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Powering Cars with Cleaner-Burning Rewewable Fuels

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/19/2009

Words like biodeisel and ethanol are green buzzwords, but how important is it for them or other types of renewable fuels to replace gasoline? Here's why renewable fuels are important for our future and how they're being used today to power cars.

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    Why Renewable Fuels Needs to Replace Gasoline

    The U.S., as a nation spread over an expansive landscape, has been based around travel on a constant basis. Unlike smaller nations like those found in the European Union the U.S. often has larger spans of space that people must cross within an average day. Because the nation is so large during development there appeared to be little need to consolidate living and working areas to make everything much closer. Because of this people got used to traveling mentionable distances to and from all engagements and settings. More than this, the nation encompasses the land and cultural ratio of several average sized nations, allowing it to be enormous and for travel amongst these far territories a common practice. This in conjunction with the individualism that marks U.S. commercial life has set individual transportation apparatus as the primary way of getting around, as opposed to more communal forms of transportation. With the number of commercial and public vehicles on the roads, as well as those filling our waterways and over head sky, the emissions from their gas-powered combustion engines is a global problem. The search for renewable fuels, possibly even cleaner-burning fuels, is on and many contestants are out there.

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    How Many Gas Cars Are There?

    Gathering estimates on the number of gasoline powered vehicles within a specified region is difficult at best. There are very few public records available to see how many registered private and public automobiles there are within the U.S., not to mention aircraft and sea fairing operations. Certain numbers have the 2003 number for vehicles on American roads at 204,000,000, yet there are some that mark the statistic as high as 230,000,000. The last available numbers for global vehicle registration was in 1996 where there was about 485,954,000 cars, and 185,404,000 trucks and buses. The total was then clocked at 671,358,000. This is direct contrast to the 1900 assessment of only 4,192 transportation machines. (A Look at Statistics) It is much more difficult to get comparative statistics for airplanes and similar type vehicles, especially those used for large scale shipping and distribution.

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    How Biodiesel Has Been Helping

    If combustion engines are still the avenue that car manufacturers and everyday consumers prefer then the alternatives are regulated to cleaner and more available fuels to burn. One of the most used and advertised recently is biodeisel, a fuel which you can alter your car to consume. Biodiesel is a fuel that is developed from common, renewable resources like vegetable oil. What happens is that through a process called transesterification the glycerin in removed from the oils leaving behind the glycerin and another substance called methyl esters. That second by product of the process is the Biodeisel that is then used in your vehicle. The advantages of Biodiesel range from cutting costs to preserving the environment for toxic emissions. Pure Biodeisel, which is bodies that is not part of a blend with a traditional fuel, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 75% over regular diesel. More than this, Biodiesel can be used in conventional diesel engines with little or no conversion needed. What we have with this energy source is the recycling of waste products used in food preparation and creating a safe and relatively clean combustible fuel.

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    Mixing Ethanol and Gas into E10 and E85

    Ethanol is another alternative fuel that has actually been used for quite some time in certain vehicles. Ethanol, like Biodiesel, is produced from renewable resources conventionally used for food. It is a type of pure, or grain, alcohol that is cheaply produced from cash crops like corn. Seldom is Ethanol used purely for fuel, but combined with regular gasoline. Doing this lowers the cost of the fuel over all and lowers the carbon emissions, like Biodiesel. The two most common combinations of this is E10, which is 10% Ethanol and 90% gas, and E85, which is 85% Ethanol and 15% gas. Cars that are designed to handle both Ethanol and gasoline are called "Flexible Fuel Vehicles", and are usually marked on their body.

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    Methanol Use is Limited

    Methanol, which is an extremely similar compound to Ethanol, is also sometimes used as an alternative fuel to gasoline within combustion engines. It is only used on a limited basis because of poisonous qualities, yet it is less flammable than gasoline. It is a wood alcohol and is commonly also used for an antifreeze, solvent, and additive for certain Ethanol mixes.

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    Not Clean Enough

    The fact is that none of these fuels are as clean as is needed for society to return to environmental morality. Electric engines in conjunction with renewable, green power generation sources should be the main focus for all energy technology developers.