Popular alternative fuels

In the 1990s, the US government listed eight alternative fuels for transport.  Some of these have been readily taken up and are in daily use, others are still in experimental stages.

Honda car

Here’s a round-up of the alternatives now in use for transport – which ones are familiar? Natural gas is already available in many countries.  Used in vehicles that have engines specifically designed for natural gas, it produces far fewer emissions than petrol or diesel.

Electricity is used to power battery-powered and fuel-cell vehicles. Battery-powered electric vehicles are recharged via a plug socket.  Fuel cells vehicles’ electricity is produced through a reaction when hydrogen and oxygen are combined. Fuel cells produce electricity that is pollution-free.

Hybrid cars can be grouped together with electric vehicles as they use both fossil fuel and electric power combined.  They have an internal combustion engine (either petrol or diesel) and an electric motor.  While not strictly running on alternative fuel, hybrid cars have much lower emissions than their conventional fuel peers.

Hydrogen can power certain combustion engines when mixed with natural gas.  It is also used in fuel-cell vehicles that run on electricity created through the petrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

Propane otherwise known as LPG is a byproduct of crude oil refining and natural gas processing.  For transport, it produces fewer emissions than petrol, and the infrastructure already exists for its storage, transport and distribution as it is a popular heating and cooking fuel.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel sourced through crop production or animal fats. It is biodegradable and reduces air pollution as it has lower emissions of particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. It can be used in its pure form or blended with standard diesel.

Bioethanol is an alcohol-based alternative fuel also sourced through crop production and blended with petrol.  Engines require little or no modification to run on bioethanol. Cars that run on biofuels are classed as low emission cars.

Methanol or wood alcohol is blended with petrol for flexible fuel vehicles.  Although car manufacturers are not producing methanol-powered vehicles any longer, methanol can be used as a source of hydrogen needed to power fuel-cell vehicles.

Finally, P-Series fuels are a blend of ethanol, natural gas liquids and methyltetrahydrofuran (MeTHF), derived from biomass.  These are high-octane alternative fuels for flexible fuel vehicles, which can be used alone or mixed in any ratio with petrol.

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