A Bright Future – How Improved Technology is Developing New Fuel Alternatives

Justin Christensen |

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We may not have caught up to the Jetsons, but the fuel industry has certainly surpassed the Flintstones when it comes to forms of energy for transportation. Petroleum and diesel are still the dominant fuels across the board, but as technology develops, new players are starting to emerge.

Here are the top 10 alternative fuels on the road today:

  1. Hydrogen – used in fuel cell cars where hydrogen and oxygen are combined to produce electricity to power the motor; or used in an internal combustion engine, just like a gasoline car, only it’s designed to burn hydrogen.
  2. Electricity – the option first appeared in the late 1800s, but never caught on due to short-lived batteries that took hours to recharge; Lithium-ion batteries seem to be the solution and the onboard gasoline generator kicks in to recharge as needed.
  3. Biodiesel – it’s inexpensive, it’s clean and it’s derived from stuff you’d find at home – cooking oil and grease; after the appropriate chemical process, this fuel can be used in any diesel engine.
  4. Ethanol – still on food, this fuel is produced from plant matter such as corn and sugar cane. It’s often seen at the pumps and is commonly added to summer gasoline to reduce emissions.
  5. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) – also found in your kitchen, but this form is different. Natural gas becomes liquefied when it’s cooled and packs loads more energy; making it ideal for powering large equipment when burned.
  6. Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LP) – generated from mainly propane with other hydrocarbon gases, this fuel is similar to LNG in that it’s kept pressurized in liquid form for greater energy and is burned in internal combustion engines designed for it.
  7. Compressed Natural Gas – as you guessed, this is the same fuel used in homes only it’s stored in high-pressure cylinders. The gas is compressed through a fuelling station and the tank is larger than those for gasoline.
  8. Compressed Air – equipped with electric motors to compress the air into high pressure tubes, this fuel is used as it is expands and is released from the tubes to power the car.
  9. Liquid Nitrogen – kept cold and in liquid form, this fuel functions similar to compressed air in that it is heated in a turbine engine and produces power on expansion.
  10. Coal – using coal to power cars is fairly new and it’s more of an indirect fuel. In the U.S., coal produces 39 percent of the electricity generated, which in turn is used to charge car batteries.

Why The Change?

Alternative fuels are up and coming for a number of reasons, but the shift away from traditional fuels basically boils down to two things: technology and the environment.

Developments in the areas of power train, lightweight materials, electronics and software have seen the automobile evolve dramatically in the last couple of decades. Higher safety standards, greater efficiency and consumer expectations and taste have also kept manufacturers at the drawing board.

At the same time, more stringent regulations for greenhouse gas emissions and the quest for national energy security have had governments and many environmental organizations considering new fuel sources.

It will take time for some of these fuel alternatives to become more available as the infrastructure simply isn’t there yet to provide them. However, as accessibility grows, you can count on your fuel distributor to be growing, too. It will be up to date on new products and industry changes and, as always, it will be there to meet your changing business needs.