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Alternative Automotive Fuels

Updated on February 1, 2015

The future of the automobile promises advanced fuel technologies for providing greater savings and performance for motorists. The new breed of automotive designers is always attempting to enhance the three pillars: Safety, individual convenience and motoring pleasure while conceptualizing future automotive designs. There are other important considerations too while drawing up new car designs. Considerations such as improvement of road traffic flow, the availability of fossil fuels and the impact of cars on our environment.

It’s envisaged that by another 50 years, the world will virtually be free from fossil fuels. Therefore, the classic combustion engine would invariably be replaced. Currently, some automobile manufacturers are experimenting with TDI diesels and FSI direct-injection gasoline engines, offering the perfect blend of performance and economy. Besides, there is growing number of proponents supporting the development of electric motors with fuel cells supplying the energy. In the meanwhile, cars with hybrid engines are epected to play a major part in future designs.

Currently a new innovation in fuel and propulsion system has been the hydrogen fuel cells. However, it will take a substantial amount of time before the technology can be realized for mass-production .Additionally, for hydrogen propelled cars an extensive infrastructure replete with supply stations must be put in order. As for now, automotive engineers are still grappling with issues such as overall balance of energy input and output and utilizing renewable raw sources for producing hydrogen. Once some of these issues are sorted out, hydrogen powered cars would come of age.

In fact, the German car maker BMW has already tested its hydrogen powered car, the BMW H2R. Incidentally, it’s the world’s fastest hydrogen powered car capable of reaching a speed of 185 miles per hour. Unlike conventional hydrogen powered vehicles which operate on fuel cells, BMW H2R uses a modified 6-liter, 12 cylinder combustion engine for propulsion. What is more, it’s a car which is as environment friendly as it gets since it emits only water!

Toyota Prius is yet another car hitting the headlines of late. It incorporates the technology of the future: The Hybrid engine. The car’s mileage is about 70 miles per gallon which is amazing. The technology in Prius includes petrol and a battery power source, which are computer integrated. The intricate configuration allows Hybid cars like Prius to give a mileage of 60-70 mpg as compared to 20-40 in conventional cars.

The Hybrid car market is presently on an upswing and automobile critics believe they’ll continue to do so in the future as well. Toyota Prius is already quite popular in the US and Japan. Toyota has even revamped its popular model Camry to the Camry Hybrid for environmentally concerned motorists. A few other hybrid cars which are expected to make a splash in the automotive world are DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge Ram pickup which promises a 15% boost in mileage; Mercury Mariner SUV; Saturn Vue SUV; GMC Yukon; Chevrolet Malibu; Honda Accord Hybrid with V6 performance and the Lexus RX 400h SUV.

Electric cars have been operating for a long time. However they have certain inherent drawbacks such as the power of the batteries and a peak speed of 50 miles per hour. Furthermore, they need to be recharged frequently, making them an unfeasible option for long distance travel. The modern battery electric vehicle (BEV) makes use of chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. Similar to conventional electric cars, BEVs use electric motors and motor controllers for propulsion.

Another propulsion technology which is on the cards is the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle or PHEV. It combines the features of a traditional hybrid and electric car, containing an electric motor and a internal combustion engine (ICE) along with typical electric car characteristics like a plug to connect to the electric grid. They’re also called the gas-optional hybrids or GO-HEVs and are being used in passenger vans, school buses, motorcycles and military vehicles, besides the passenger cars.

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Bio-fuels are sometimes used to power vehicles. Bio-fuel is defined as solid, liquid or gas fuel which is derived from decaying biological material which has died recently as opposed to fossil fuels which are derived from biological material which have died millions of years ago. Biological materials rich in carbon like wood and plant-derived materials are used for bio-fuel manufacturing.

Additionally, there are fuels such as biodiesel, bio-alcohol (methanol, ethanol, butanol), batteries and hydrogen, fuel cells, non-fossil natural gas, non-fossil methane, vegetable oil and various other biomass sources, which serve as an alternate to gasoline. It’s believed that the cost of these fuels would be comparable to that of gasoline in the future. However, automotive experts emphasize the importance of sustainability. New forms of fuel and propulsion systems can definitely cut emissions, reduce air pollution and offer better mileage and motoring comforts. But whether those technologies would be sustainable is something that only time will tell.


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