Types of Fuel Alternatives to Gasoline for Automobiles
- As gas prices go up and concerns about the environment increase, a popular topic continues to be alternative fuels and alternative fuel sources. While automobile manufacturers very publicly are exploring hybrid cars, which operate on a combination of gasoline and electricity, they are also developing alternate fuel sources for cars, from a variety of sources.
- The word "diesel" refers to both a type of fuel and a type of engine. The engine was developed in 1892 by Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel and was initially designed to work on coal dust. Diesel, like gasoline, is refined from petroleum, which is derived from oil. Diesel burns cleaner than gasoline, emitting less greenhouse gas and operating substantially more efficiently than gasoline. Identical cars with diesel engines may get 10 or more miles per gallon than a gasoline-powered counterpart. Diesel typically has a higher concentration of particulate matter, in that you can see diesel exhaust more than gasoline exhaust. Diesel is considered safer than gasoline, as it has a higher ignition point and it explosively flammable. It also tends to get thicker at temperatures below freezing, and may require additives in cooler temperatures. In the United States, diesel fuel is available at many gas stations and is approximately the same price as premium unleaded gasoline.
- Biodiesel is a catch-all term that refers to any oil that can substitute in a car for diesel. With little or no alteration to a standard diesel engine, diesel cars can run on a variety of oils derived from plants and animals. Many larger cities offer biodiesel fueling facilities, which typically offer a mix of biodiesel with engine-grade diesel. This is noted by the grade of the biodiesel being marked at, for example, B60, where the fuel is 60% biodiesel and 40% regular diesel fuel. This commercially available biodiesel is made from a variety of sources, including corn and soy oil. It has been treated to remain liquid. Some cities employ public transit that is powered by biodiesel, such as Orlando, Florida. However, the original biodiesel vehicles were typically powered by recycled fry oil, which was obtained from restaurants after it was used to cook food. This oil tends to coagulate, so vehicles that are powered on cooking oil must have a tank equipped with a heating element to keep the biodiesel liquid.
- Natural gas is available independently of petroleum and is considered an efficient and earth-friendly fuel source. Natural gas offers many advantages, including being safer, due to heavy-duty storage tanks, cheaper, costing about a third of what gas costs to fill a car, as well as being cleaner. While the fuel is cheaper, however, the cars are not. It costs several thousands of dollars to convert a standard gasoline car into a natural gas vehicle, and this includes adding more gas tanks to store the natural gas, which takes away room in the vehicle. Because of the high conversion costs, but cheap fuel costs, many larger fleets of vehicles, such as taxis, airport shuttles, and bus lines have converted to using natural gas. Phoenix, Arizona, operates public transport buses that operate on liquid natural gas. As of 2009, there were still less than 2000 public natural gas pumps in the United States. However, Honda will sell natural gas vehicle owners a home gas pump that will use existing natural gas lines and fill a car overnight. In 2009, these could be purchased for as little as $500.