It looks like the traditional petrol and diesel engines are in for some competition.
It looks like the traditional petrol and diesel engines are in for some competition.
People are getting more and more concerned about the growing impact on the environment through carbon emissions. Car owners are now open to the idea of opting for alternative energy solutions.
Australia has a lot of natural energy resources, and their use has not yet been optimised. What are these alternative fuel solutions? For starters, we have electricity, but you already know that! Biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas, and propane or liquefied petroleum gas are the not so popular options – so let’s get to know more about them!
Many of the cars you share the road with already use these energy sources as we speak – and we can’t let you be left behind! This article will get you up to speed by discussing the top 6 alternative fuels for cars today, and which cars are using them – or at least have variants using these fuels or power sources.
Let’s dive in.
You may have noticed some fuel pumps labelled B5, B20, or maybe even B99 and thought what they could be. Well, they’re biodiesel and they’re available in Australia and most servos carry them like your regular diesel. It is a byproduct of biodegradable resources like vegetable oils, animal fats, and even recycled restaurant oils.
What’s good about biodiesel?
It is the clean-burning and sustainable, and honestly, that’s what our planet needs right now. Naysayers say that even biodiesel-powered vehicles do emit carbon dioxide (CO2), and that is true. The good thing about it is that whatever CO2 emitted by these cars is offset by the CO2 absorbed by the crops used to produce biodiesel, making it a cleaner option than petrol and diesel. What’s more, B5 and B20 can be used directly on regular diesel-engine vehicles – no conversions needed.
What’s not so good about biodiesel?
Due to limited production, biodiesel in its pure form can be more expensive than conventional diesel. Also, it produces 10% less energy content than standard diesel.
Electricity is stored in rechargeable batteries to power all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). This is a zero-emission alternative to petrol and diesel engines – that sounds like the perfect solution to greenhouse gases and climate change issues, right? More on this later, though.
The gas-electric hybrids are a real attraction. Most hybrids rely on their main power source, the battery, which stores and converts energy into usable electricity. The petrol engine only starts working when the battery has run out of juice. In some models, the petrol engine runs the vehicle at lower speeds, while the electric motor takes over at higher speeds and long distances.
What are the cons of an electric vehicle?
The first drawback is the cost of an EV, which can be significantly higher than petrol-powered cars. The use of zero-emission electric motors may seem like the ultimate dream, but here’s the catch. The overall carbon footprint would not drastically go down even if we all shifted to electric cars because most of our electricity still comes from burning coal and other forms of ‘dirty’ fuel.
What are the different types of EVs?
We can classify EVs under four main types of EVs, namely:
- Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – aka pure EVs, they are solely powered by electricity. You will also hear people call them ‘plug-in EVs' since they use an external charging port to charge the battery.
- Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) – the name ‘hybrid’ is a giveaway, PHEVs are powered by electricity and liquid fuel. They have an internal combustion engine that uses liquid fuel and an electric motor that is powered by a battery. It needs to be plugged in to recharge.
- Non-plug-in hybrid EVs (HEVs) – electricity is generated through the vehicle's braking system, and this charges the battery while running. This technology is called 'regenerative braking.’ You can also see this technology used in most BEVs and PHEVs.
- Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) – these EVs use a fuel cell instead of a battery, or in combination with a battery or a supercapacitor, to power the electric motor. The fuel cells are powered with hydrogen and can provide better performance than BEVs.
What are some examples of EVs in Australia?
Here are some of the top EVs in Australia:
- Tesla Model S
- Tesla Model X
- Tesla Model 3
- Renault Zoe
- Nissan Leaf
- Hyundai Ioniq Electric
- Hyundai Kona Electric
- Kia e-Niro
- Audi e-Tron
- Jaguar I-Pace
- BMW i3
- Mercedes-Benz EQC
The crops we depend on for energy – think corn, barley, wheat – can also be tapped to power our cars! Did that surprise you? What actually surprised me was why it didn’t come sooner.
Crop-derived ethanol for automobiles come in different blends, the most common being E10, which contains 10% ethanol and 90% petrol. There are E15 and E85 blends too, and much like biodiesel, ethanol-powered cars still emit CO2, but the crops offset this emission by absorbing CO2. Though used in much smaller quantities, ethanol contributes to the country’s energy security and air quality.
What’s the problem with ethanol fuel?
Producing ethanol is an energy-intensive process. It ends up competing with resources for human consumption and impacting food prices and availability.
Not only that. In terms of fuel economy, ethanol contains only about two-thirds the energy of petrol, which means that a car should have a bigger fuel tank and, of course, more fuel to cover longer distances.
What are some examples of ethanol-fuel cars?
The Saab 9-3 SportCombi has two ethanol-fuel engine variants, the SportCombi 1.8t BioPower (130 kW) and SportCombi 2.0t BioPower (150 kW). These models run on E85 Flex Fuel.
Hydrogen is an abundant source of energy and is widely available, from water to hydrocarbons and other organic matter. Hydrogen is used in fuel cells to power electric vehicles (FCEVs). What makes FCEVs even more remarkable is the rapid filling time, efficiency, and above all, they only emit water.
If it’s so clean and abundant, why is hydrogen fuel not flooding the market?
Like others, extracting and storing hydrogen is a rigorous process. This bottleneck is the reason why Australia has only two hydrogen filling stations to this day. Developing networks of fuel infrastructure remains costly and challenging.
Is there a hydrogen-powered car in Australia today?
Hyundai is the first to announce a hydrogen-powered car in Australia with its 2021 Nexo. Toyota also has plans to make the Mirai hydrogen car available to Australia, and several federal governments and private entities are pushing for hydrogen fuel advances in the country.
5. Natural Gas
Natural gas can be utilised as a transportation fuel source in two ways, as CNG and LNG. CNG or compressed natural gas is natural gas compressed to less than 1% of its actual volume at standard atmospheric pressure. It can provide a fuel economy similar to petrol.
LNG is also natural gas but compressed into liquid form. It is more expensive than CNG and is used to power medium- to heavy-duty vehicles that can travel longer distances.
What are some drawbacks of CNG and LNG?
Most natural gases come from fossil fuels, so they are not totally clean. There’s also a chance that they could release methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas that can be 21 times worse than CO2. Still, they still come cleaner than petroleum, which is what makes them a lesser evil, so to speak.
Like hydrogen, storing natural gas is also an inconvenient and costly affair. With a boiling point much lower than the room temperature, it must be stored in vacuum containers similar to cryogenic tanks.
What are some examples of CNG-fuelled vehicles?
Models with CNG-fed engines currently available in Australia include trucks and commercial vehicles from Isuzu, Mercedes-Benz, Iveco, Scania and Dennis Eagle.
Propane, aka liquefied petroleum gas or LPG, is a byproduct of CNG and crude-oil refining. Like petrol, propane is widely accessible and is used in homes and industries. The clean-burning qualities of propane present no threat to the soil or groundwater, making it a suitable alternative to petrol and diesel.
What are the pros of propane as a car fuel?
LPG is relatively cheap and energy-dense – these qualities make it the best alternative to petroleum. According to a study, Australia can have 2 million LPG vehicles on the road without relying on any additional infrastructure. They are potential cost-saving alternatives for cars that make weekend trips across Australia.
Since LPG is 40 per cent cheaper than petrol and easily available, it should be our first choice. Also, looking at studies, their exhaust emissions are much lower.
What are the cons of propane as a car fuel?
While propane is cheap, propane-powered vehicles are not. Also, propane is a contributor of methane, a greenhouse gas.
As of now, you can’t buy a new car factory-fitted with an LPG system, but you will no doubt find one from the used car market. No idea where to look? That’s not so hard. Start your search from CarpartAU’s Ads.
Using alternative sources like electricity, hydrogen, and CNG can help reduce oil importation. Australia has enough natural gas resources that can last for 185 years. This is enough to keep Australia ahead of other nations in terms of energy production than importing oil.
Many countries have already signed up to ban fossil fuels in the next few years. While our government has not made any express commitment, you can start making a life-changing decision with your own car and the fuel it guzzles.
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the cleanest fuel for cars?
Topmost is hydrogen. It is a zero-emission alternative fuel that can be produced from renewable resources for use in fuel cell vehicles. The only byproduct from its combustion is pure H2O, or water.
A tentative second is electricity. Though emission-less, the production of electricity accounts for severe pollution from burning coal and materials.
If only, we could start producing more electricity from cleaner and sustainable methods, like solar energy and wind energy, then EVs would become the ultimate dream.
Another factor that taints the reputation of EVs is the intensive mining of lithium, the raw material used to produce lithium batteries.
2. Which is the best alternative fuel for cars? Why?
Electricity would still be number one. Its relevant automotive technologies are fully developed, and uptake has significantly increased. In short, the time of the electric cars has come. EVs by themselves don’t cause pollution.
However, if we put aside electric cars, you’ll see that combustion engines have a longer life expectancy when they are run on LPG, giving the same calorific value compared to petrol. Today, LPG is the most realistic option next to electricity.
Then, of course, there’s hydrogen. It is one of the best, if not the best, alternative fuels, but due to the lack of filling stations across the country, it will take two or more years to establish the needed infrastructure and network.
By Sooraj Sj