Understanding Alternative Fuels

In the simplest of terms, an alternative fueled vehicle is any vehicle that does not run on gasoline or diesel. Instead, its fuel comes from a non-petroleum based source – like natural gas, corn or another plant-based byproduct. Because most of these resources are renewable and produced domestically, the cited benefits are far ranging: leading to reduced dependency on foreign imports, extended oil supplies and reduced emissions.

This alternative fuels guide examines two of today’s more popular options: E85 Ethanol and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

E85 Ethanol

e85pumpEthanol fuel is an alcohol-based fuel composed of fermented and distilled starch crops. (e.g. corn). It’s important to note that this not a new technology.  In fact, about one-third of all gasoline currently sold in the United States contains some amount of ethanol. And most cars are capable of using a mixture that contains as much as 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.

Advantages of E85 Ethanol: What makes an E85 engine standout is that the mixture is mainly ethanol based, with 85% coming from ethanol and 15% coming from conventional gasoline. This not only reduces the United States’ dependency on foreign oil, it stretches the earth’s current supply of oil (which is not renewable) and results in lower emissions.

Disadvantages of E85 Ethanol: Opponents of ethanol-based fuel point to the fact that ethanol production requires the burning of petroleum based products to plant crops and operate refineries – which of course would seem to offset any environmental benefits. Additionally, vehicles using E85 get worse fuel efficiency when compared to their gasoline counterparts. E85 is also hard to find, with only about 1 percent of all the gas stations in the United States offering E85.

Because ethanol engines are not a new technology, there are a number of cars on the roadways currently capable of running on E85. Known as Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFV), these cars include:

  • Ford Focus FFV
  • Chevrolet Malibu FFV
  • GMC Terrain E85 Flex Fuel
  • Ford Ranger E85 FFV

Compressed Natural Gas

3989178_GAnother alternative fuel that is slowly beginning to see increased popularity in the mainstream marketplace is Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). But even though automakers like Honda are touting these clean fuel alternatives as the next big thing in the world of green energy, it’s important to note that this is not a new technology. Instead manufacturers have been producing cars capable of running on natural gas as far back as the 1930s.

Advantages of CNG: Low costs and cleaner emissions are two of the primary advantages of CNG. Not only does natural gas cost about a third of gasoline, but it burns much cleaner, resulting in reduced carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Disadvantages of CNG: The major disadvantage of CNG is availability. In truth, natural gas fueling stations are hard to find; and in some areas, CNG is not available at all, even in the form of an at home fueling station.

Even though CNG is not a new technology, it has not been until recently that automakers have begun producing these vehicles for the general public. Examples of today’s modern CNG powered vehicle includes:

  • Honda Civic GX CNG
  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500 CNG
  • Dodge Ram 2500 CNG
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