grease, animal fats or vegetable oil.
Biodiesel has certain good qualities such as it increases the octane rating of conventional diesel fuel and burns more cleanly and efficiently.
Moreover, it is non-toxic and biodegradable.
Although you can use biodiesel in its pure form it is generally found in a mixture with 80 percent conventional diesel fuel.
Government regulation in the U.S. requires mandatory production of certain quantity biodiesel each year which needs to be followed.
The good thing is that biodiesel can be used in most of the cars and vehicles with conventional diesel engines without the need for any change or modification in it and the Ford’s (F) F-250 Super Duty pickup is one of them.
There is a good scope of biodiesel becoming one of the prime sources of alternative fuel in the future as it neither involves any complicated or expensive production process nor it requires any further changes or upgradations to be made in the traditional diesel engines of cars and other vehicles.
Biofuel can be a little smelly. Imagine driving down the road in a vehicle powered by a deep fat fryer. However, if you can put this aside, the benefits for the environment are quite considerable.
It is currently relatively difficult to source unless you live in a major city. Most major cities across us now have at least one biodiesel fueling station and the numbers are steadily growing.
The usage of propane as an alternative fuel has become quite popular in the light vehicles segment such as school buses or police cars due to easy maintenance and low pollution emissions.
Propane is also being adapted increasingly in the heavy-duty truck segment as well due to its ease of use and manufacturers such as Kenworth and Peterbilt are getting more and more interested in it.
As per estimates more than 270,000 propane driven vehicles are already operating on the road and the numbers are expected to grow substantially in the years to come.
There are certain concrete reasons for this increasing adaptability of propane driven cars.
Propane has a higher octane rating than gasoline and hence can burn more cleanly and efficiently.
Moreover, the price of propane is almost 1/3rd less than gasoline which makes it an affordable choice for many consumers.
Propane is also known as LPG and it is produced as a by-product of natural gas processing and crude oil refining – still using a certain amount of fossil fuels.
It cannot be stored freely like any other fuel and requires being stored in pressurized tanks for safe operation.
The lack of proper and adequate propane refueling infrastructure is also another hindrance to the increasing adaptability of this alternative fuel.
Plug-in Hybrid Cars
Plug-in hybrid cars are quite similar to gas-electric hybrid cars but they have larger batteries which can take the car to a limited distance based on electric power alone and emits zero-emission in the process.
After that, the batteries need to be recharged by plugging it to an electric power source. However, these large batteries are quite expensive and thus everyone can’t afford the cost of maintaining these vehicles.
Currently, only four models of plug-in hybrid vehicles are available in the U.S market.
The best-known model of a plug-in hybrid car is Chevrolet Volt from the house of General Motors which has recorded a sales figure of fewer than 2000 units per month in the last six months.
Thus it can be well understood that plug-in hybrid cars have some operational difficulty and price-related issues which are preventing it from being accepted as a mass alternative for conventional gasoline or diesel engine cars.
Alternative Fuel Cars: The Final Verdict!
Thus to conclude we can say that although there is a shift of trend towards the alternative fuel car segment due to depleting fuel resources and increasing pollution issues there is still a long way to go before we can see alternative fuel cars taking over the market on a large scale.
There are strong environmental reasons for switching to an alternative fuel car and most governments have incentive programs to encourage the average person to make the switch.
Governments across the world need to give more focus on the alternative fuel car segment and remove infrastructural problems so that we can make the move towards alternative fuel easier.
There are currently numerous options out there and the success of these options will no doubt depend on the rate of technological advancements in that field of study. There is a need for better technology at affordable prices which can make alternative fuel cars an attractive option.
Making your choice on which option to invest in will depend on your current circumstances and the options available to you at that time.
Right now, the best thing we can do is service the vehicles we already have, buy a second-hand vehicle and keep them on the road until these technological advancements are made. By then we will better be equipped to understand the best option for a global scale.
Patience is a virtue!
However, this brings us to another interesting topic. Can we afford to wait?
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