Written by Greeniac24
|Tuesday, 19 August 2008|
Alternative Fuel Vehicles Guide
The personal vehicle revolutionized transportation, but it was a step in the wrong direction for environmental stewardship. Today, more than half a billion cars travel on roads worldwide and the number is expected to double within the next twenty years. With the average car releasing more than six tons of CO2 annually, transportation is a major contributor to climate change and global warming. In addition, the average car emits about half a ton of other pollutants into the air each year and uses up six hundred gallons of gasoline in the process. Fortunately, there are alternatives available that can significantly reduce the environmental damage made by the conventional automobile. Below is an outline of some of those alternatives:
The pure electric car runs only on the chemical energy of rechargeable battery packs. Electric cars have been in production for over a hundred years and even predate gasoline and diesel. Electricity is cheap, and electric cars cost only a few cents per mile. In addition, the car itself produces no emissions; it is 100% clean while you drive.
After a short burst of popularity in the late 90s, electric cars died out because of the deficient power. Batteries store far less energy than gasoline, and as a result most electric cars are unable to carry heavy loads or travel more than a hundred miles without a recharge. The batteries used also can pose an environmental threat as many are made from nickel metal hydride, lithium ion, or lead-acid. Fortunately, most manufacturers provide a recycling and disposal program. Electric cars are still calculated to produce emissions indirectly because most power plants generate electricity using fossil fuels, but this impact is tiny compared to the exhaust from gasoline cars.
The future of 100% electric vehicles lies in improvements in battery technology. Companies such as Tesla Motors have released high performance sports cars that can go from 0 to 60 MPH in mere seconds. Electric vehicle company ZAP has also created a car that can travel 350 miles between recharges. For city drivers, the Think City electric car, with 110 mile range and top speed of 65mph, priced under $25, 000 and made from 95% recycled materials, is available in 2009.
One of the most popular alternative fuel types, hybrid cars combine the power of electricity and gasoline in order to give you 50+ miles per gallon. The weaker electric engine helps to power the car as much as possible, and the battery is recharged during braking. Additional power is saved with a smaller and more efficient gas engine that can shut off when not in use. The electric motor in most hybrids will recharge on their own, but some have plug-in capabilities and can go up to 100 miles per gallon or more. Different engines use different technologies. Additional benefits of hybrids include a smooth, silent engine and special carpool lane access in three states.
Batteries are expected to wear out, but no accurate estimates to hybrid battery life have yet been made. If and when your battery does die, the replacement cost will be several thousand dollars. Today, most hybrid batteries are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle. Many manufacturers have a warranty that covers the battery for 8 to 10 years and provide a battery-recycling program.
The combustion engine runs on gasoline, so refueling is not an issue. However, this also means that the same harmful greenhouse emissions will be released into the environment, albeit at a reduced level. In addition, you will still be subject to fluctuations in petroleum prices.
Toyota is the current king of the hybrid market, with its very popular Prius having just topped the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s list of most fuel-efficient vehicles. However, with so many companies offering hybrid models of their most popular vehicles, consumers have many options in sedans as well as trucks and SUVs (however, these larger sizes come with a mileage tradeoff). For consumer comparisons: http://www.motortrend.com/new_cars/11/hybrid_car/comparisons/index.html.
Companies are currently working on hybrid systems that use other alternative fuels instead of gasoline. The Ford Edge is currently being tested as the world’s first drivable hydrogen fuel cell and electricity hybrid. Other companies are working on similar technologies such as the GMC Volt.
Ethanol is an alcohol made from food products such as corn and wheat. The molecule is actually added to most blends of traditional gasoline, although at a level of ten percent or less. This helps to increase the octane content of the gas to make the engine smoother and more efficient. Recent demand for alternative fuels, however, has given rise to engines that use E85, a blend of 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline. Blends with other proportions, such as E95, also exist.
E85 is cheaper than gasoline, and has driven up demand for corn, which is the choice crop for making ethanol in the United States because it is government subsidized. This reduces dependence on foreign oil. In addition, useful byproducts such as corn oil come from the ethanol making process. The environmental advantage of E85 is that it burns cleaner than gasoline with about 20% reduced emissions on average. In addition, since it comes from crops, it is a renewable energy source.
Although it burns cleaner than gasoline, ethanol has less energy content per volume, and ethanol cars have more than 10% reduced mileage. In addition, since corn is also used for livestock feed and in the majority of ingredients found in food products in the U.S., the competition may drive up food prices. If the price of corn becomes higher than the price of gasoline, ethanol fuel will actually be more expensive at the pump.
Another point of consideration is that ethanol from corn meets a very small percentage of the energy needs in the United States and for it to completely replace gasoline would require more cropland than currently exists across the entire U.S. Thus, the true sustainability of ethanol is questionable. In addition, fossil fuel emissions from growing, harvesting, and refining corn into ethanol, as well as from transportation of stock, significantly lowers the true net environmental payoff.
A better ethanol source comes from Brazilian sugarcane and French sugar beets, which both produce more than twice the amount of ethanol per acre of cropland than corn.
If you are currently shopping for an ethanol car, you have car lots and car lots of choices. The ease of refueling on ethanol varies by location, with refueling stations being far more plentiful in the Midwestern United States than on the coastal areas. On the plus side, many manufacturers offer Flexible Fuel Vehicles that can run on both E85 and conventional gasoline: http://www.e85fuel.com/e85101/flexfuelvehicles.php
The future of ethanol as an alternative fuel in the United States depends on the cost of corn staying low or a switch to ethanol derived from sugar. In addition, a new promising alternative comes in the form of cellulosic ethanol, which is ethanol made from wood chips, switchgrass, and agricultural waste that has no other purpose. Cellulosic ethanol is still in development, but if realized it can make ethanol more economical and effective as an alternative fuel.
Biodiesel is an alternative fuel made when glycerin is cut out of vegetable oils. The glycerin byproduct can be used to make other products, such as soap. Most biodiesel at the pump is a blend of refined vegetable oil with traditional diesel from fossil fuels, but pure biodiesel is becoming increasingly popular.
Since biodiesel comes from plant matter, it is a renewable fuel source. Biodiesel is also better for the environment than traditional fossil fuels. The more vegetable oil in the blend, the lower the emissions; pure biodiesel can reduce certain emissions by up to 50%.
For consumers, the great thing about biodiesel is that it can be used in any diesel engine, interchangeably or even mixed with traditional diesel. Thus, any vehicle with a diesel engine is also an alternative fuel vehicle if you fill it up with biodiesel, which means a large car selection for buyers. There is a great website for biodiesel users, http://www.nearbio.com/: a biodiesel locator that sends maps and texts to your cell phone, GPS, etc.!
Unfortunately, biodiesel is not completely clean, and still releases significant smog and particulate matter into the air. The most obvious con of biodiesel is cost, which is higher at the pump than regular diesel and sometimes even gasoline. However, this is made up for in part by the fact that biodiesel engines generally get better mileage.
Another problem with biodiesel is that, like ethanol, the alternative fuel only meets a very small percentage of the transportation fuel needs of the United States and is not a realistic replacement for gasoline. In addition, increased farming to meet biodiesel needs comes with its own problems and potential environmental harm, and rising demand may also drive up the price of vegetable oils used for food. Since biodiesel comes from any number of crops, however, its economic and environmental issues are fairly manageable.
All of the noise and smell associated with diesel engines applies to biodiesel. Since biodiesel is nontoxic, there have been problems with bacteria thriving in the fuel. In addition, cars filled up with biodiesel may have problems running in cold weather.
All cars with diesel engines can run on biodiesel, which means that there are already many model lines already developed and established.
Technological advancements will produce cleaner, smoother, quieter, and more efficient diesel engine in the future. In addition, manufacturers are working on hybrid engines combining biodiesel and other alternative fuels.
Compressed natural gas consists of smaller, cleaner burning hydrocarbons, primarily methane. In addition to being better for the environment, drivers benefit because natural gas engines last longer and require less maintenance. The use of natural gas also reduces dependence on foreign oil since most of this resource comes from within the United States. Compressed natural gas has been around for a long time, so there are no technological kinks to work out. Natural gas is also cheaper than gasoline, which makes it popular for use in fleet cars, buses, and taxis.
Although it has lower emissions than petroleum, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and neither renewable nor sustainable. It is also detrimental to the environment; natural gas is a major factor in the controversial Alaska oil drilling.
Although it is cheaper, natural gas has a greater volume than gasoline, thus more frequent refueling will be necessary even when it’s compressed. Natural gas can be further compressed into liquid form, but this requires processing and storage at extremely low temperatures or within insulated tanks. Refueling stations may be difficult to locate, to help locate a fueling station check out: http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/stations_locator.html
A major apparent disadvantage of natural gas is the lack of vehicles. With Ford’s exit from the arena a few years ago, the Honda Civic GX is the lone publicized natural gas vehicle for the mass consumer.
Hydrogen fuel cells are the current ultimate frontier in transportation development. The hydrogen is reacted with oxygen to produce water and electricity. This energy is used to power an electric motor, much like a battery. Unlike a battery, however, hydrogen is a powerful fuel with energy content comparable to that of gasoline. The only byproducts of the hydrogen fuel cell are water and heat. There is zero harm to the environment given that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.
Unfortunately, as of yet, the technology is still too good to be true and hydrogen remains a fuel of the future. Current methods of producing hydrogen do use fossil fuels, which results in pollution. In addition, no plans for a refueling infrastructure have been made. As for the vehicles, some prototypes have been made, but the technology is still too expensive for mass production to be feasible.
Nearly 100% of our current transportation system is fueled by petroleum, an increasingly expensive and non-renewable resource. As the public increasingly demands solutions to our current dependence on fossil fuels, research and testing efforts continue to focus on alternative fuels, most notably on the hybrid vehicle. The hybrid is the most widely used and manufactured alternative fuel vehicle on the market. Fortunately, thousands of other alternative fuel vehicles are being used on the road today by not only the consumer, but also by many state and federal agencies and private companies. New developments in technology are putting more of these vehicles on the road, creating a vision of a fossil fuel free future!
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|Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 October 2012 )|