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A Glance at the 5 Most Promising Alternative Fuels

written by: Ashwin Satyanarayana•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/18/2010

Alternative fuels are here to stay -- at least the efforts are on. There are lots of options for us to choose from but each of these options have their disadvantages and advantages. So what alternative fuels look promising?

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    The search for non-conventional sources of fuel is no longer debatable. The sky rocketing fuel prices, its impact on the ecology and its fast depletion has made many brains to think about alternative sources of fuels that would be able to meet the demands of the future. Experts are of the opinion that fuel supplies underneath the earth are diminishing at a larger rate than before. With an apprehensiveness of a fuel crunch threatening the future, leading nations are stepping up and trying to find alternative means to fuel our mechanical phenomena. Here are some of the major sources of alternative fuels that can help us in beating the fuel crunch:

    Bio Diesel:

    Bio diesel refers to a non-petroleum based fuel made out of plant oils or animal fat that can be easily used in a conventional un-modified diesel engine. It is a renewable source of energy since it is made of natural raw materials. One of the plus points of this bio-diesel is that it can be used as a direct substitute for fuel, or as a standalone fuel or it can be also used as an additive.

    It’s a clear burning fuel which significantly reduces the type of pollutants that contribute to the creation of smog and global warming resulting in a cleaner environment, an improvement in air quality, and a reduction of cancer-causing agents. Also the consequential wastage of the processing of plant oils and animal fats is lesser when compared with other forms of fuels.

    But, growing crops requires time and significant investment, and the fuel must be made and shipped to a local station. All these reasons make bio-diesel more expensive than petroleum.


    Another alternative fuel which has the potential to revolutionize the transportation industry and possibly our entire energy system is Hydrogen. It is abundantly available being the simplest element of the universe. Hydrogen can be produced from fossil fuels, biomass and even by electrolyzing water.

    Producing hydrogen and using it in place of fuel for vehicles holds the promise of virtually a pollution-free transportation system across the world


    Ethanol fuel is the same type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages. It is made from common crops like sugar cane and maize and is a very good alternative bio-fuel to gasoline. It is widely used in Brazil as a fuel for cars.

    Ethanol can be used as a stand alone fuel or can be added to gasoline. When added to gasoline in small amounts it reduces the emission of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which pollutes the environment.

    Ethanol appears to be the answer for the energy crisis situation. But according to experts in agriculture, making ethanol a main player in the fuel industry has serious drawbacks that many in the "save the environment" business are choosing to ignore.

    The problem with using ethanol as fuel in a large-scale way comes down to two primary, related issues:

    • There's not nearly as much energy in ethanol as there is in gasoline.
    • Creating significant amounts of energy from food crops would mean depleting the amount of land accessible for growing actual food for people to eat.

    Chemically stored electricity:

    Chemically stored electricity refers to stored electricity in the form of batteries and fuel cells. In a traditional battery, the chemicals tend to remain inside. However the new type of battery, known as a flow battery, works in a different and more flexible manner. In this type of battery, the chemicals charged with electricity can be sapped into storage tanks which actually allow one battery to hold an almost unlimited quantity of energy. The flow of the battery is reversed to access the electricity and thus the electricity is regenerated from the battery.


    CNG or Compressed Natural Gas can be obtained from domestic reserves unlike other sources of fuels which are largely concentrated in the Middle Eastern nations. CNG is considered to be a more of an environmentally "clean" alternative to other fuels. In case of a fuel spill, it is safer than other fuels because natural gas is lighter than air and disperses quickly It is cheaper when compared to other sources of fuel and burns clearer thus polluting the environment lesser. But unlike other sources of fuel, making your car adopt CNG would require certain alterations to be done. Storing CNG would require a greater amount of space than conventional gasoline vehicles and hence end up taking additional space in the trunk. Also since its calorific value is far lesser than other fuels it needs comparatively large volumes of gas to get desired energy.

    By far, these are the top 5 candidates under the non-conventional fuels category that can be used as alternatives to gasoline. No doubt some of them are expensive, but unless an economically viable substitute is obtained, the world would be fast heading to a fuel depletion crisis which would be hard to over come!