Alternative fuels are derrived from resources other than petroleum. Some are produced domestically, reducing our dependence on imported oil, and some are derived from renewable sources. Often, they produce less pollution than gasoline or diesel.
To promote alternative fuels, the Federal government offers tax incentives to consumers purchasing qualifying alternative fuel vehicles.
Ethanol is produced domestically from corn and other crops and produces less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels.
Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel made by fermenting and distilling starch crops, such as corn. It can also be made from “cellulosic biomass” such as trees and grasses. The use of ethanol can reduce our dependence upon foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
E10 (also called “gasohol”) is a blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline sold in many parts of the country. All auto manufacturers approve the use of blends of 10% ethanol or less in their gasoline vehicles.
E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, can be used in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), which are specially designed to run on gasoline, E85, or any mixture of the two. FFVs are offered by several vehicle manufacturers. To determine if your vehicle can use E85, consult your owner’s manual or check the inside of your car’s fuel filler door for an identification sticker.
Cost. Cost varies regionally. It is cheaper than gasoline in some areas, such as the Midwest, and more expensive in others.
Availability. Several hundred filling stations in the U.S. sell E85, and that number is increasing rapidly. Visit the Alternative Fuel Station Locator for locations of service stations selling E85.
Performance. No noticeable difference in vehicle performance when E85 is used.
MPG. FFVs operating on E85 usually experience a 20-30% drop in miles per gallon due to ethanol’s lower energy content.
Biodiesel is derived from vegetable oils and animal fats. It usually produces less air pollutants than petroleum-based diesel.
Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases. It is safe, biodegradable, and produces less air pollutants than petroleum-based diesel.
Biodiesel can be used in its pure form (B100) or blended with petroleum diesel. Common blends include B2 (2% biodiesel), B5, and B20. B2 and B5 can be used safely in most diesel engines. However, most vehicle manufacturers do not recommend using blends greater than 5%—using higher blends will void some engine warranties. Check with your owner’s manual or vehicle manufacturer to determine the right blend for your vehicle.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that generates less air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
Natural gas, a fossil fuel comprised mostly of ethane, is one of the cleanest burning alternative fuels. It can be used in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fuel cars and trucks.
Dedicated natural gas vehicles are designed to run on natural gas only, while dual-fuel or bi-fuel vehicles can also run on gasoline or diesel. Dual-fuel vehicles allow users to take advantage of the wide-spread availability of gasoline or diesel but use a cleaner, more economical alternative when natural gas is available. Since natural gas is stored in high-pressure fuel tanks, dual-fuel vehicles require two separate fueling systems, which take up passenger/cargo space.
Natural gas vehicles are not produced commercially in large numbers—the Honda GX CNG is the only new vehicle available in the U.S. However, conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles can be retrofitted for CNG.
Propane, also called liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), is a domestically abundant fossil fuel that generates less harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
Propane or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a clean-burning fossil fuel that can be used to power internal combustion engines. LPG-fueled vehicles produce fewer toxic and smog-forming air pollutants. LPG is usually less expensive than gasoline, and most LPG used in U.S. comes from domestic sources.
No LPG-fueled light-duty passenger cars or trucks have been produced commercially in the U.S. since the 2004 model year, but gasoline and diesel vehicles can be retrofitted to run on LPG in addition to conventional fuel. The LPG is stored in high-pressure fuel tanks, so separate fuel systems are needed in vehicles powered by both LPG and a conventional fuel such as gasoline.
Hydrogen can be produced domestically from fossil fuels (such as coal), nuclear power, or renewable resources, such as hydropower. Fuel cell vehicles powered by pure hydrogen emit no harmful air pollutants.
Hydrogen (H2) is being aggressively explored as a fuel for passenger vehicles. It can be used in fuel cells to power electric motors or burned in internal combustion engines (ICEs).
It is an environmentally friendly fuel that has the potential to dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but several significant challenges must be overcome before it can be widely used.
Produced Domestically. Hydrogen can be produced domestically from several sources, reducing our dependence on petroleum imports.
Environmentally Friendly. Hydrogen produces no air pollutants or greenhouse gases when used in fuel cells; it produces only NOx when burned in ICEs.
Fuel Cost & Availability. Hydrogen is currently expensive to produce and is only available at a handful of locations, mostly in California.
Vehicle Cost & Availability. Fuel cell vehicles are currently far too expensive for most consumers to afford, and they are only available to a few demonstration fleets.
Onboard Fuel Storage. Hydrogen contains much less energy than gasoline or diesel on a per-volume basis, so it is difficult to store enough hydrogen onboard a vehicle to travel more than 200 miles.
Other challenges include fuel cell performance, customer acceptance, and hydrogen transport and bulk storage.