Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave for the last year, then you are aware that the price of gas has exploded through the roof. Thus, more effort is being put forward to come up with alternative fuels.
The fuels that we now refer to as alternative include:
Alcohol fuels include ethanol, biodiesel, ‘methanol” and more. All of these fuels are made from renewable sources like corn and wood and even municipal solid waste. The good is that they reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, release less carbon dioxide and monoxide, and fewer hydrocarbons. The bad is that methanol, for example, emits a possible human carcinogen called formaldehyde. Thus, catalytic converters are still necessary to limit such emissions. Converting a car to burn methanol would mean the replacement of parts of the vehicle’s fuel tank and an enhancement of the distribution system which would be necessary because it is highly solvent. Tests on vehicles running on methanol found a decomposing of the fuel system and clogged filters.
Most of the major auto makers are focusing on electric vehicles. We have seen the development of the hybrid and now auto makers are committed to producing a plug-in electric vehicle. General Motors, for example, will be releasing the Chevrolet Volt in 2010.
Again, there’s good and bad. Electric cars will definitely reduce our demand for gasoline and it will reduce pollution radically, too. However, the electricity needed for use by the vehicle has to be produced by power plants which emit all kinds of pollutants.
Another problem is the battery. There is a major effort to produce a battery that can provide the type of range drivers expect. Progress has been made with the development and continued enhancement of lithium ion batteries. These batteries are replacing nickel-iron batteries. That’s good because nickel-iron batteries create hydrogen gas which can explode when the battery is being recharged.
Using natural gas to power vehicles is not new. Natural gas is less of a pollutant than gasoline. It includes 90 percent less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon and there are no lead emissions. Also, the cost of natural gas is an advantage. It is said that service stations that offer it charge 70 cents per gallon.
Most natural gas vehicles now on the road are owned by private fleets which have their own private refueling stations. It is said that there are 308 natural gas pumps in the U.S. and only a few are open to the public.
Another advantage to natural gas is that it does not create sludge. The vehicle using it doesn’t need as much maintenance to keep the oil, spark plug, and exhaust system clean. GM is said to be producing a natural gas powered Sierra pickup for release in April of 2009.
Vehicles would have to be converted to burn natural gas but the process of conversion is not that difficult. A conversion can take less than one day and cost about $2,000.
Propane is becoming another alternative to gasoline. It is a fossil fuel but it emits less carbon monoxide and fewer hyrocarbons. It is also said to be less expensive than gasoline. About 350,000 vehicles in the U.S. are powered by propane. Note that the U.S. is one of the world’s largest producers of propane — about 20 billion gallons a year are made. But only 2 percent of that is used for transportation.
Finally, hydrogen has become a focus as an alternative to gasoline because it emits water and a manageable amount of nitrogen oxide.