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Guide to Renewable and Alternative Fuels

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/17/2011

So you think you know everything there is to know about alternative fuel possibilities? We’re willing to bet that there are at least five options you’ve never heard of. Several of these seem more like science fiction than hard science at first, but all of them have solid research behind them.

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    Alternative Fuels Think you know your alternative fuels? Really? Here’s a list of possible fuel sources that are being considered by scientists and one that isn’t. Your job is to pick out the one that is purely science fiction: compressed air, cow urine, chocolate, natural gas, mercuric acid, static electricity, tomato scourge and soy beans. While it may seem strange to be looking for the odd one out in a list like that, the truth is there are thousands of possible fuels out there. By the way, mercuric acid is the science fiction here.

    We’ll begin the journey into alternative fuels with the more prominent and most publicized fuels and then filter down to the ones that are cutting edge. These fuels could someday be used to fuel everything from coffee machines to cars to entire cities without leaving the world mired in a haze of carbon dioxide.

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    Is Nuclear Energy a Renewable Resource?

    Discussing a fuel source that has been around for half a century as an alternative fuel seems counterintuitive, but the question here is not if this is a viable fuel source, but whether or not it’s a renewable one. There are interesting arguments on both sides and the winner may decide the future of this potentially huge energy source.

    A Glance at the 5 Most Promising Alternative Fuels

    The fuels examined in this article are probably the ones that will dominate the alternative automobile fuels market in the next twenty years. This is a primer for biodiesel, hydrogen cells, ethanol, batteries, and compressed natural gas. Obviously solar energy is a great alternative energy source but it isn’t scalable for cars (except to possibly be paired with batteries as stationary chargers).

    Solar Energy Potential

    The most talked about viable alternative fuel is solar energy. Harnessing the power of the sun in tandem with high capacity batteries could replace the need for all other fuels. Learn about the current level of solar energy usage, the expected growth, and how the United States could go totally solar by installing collectors only on currently unused rooftops.

    Wind Power as Renewable Energy

    Coming in at a close second to solar energy is the potential of wind power (which is actually another form of solar energy as it works because of convection currents in the atmosphere generated by the heating of atmospheric gases during the daylight hours). This primer gives the basic reasons that wind power is a good future choice as well as where it’s implementation makes the most sense.

    How Water Power Works

    Water power is one of the oldest types of alternative fuel that was harnessed by man. Think about old waterwheels you’ve seen at saw mills; they harnessed the energy in river current and used it to run giant log splitters. Here we look at the newest types of wave energy harvesters and how they could transform the planet.

    Biodiesel: What is Biodiesel?

    This alternative fuel is already being used in some parts of the world. Labeled B20 to B100, these fuels can be used in several newer model diesel engines without voiding manufacturer warranties. Where does this fuel come from? How is it produced? Who is most likely to benefit from its use? Find all the answers here.

    Alternative Fuels that require Fossil Fuels: Hydrogen

    Hydrogen has also been hyped as a cure-all fuel, but it is far from certain at this point. Even though it's more of an energy carrier than an energy source, the theoretical science behind it is known and the potential, some say, is clear. This article gives the basics as well as information on this fuel and its potential benefits, and disadvantages, to mankind.

    Know Your Alternate Fuels: Methanol

    Although ethanol has already been accepted into the mainstream by the United States government and motorists, its close cousin, methanol, has been sitting on the sidelines. Unfortunately it doesn’t belong there. The potential for this fuel is greater than ethanol and the danger is the same or lower (although opponents would say that methanol is a killer). Decide for yourself- check out the facts here.

    Aluminum Air Battery Technology - Concepts and Research

    Looking for a cheap way to harness electricity with common household items? The air-aluminum battery may be for you. This is the do-it yourselfers dream. Here we discuss not only what these batteries are made of and how they can be used but give step by step instructions on how to create one of your own.

    Li-Air Batteries to Extend Electric Vehicle Range

    The same concept of the aluminum air battery is being used as the basis for the next generation of lithium car batteries. There is currently one problem that must be overcome but if it can be rectified, these will be the savior of the electric car.

    Battery Technologies - Tomato Scourge may be Next Big Advance

    Here’s a weird idea, why not use a natural virus to help us store and release energy? Research teams at the University of Maryland are doing just that. Using the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) they are building batteries that are ten times smaller than the smallest ones currently available.

    What Biochar Is and How it's Made

    How about a fuel that is better than zero carbon? Is that even possible? Yep, and it’s called biochar. This is a carbon negative fuel, one that takes carbon and removes it from the atmosphere. Find out how it’s done and if it is a plausible alternative for large scale use.

    Compressed Air Vehicles

    Another of the options that car manufacturers are looking at is pneumatic. Using a compressed air system to drive the motor of a car can reduce costs and the weight of the vehicle. This solves major emissions issues, but there is still a long way to go before it can be implemented. Check out the advantages and disadvantages here.

    Weirdest of the Weird

    If you thought the use of the tomato virus was as weird as it gets, you’re right, but there are several other potential fuels that come pretty darn close. Check these articles out if you want to see some of the most outside the box thinking when it comes to alternative fuels. The final article, about landfill gas, makes it seem possible that anything could be used as a fuel in the future.

    Run Your Car on Air (with a Little Help from a Soy Bean Enzyme)

    Cow Power - Bovine Urine Blended Alternative Fuels for Vehicles

    How is Renewable Energy from Chocolate Possible?

    Renewable Energy from Landfill Gas