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Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Abhijit Naik
Though we get to hear a lot about alternative fuel vehicles nowadays, not many people out there actually know what these vehicles are all about.
Amidst all the hue and cry about the need to phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels and replace them with their counterparts powered by alternative fuels, the administration seems to have failed to create proper awareness about the need to take this step. With so much of confusion about these vehicles, it calls for the need to spread awareness about this concept right from the scratch.

A Guide to Alternative Fuel Powered Vehicles

In a specific sense, these are the vehicles that are powered by one of the various alternative fuels as opposed to the traditionally used petroleum or crude oil-based fuels like petrol and diesel. In a broad sense though, the term is also used for hybrid vehicles which use alternative fuel alongside petroleum-based fuel as their source of energy. 
The combination of environmental threat posed by excessive use of fossil fuels and ever-soaring price of oil in the international market, has had a crucial role in pitching vehicles powered by alternative fuels as the vehicles of future.
That being said, environmentalists are of the opinion that the future is already here, and its high time we replace those gasoline-powered vehicles (and diesel powered too) with environment friendly, alternative fuel-based counterparts.

Different Types

The list of alternative fuels recognized by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) is quite lengthy. Some of the most prominent names featuring in this list are ethanol, biodiesel, electricity, hydrogen, and compressed natural gas.
Generally, alternative fuel vehicles use one of these fuels as their source of power, mainly due to the various benefits associated with them. That being said, some of the most popular types of vehicles available in the market today are ...
  • Battery electric cars, which use the chemical energy of batteries.
  • Solar vehicles, which are powered by solar energy derived from the Sun.
  • Flexible-fuel vehicles, which use gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel.
  • Biodiesel vehicles, which use biodiesel, i.e., liquid fuel made from vegetable oils, as their energy source.
  • Natural gas vehicles, which use compressed natural gas as their source of power.
  • LPG vehicles, which use liquefied petroleum gas, i.e., mixture of hydrocarbon gases, as fuel.
  • Compressed-air cars, which use compressed air as a source of energy.
  • Liquid nitrogen vehicles, which use liquid nitrogen stored in their tanks as a fuel.
  • Hydrogen cars, which use hydrogen as their primary source of energy.
Other than these types, biogas vehicles (which are powered by compressed biogas) and steam vehicles (powered by steam), also exist, but are not as popular as the vehicles mentioned in the list above.

Pros and Cons

Every technology has advantages and disadvantages, and alternative fuel vehicles are no exception. By far one of the biggest advantages, is the fact that they are environment friendly. While electric vehicles hardly release any particulate substance in air, hydrogen vehicles release water from their exhaust.
The fact that alternative fuels, like corn ethanol and biodiesel, are renewable sources of energy also works in their favor. The proponents of alternative fuels for automobiles put forth these very positive attributes of these cars when advocating their use.
The critics, on the other hand, continue to highlight the disadvantages of these vehicles and vehemently opposing their use. They argue that even though they are environment friendly, these costly vehicles come hard on our pockets.
We are yet to reach that milestone in the field of technology wherein the development of such vehicles would be a relatively inexpensive process.
At the same time, they also highlight the fact that certain types of alternative fuels, which are used in these vehicles, are derived from our food source - a practice which is bound to create some problems in near future.
If all the advantages and disadvantages of this concept are pitted against each other, its advantages seem to have a slight edge over its disadvantages. That the alternative fuel vehicles are expected to have a 50 percent share in light-duty vehicles market by 2035, is a good news that is bound to bring some smiles in the camp of proponents of these vehicles.