Exploring alternative fuels for a greener automotive future
28 August 2023
By Joy Pearson
For more than a century, the internal combustion engine, fueled by petrol or diesel, has dominated the automotive landscape. However, this reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels is showing it's limitations, from environmental concerns to fluctuating fuel prices. The government's pledge to ban new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 has accelerated the search for cleaner and more sustainable fuel options. This has led to the emergence of various alternative fuels that share a common goal: reducing dependence on non-renewable resources.
Biofuels, such as bioethanol and biodiesel, are derived from renewable sources like corn and vegetable oils. These alternatives replace traditional fossil fuels and are particularly effective when produced from sustainable sources. Second-generation biofuels, created from sources not meant for food consumption, are gaining traction as a medium-term solution for sustainable transportation.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have taken the spotlight for their potential to revolutionize transportation. Powered by electric motors and batteries, EVs like the popular Nissan Leaf are making waves. While challenges like limited battery efficiency and charging infrastructure persist, the EV market is rapidly advancing and pushing the boundaries of eco-friendly mobility.
Steam-powered cars might sound like a page from history, but modern concepts are breathing new life into this technology. Operating on external combustion engines, where fuel is combusted away from the engine, steam cars offer emissions-reducing advantages. High-power steam engines are being explored for contemporary applications, contributing to a more sustainable automotive future.
Many vehicles, including electric and internal combustion engine cars, are adopting brake energy regeneration systems. These systems convert energy usually lost during braking into electricity, making the overall fuel consumption more efficient. Harnessing the inherent energy of a moving car promises to contribute to greener mobility.
Thermoelectric technology aims to reduce the wastage of heat generated by internal combustion engines. By converting heat into electricity, these systems have the potential to enhance fuel efficiency. Imagine using waste exhaust pipe heat to generate electricity, effectively reducing fuel consumption by up to 5%.
Hydrogen emerges as a clean fuel, capable of powering combustion engines or fuel cells. Hydrogen-powered vehicles emit only water, addressing tailpipe emission concerns. However, challenges such as a hydrogen production and refueling infrastructure need to be addresses to make it a practical solution on a large scale.
Compressed air and nitrogen present intriguing alternatives. Compressed air, when used to replace petrol in combustion engines, can drive pistons and produce power with zero tailpipe emissions. Liquid nitrogen, heated to produce high-pressure gas, can also power engines. Both options are innovative, although efficiency and energy density remain points of consideration.
LPG (Liquified petroleum gas) is a versatile 'liquid gas' that can power vehicles and various applications. Recognized as a low-carbon fuel, LPG has gained attention for its potential to reduce carbon footprints. Although its adoption in vehicles remains relatively low, it presents another avenue for a greener commute.
As the automotive industry steers towards a sustainable future, alternative fuels are gaining prominence. Each option brings its own benefits and challenges, reshaping the way we think about transportation. The road to greener mobility is paved with innovation, and these alternative fuels are leading the charge towards a more sustainable automotive landscape.