Are alternative fuels just unprofitable? Well, it seems not. The market for alternative fuel was a massive $392 billion in 2019 and will reach $1,244 in 2027 as oil continues to lose some of its value. The problems at the beginning were due to the price of developing these alternative fuels but environmental incentives have covered some of those costs. Apart from electric cars it’s hard to pinpoint the strongest alternative fuels out there though.
What’s Research is Getting Funded and by Whom?
The US government has been investing in a number of these areas such as hydrogen, biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas and propane. In addition to this they have given out tax incentives to companies such as Ford, Tesla and even Shell. It’s not just the US by the way, it’s happening all over the world.
Hydrogen cars do produce emissions, but it’s just a mix of water and warm air, so they’re remarkably clean environmentally. They are run by a fuel cell and another plus point is that they contain less volatile potential energy when it’s being stored as fuel. There is an argument to be made that a malfunction in the process of burning the hydrogen could result in an explosion.
Biodiesel uses hydrocarbons from animals and vegetables, usually in the form of vegetable and animal oils but it can use cooking grease. It can consist of a maximum of 95% regular diesel. If it was manufactured of pure vegetable oil it would increase in expense and would actually impact the environment significantly. The advantage here is when material that has already been used or is created as a biproduct of an existing process is collected and repurposed as fuel.
Biodiesel vehicles are more or less the same as regular diesel vehicles and can be easier to start. It is a better lubricant than conventional diesel as well.
A similar substance is biogas made from natural waste; either food waste or sewage which is processed by a digester. Sweden has the largest number of biogas powered vehicles in the world although the UK has started using it for HGVs over the last fifteen years.
Another gas used in engines – not to be confused with gasoline – may be thought of as compressed gas or liquified gas. It tends to be used for the bigger vehicles. As with diesel it harms the environment if enough is used. It must be stored cryogenically (similar to liquid nitrogen), making the gas as cold as possible.
Propane (also known as liquified petroleum gas) is another fuel produced as a result of refining crude oil. It may also include butane. It’s reasonably priced and has less carbon content than diesel, but unfortunately contains methane, which is considered damaging to the environment because it acts as a greenhouse gas. Propane is not used for heavy vehicles.
Gasoline mixed with ethanol or methanol is called flex-fuel. The strongest sellers of flex-fuel cars are Brazil, then the US (mostly California) and Canada. Brazil grows a lot of sugar cain which makes a good ethanol, so they use higher amounts of it in their fuel.
In North America and Europe it is generally 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline hence the name E85. In Brazil they use E20 and even E100, both representing percentages of ethanol.
It is known as flexifuel or total flex or flex power, depending on the make of vehicle. Around six million vehicles have been created in Brazil since 1979, according to the statistics from the Brazilian Automobile’s yearbook.
A Possible Solution
Sadly, the automobile industry won’t become net zero any time soon but at least the markets are investing in the right areas to help keep cars and trucks on the road. It may still seem like a fad to use alternative fuel, but this could change.
It’s possible the right answer is for a variety or fuels to be employed depending on what’s locally the best option. This could avoid producing mass quantities of one type of pollutant and reduce the amount of fuel and raw fuel ingredients which are shipped long distances. If so we’re not only heading the right direction, Brazil is leading by example.