The search for better fuels began with the discovery of fire. Today they are called alternative fuels, and we consistently look to improve upon them. Desirable fuels are those that provide power with minimal impact on the environment, are renewable, and that are not harmful to humans. There are no shortage of alternative fuels, but the question that matters is, are they better? Here are a few possibilities.
Biodiesel is produced from animal fats or vegetable oils. It can be produced from leftover restaurant grease. It can be used in its pure form, but in cold weather it burns best if mixed with petroleum diesel. Biodiesel burns cleaner than petroleum diesel, but the difference is only noticeable in older cars. Newer cars are equipped with technology that reduces the emissions to the same levels for both biodiesel and petroleum diesel.
Biodiesel is sold in blends designated by a ‘B’ followed by the percentage of biodiesel. For example, B100 is 100 percent biodiesel. B20 is 20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is derived from renewable resources and does less damage to the environment than petroleum diesel. Because it is can be made from waste cooking oil and other organic waste, it is a viable alternative to petroleum diesel.
Natural gas is a viable alternative fuel for several reasons. It burns cleaner than petroleum based fuels, and since the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking natural gas resources can be profitably exploited.
It's so profitable that a great deal of energy jobs have been created through the development of new technologies. Natural and shale gas jobs have seen a serious upswing in recent years. This further proves the viability of natural gas as a potentially beneficial fuel source and even economic boon.
Natural gas is not as energy dense as gasoline or diesel, so cars running on it have shorter range unless a larger tank or multiple tanks are used. But despite the lower energy density cars that run on natural gas have similar power and speed to gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Liquid propane gas (LPG) is a byproduct of processing natural gas and petroleum. It is non-toxic and burns more cleanly than heavier molecule hydrocarbons. When used in cars it is often referred to as Autogas. It is stored at pressure to liquefy it. It is vaporized into a gas when it undergoes combustion. When burned properly propane doesn’t produce as much pollution as gasoline. It also burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, leaving fewer damaging deposits in an engine. Fewer deposits mean longer engine life. Driving range is similar to gasoline, but the fuel economy is usually worse.
Electricity is produced in a variety of ways. How clean a fuel source it is depends on the source. Wind and solar power are two clean sources of electricity. Another is hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells are potentially the most environmentally friendly fuel source due to their only emission being water. Fuel cell vehicles are not yet commercially available, though some may be available in 2014. Electric car performance can be similar to gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Alternative fuels are more than a novelty. Some actually argue they increase national security by reducing reliance on foreign energy sources. It's clear that they can be better to protect the environment by reducing harmful emissions. Thanks to advances in technology they provide performance similar to traditional fuels. Fuels like electricity, biodiesel, LP gas and natural gas could be some of the tools we need to take care of the environment, and make for a better world.