Eco Friendly: Natural Alternative Fuels

Quill Office Living (Supply Cabinet)

A simple definition of alternative fuel is the choice of any fuel other than the traditional selections, gasoline and diesel. With the instability of gasoline prices and political uncertainties of the Middle East, the U.S. government and corporate America are now considering the benefits of alternative-fuel vehicles. In the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992, the U. S. Department of Energy identified eight alternative fuels. Some are already widely used; others not so. All have potential as full- or partial-alternatives to gasoline and diesel:

  1. Ethanol is an alcohol-based alternative made by fermenting and distilling crops such as corn, barley or wheat. It can be blended with gasoline to increase octane levels and improve emissions quality.
  2. Natural Gas burns clean and is already widely available in many areas. When used in natural gas vehicles it produces far fewer harmful emissions than gasoline or diesel.
  3. Electricity can be used to run battery-powered electric and fuel-cell vehicles without producing combustion or pollution. Fuel-cell vehicles run on electricity produced through an electrochemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen and oxygen are combined.
  4. Hydrogen mixes with natural gas to create fuel that uses certain types of internal combustion engines. It's also used in fuel-cell vehicles that run on electricity produced by the petrochemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen and oxygen are combined.
  5. Propane, also called liquefied petroleum gas (or LPG), is a byproduct of natural gas processing and crude oil refining. It produces fewer emissions than gasoline, and there is also a highly-developed infrastructure for transporting, storing and distributing it.
  6. Biodiesel is based on vegetable oils or animal fats. Vehicle engines can be converted to burn biodiesel in its pure form, and it can also be blended with petroleum diesel and used in unmodified engines. It's safe, biodegradable and reduces air pollutants associated with vehicle emissions.
  7. Methanol (also known as wood alcohol) can be used in flexible fuel vehicles designed to run on M85, a blend of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline, but automakers are no longer manufacturing methanol-powered vehicles. However, it could become an important alternative in the future as a source of the hydrogen needed to power fuel-cell vehicles.
  8. P-Series Fuels are a blend of ethanol, natural gas liquids and methyltetrahydrofuran (MeTHF), a co-solvent derived from biomass. They are clear, high-octane alternatives that can be used in flexible fuel vehicles, as well as alone or mixed with gasoline in any ratio by simply adding it to the tank.

Using these alternative fuels in vehicles can easily help reduce harmful pollutants and exhaust emissions. But until these alternatives can be made more readily available to the general public, only improving vehicle efficiency will be the single most effective means to reduce pollutants and petroleum dependence.

For more information on natural alternative fuels, check out the U.S. Department of Energy Web site at www.afdc.energy.gov

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