Feel like the oil industry has a monopoly on the fuel you put into your car? Well, they kind of do, but technology and research are advancing to the point where more alternative fuels may become readily available and more viable options in the near future. Right now, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to including alternative fuels in our everyday lives is building the infrastructure to support those fuels. In other words, we don’t have a ton of filling stations that offer more than gasoline, diesel, and maybe E-85. Not to mention that a lot of us can’t afford to buy brand new cars, so we rely on our older, gasoline specific vehicles until we can get a new one. Times are changing, though, and more and more people are calling for alternative fuels, which are generally cheaper and cleaner.
1. Let’s start with ethanol. It’s a kind of alcohol and usually made of corn in the US. Brazil makes their ethanol from sugarcane. When you see E-85, you’re looking at fuel that is composed of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. Sometimes, manufacturers add ethanol to their gasoline anyway since it creates fewer harmful emissions. You can fuel up with ethanol or E-85 if you have a flex-fuel engine, something more car manufacturers now offer.
2. Biodiesel is made using cooking grease and oils. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can simply head over to the nearest fast food joint and fuel up with their used grease. To become biodiesel, the grease needs to go through a specific process to become usable. It’s a relatively easy process, but one you should learn from a seasoned veteran.
3. Hydrogen just may be the fuel of the future. Its only emission is water vapor, making it one of the cleanest fuels out there. Plus, you can use hydrogen in cars with fuel cell and internal combustion engines. The combustion engines would need to be modified to run on hydrogen, but, seriously, let’s focus on the fact that hydrogen’s only emission is water vapor. Not to mention that it’s renewable. That’s incredible.
4. You’re surely familiar with electric vehicles by now. Some early cars were actually powered by electric, but widespread usage was hampered by the fact that driving quickly over long distances drains batteries quickly. However, with the advent of lithium-ion batteries—quick to charge and slow to lose the charge—electric cars are more viable and growing in popularity. Some researchers and engineers are also investigating the use of solar panels on cars to prolong the life of batteries.
5. If you have a gas stove, you’re familiar with natural gas. Compressed natural gas, cheaper and cleaner than gasoline, can be used to power a vehicle, but that doesn’t mean you can just hook your car up to the gas line. If you were to purchase a car that runs on compressed natural gas, you’d need to install a station capable of compressing the gas into the car’s tanks.
6. Similar to propane, liquefied petroleum gas—or autogas—gives off more energy when in liquid form and can run in an internal combustion engine that’s modified to use this fuel. This fuel is growing in popularity, particularly in the Netherlands.
7. Liquefied natural gas is similar to liquefied petroleum gas. When cooled, natural gas liquefies and gains density, making it energy-rich. It’s also readily available within the US, so extracting it for use would be relatively easier than depending on other countries for fuel sources.
8. This might be the coolest alternative fuel out there: compressed air. The engine—whether it involves piston or turbines—runs off of the slow, controlled release of compressed air. Pneumatic motors are already used in small handheld tools, like drills and such, but they’ll need more work before being viable for vehicles.
9. To use liquid nitrogen as a fuel, a vehicle would need an engine similar to those used by compressed air engines. The nitrogen remains in a liquid state until it’s released into the engine where it heats up and expands, powering the vehicle.