Home: Alternative Fuel Sources

Current Alternative Fuel Sources

With the sustained high price of oil and the resurgence of ecological awarenessas a "trendy" aspect of society, a lot of research has gone into current alternative fuel source.

An alternative fuel such as biofuel comes from biological sources; the most commonly used example of a biofuel is E85 gasoline, which is a mixture of gasoline cut with 85% methyl alcohol.

The other broad catagory of biofuel is biodiesel, which is shown as a blend of biodiesel and regular diesel fuel, generally with a B prefix. B20 is 20% biodiesel and 80% petro-diesel. B100 is completely biological. 

Alternative Fuel Sources

The appeal of a biofuel is that it supports agricultural sectors and is carbon neutral. While burning a biofuel still releases carbon into the atmosphere, the biomass used to process the fuel recycles the carbon through photosynthesis.

However, fossil fuels add to the carbon cycle because they have been sequestered by geological processes for thousands of years. Biofuels also naturally produce lower emissions, barely contain any sulfur and burns far less carbon monoxide during the burning process.

Another key concept of biofuels is that it offers a double solution - by making fuel out of the inedible parts of agricultural products, you can take a lot of material that would've otherwise ended up burned or turned into low value silage, and render it down into oils that can be used to run machinery.

This isn't new technology; biodiesel was an alternative fuel for farming that powered tractors in the 1930's and 40's. Even now, this alternate is finding it's way into the cars of hard core enthusiasts who run their vehicles off of old cooking grease. Unfortunetaly, this isn't viable for large scale operations, but, it does serve as a good example in recycling. Also, makes for an interesting hobby!

In order to reduce plant matter, we must first look at biomass which is the key ingredient in any biofuel. Biomass is the part of the plant that can be reduced into a biofuel format. The 4 criterion for judging biomass as a fuel source are rate of growth, environment it grows in, labor needed to make it grow, and ease of processing into fuel.

The ideal biomass for making biofuel would be a fast growing plant that doesn't require as much cultivation as a food crop and which is readily "cooked" down into a liquid fuel.

The main drawback of corn-driven alcohol is that every bushel of corn turned into fuel is a bushel of corn that isn't used to feed someone somewhere, so it's competing directly with food crops.

Switchgrass and rapeseed are two candidates that are gaining a lot of publicity now because they grow on land that's otherwise used for cattle grazing; however, the volume of the plant that needs to be harvested per gallon of fuel means that it's economically less viable than planting corn for alcohol.

Sugar cane is one of the best sources for an alcohol fuel source, but requires an equatorial climate to thrive and many crops are doused with harmful chemicals.

The ideal biomass as a fuel source is hemp - originally grown as a fiber for rope, hemp will grow in places where you can't grow food, it grows quickly, and it grows in high density plots, making it easy to harvest. It also absorbs 5 times more carbon per acre compared to forests.

However, biofuels do have some drawbacks at the moment. The first one is energy density. Petroleum is an incredible energy dense liquid that remains liquid at useful ranges. Alcohol carries much less energy per gallon than gasoline does; in general, a gallon of alcohol will take you 55% as far as a gallon of regular gas.

Biofuels can also cause rubber gaskets and tubing to wear out faster and can coagulate when the temperature gets chilly. This isn't to say that biofuels do not have tremendous potential, in fact, with the modern advances in technology and the advocacy of research, solutions to these minor problems will surely emerge.

So, if you're commited to reducing greenhouse gases, support the use of biofuels and make your next car a flex fuel car (flex fuel hybrid).

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