Alternative fuels are fuels that are derived from other resources other than petroleum. The alternative fuels can be produced domestically or imported from other countries. The aim of introducing alternative fuel is to reduce oil dependency which has many negative consequences. Fossil fuel is the major source of pollution. In fact it is a major producer of green house gases which are a threat to the environment. Being derived from non renewable resources, oil prices continue to rise in the world market and therefore they increase the cost of production of several products. There is need therefore to find alternative fuel lest there will be a big problem not only in the United States, but also the whole world which rely basically on fossil fuel. (Mark, 2001)
Alternative fuel produces less pollution as compared to the petroleum products. It is therefore safer to use alternative fuel over fossil fuel. Fossil fuels are advantageous to use and efficient as some of them can be derived from renewable resources. The federal government promotes alternative fuel in the United States through provision of tax incentives to consumers purchasing reliable alternative fuel vehicles. IRS began allowing taxpayers to claim a special tax credit for using alternative fuels, a program known as the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit.
This is in effort to increase the demand for alternative fuel. Under this credit, alternative fuel is any fuel containing at least 85 percent of one or more of natural gas, ethanol, compressed natural gas, liquefied petroleum, liquefied natural gas or hydrogen; or any fuel mixture which contain two or more of biodiesel, kerosene and at least 20 per cent of biodiesel.
There are various alternative fuels in the United States available for use. However they have not been fully adopted into consumers but there is an increase in their consumption since the incentives were introduced in 2007. United States and other countries in the world are looking for alternative fuel as the source of fuel because:
There is a major environmental concern about the global warming effect. According to IPCC report, most of the increase in the global average temperatures since 20th century is as a result of green house gases concentration in the atmosphere which is produced by the fossil fuel. This has made many countries of the world to increase their campaigns on advocating for the usage of alternative fuel. This will help in protecting the world in which we live. (Mark, 2001)
The concept of peak oil is another reason to why there is need for the use of alternative fuel. According to this concept, there is a possibility of an increase in the fuel cost as production rates of petroleum are at a decline. This is attributed to the Hubbert Peak theory which states that, when the level of production peaks, demand for oil exceeds supply and without proper mitigation the gap will continue to grow as production drops which will cause a major crisis in energy.
In addition to the above factors, the majority of world known petroleum reserves lies in the Middle East. This raises concerns worldwide over the possibility of fuel shortages intensifying the unrest that already exist in the Middle East leading to war and further conflicts. Alternative fuels that are used in the United States include;
Ethanol is produced domestically from corn and other crops. In some countries like Brazil, it is produced from sugar cane. The production of ethanol causes pollution through production of green house gases. However they are minimal as the process is mainly fermentation. The use of ethanol in vehicles is more environmental friendly than conventional fuel. Ethanol can be used by flex fuel vehicles or hybrid vehicles. The majority of consumers use ethanol in hybrids of fuel. They are mixed in certain percentages with gasoline. E10 or gasohol is a blend of ethanol and gasoline in the ratio of 1:9 i.e. 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.
All automotive manufacturers approve this blend for use in their engines. E85 is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. It is used in flex fuel vehicles FFVs (Vehicles which can run on pure gasoline or a blend of gasoline and ethanol).
The cost of ethanol varies from place to place. In mid west it is cheaper than in other places. However the price of ethanol is generally low as compared to that of gasoline. There are several filling stations in the United States selling E85 and the number is increasing day by day. The performance of vehicle using E58 is more of the same with the one using gasoline. There is a 20 to 30 per cent drop in the mile per gallon experienced by the flex fuel vehicles due to the lower energy content of ethanol.
Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel that is produced from vegetable oils, recycled restaurant oil or animal fats. It is biodegradable and besides produces less pollution to the environment as compared to petroleum fuel.
Biodiesel can be used in its pure form (B100) or in blended form (mixed with petroleum diesel). Common blends include B2 (2% biodiesel), B5 (5% biodiesel), and B20 (20% biodiesel). B2 and B5 can be safely used in most diesel engines. However, most manufacturers of automotives do not recommend using blends greater than 5% i.e. B5. The use of a higher blend of biodiesel, greater than 5% may void the engine warranty.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel but it produces less green house gases as compared to petroleum. It comprises mostly of methane and is the cleanest alternative fuel. It is used at home for cooking and also in cars in form of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
Vehicles designed to run on natural gas cannot run on any other form of fuel. Dual fuel or bi fuel engines can run on gasoline or diesel. This bi fuel vehicle gives the users an advantage to use gasoline or diesel when the cleaner natural gas is not available. Natural gas is more economical and cleaner and is stored in pressure fuel tanks. The dual fuel cars require two separate fuel system as they do not mix.
Natural gas cars are not manufactured in large numbers. In the United States, only the Honda GX CNG is available. Other diesel or gasoline vehicles can be modified to run on natural gas.
Propane also called liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a clear-burning fossil fuel which can be used in powering internal combustion engines. LPG-fueled vehicles usually produce fewer smog-forming and toxic air pollutants. When compared to gasoline, LPG is usually less expensive, and nearly all LPG used in the United States is derived from domestic sources.
No LPG-fueled trucks or light-duty passenger cars have been commercially produced in the United States from the time of the 2004 model year, but diesel and gasoline vehicles can be retrofitted such that they run on LPG together with conventional fuel. The LPG is always kept in high-pressure fuel tanks, and therefore detached fuel systems are considered necessary in vehicles being powered by both conventional fuel, for instance gasoline and LPG.
Hydrogen (H2) has been insistently explored as a passenger vehicles fuel. It can as well be used in fuel cells in powering electric motors or even burned in the internal combustion engines (ICEs).
Hydrogen is considered an environmentally friendly fuel with the potential of significantly reducing our reliance on foreign oil, but some considerable challenges must be conquered before embarking on wide usage of hydrogen fuel.
Unlike other fuels Hydrogen can be harnessed locally from various sources, thereby reducing over dependence on the expensive petroleum imports.
Hydrogen fuel is environmentally friendly. Hydrogen does not emit greenhouse gases or air pollutants when used in fuel cells; it only produces NOx whilst burned in ICEs.
Hydrogen Availability and Cost- Hydrogen is presently available at only very few locations, mostly in California. The fuel is also expensive to produce for many households.
Availability and cost of vehicles- Fuel cell vehicles are presently far too expensive for most people to afford, and they are merely available to a handful of demonstration fleets.
Fuel Storage (Onboard) – Unlike diesel or gasoline Hydrogen contains much less energy, that is, on a per-volume basis, and therefore it becomes very hard to store sufficient hydrogen onboard a vehicle that is destined to travel for a distance of more than 200 miles.
Other challenges include customer acceptance, fuel cell performance, and bulk storage and hydrogen transport.
This is another alternative fuel used in running various kinds of machinery ranging from trucks to lawn mowers. All types of machinery can be modified to run on electricity. By using electricity, which can either be harnessed or man made, the world will significantly reduce it’s over reliance on natural gasses. As the natural products such as gases and fossil fuels like oil, continue diminishing on planet earth, our lifestyles calls for increased focus in finding alternative resources.
To the surprise of many people, corn oils, soybean oils, garbage, vegetables oils, solar power and even manure are all considerations for the various types of alternative fuels that are widely required in order to suit the needs of millions of people across the world.
The production of alternative fuels can have adverse effects. The production of corn-based ethanol for example, has led to increased demand for the feed stock, causing an increase in prices of almost every product made from corn. However, in a free competitive market, an increased supply of ethanol leads to decrease in demand of conventional fuels hence lowering the prices of fuel. Ethanol production helps in utilizing the surplus in agricultural production in mitigating fuel shortages.
There are also arguments that the alternative fuel inefficiency lead to production of green house gases that are a threat in the global warming. Despite all these arguments it is highly important for the world to continue focusing on the significance of alternative fuels so that we shall be prepared and ready with immense resources at the time when the world’s natural resources will run out.
Work Cited Source
Goodger, E. Alternative Fuels: Chemical Energy Resources. New York: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Mark, L. Alternative Fuels for Road Vehicles. London: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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