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ALTERNATIVE FUELS: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE

by | Mar 6, 2022 | Trending

What Are Alternative Fuels?

Alternative fuels can be defined as “A fuel that is derived partly or wholly from a source other than petroleum and that is less damaging to the environment than traditional fuels.”

The most common fuel is fossil fuels, obtained from coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Fossil fuels are non-renewable because they take millions of years to form.

Fossil fuels are extremely harmful to the environment and are the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main drivers of climate change. Additionally, the combustion of fossil fuels also generates 85% of particulate pollution, which is a significant hazard to human health.

Because of these environmental, health, and availability hazards, there has been an ever-growing interest in alternative fuel sources.

ALTERNATIVE FUELS

There are different types of alternative fuels based on the sources that they are derived from.

Types of Alternative Fuels

As alternative fuels are made from various renewable sources, they can be classified into different types such as:

  1. Ethanol fuel:  Ethanol fuel is made from plant sources with high starch and sugar content, such as corn, barley, sorghum, sugarcane, and sugar beets. It can also be made from grasses, trees, and forestry remain, such as corn cobs, rice straw, sawdust, and wood chips.
  2. Natural Gas: Natural gas is a fossil fuel mainly composed of methane. Natural gas deposits are found on land, offshore, and deep under the ocean floor.
  3. Biodiesel: Biodiesels are produced using fatty acids such as raw vegetable oils, used cooking oils, yellow grease, and animal fats. Algae is also a potential source of biodiesel. Currently, biodiesel is being used as an additive to petroleum diesel.
  4. Propane: Propane is also known as Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). It is produced as a by-product of natural gas processing and crude oil refining. It is the world’s third most common transport fuel.
  5. Hydrogen: Hydrogen is most widely used in fuel cell electric vehicles. Hydrogen can be produced either through steam reforming or by the electrolysis of water.
  6. Methanol: Methanol is also known as wood alcohol. Methanol was widely used in the 1990s, and research to make it a source of alternative fuel is currently ongoing. Methanol is produced by steam reforming natural gas to create a synthesis gas which is then fed into a reactor that produces methanol and water vapour.

Scope of Availability of Fossil Fuel in Future

Fossil fuels have been powering most of the world’s electricity for the past 170 years. It is an established fact that we do not have an endless supply of fossil fuels.

According to a 2019 Stanford publication, the world’s oil reserves will run out by 2052, natural gas by 2060, and coal by 2090.

More than three-quarters of the world’s electricity is still being produced by fossil fuels, and it will be a slow but steady shifting from fossil fuels to alternative fuels.

For example, a group of 20 countries, including Canada, the US, Italy, and the UK, have committed to ending new investment in fossil fuel projects by 2023.

Availability and Properties of Alternative Fuels

According to the World Economic Forum, the leading countries in biofuel production are the US, Brazil, Germany, China, Argentina, and France.

It is estimated that the global alternative fuel market will grow to $1681.80 billion by 2028.

Specific properties must be considered when establishing a source of alternative fuel. Some of these properties include:

  1. Combustion and Performance
  2. Emission
  3. Storage and Handling
  4. Volatility
  5. Sulfur Content

Merits and Demerits of Various Alternative Fuels

Like every other material or substance, alternative fuels also have merits and demerits.

ALTERNATIVE FUELMERITSDEMERITS
Ethanol
  1. Cost-effective as compared to other biofuels.
  2. Burns cleanly, resulting in minimal emission of GHGs.
  3. Easily accessible.

 

  1. It has been reported to cause engine burns and corrosion.
  2. As it is derived from crops, it requires scarcely-available land.
  3. It absorbs water and causes the separation of water and alcohol, leading to engine performance issues.
Natural Gas
  1. Environment-friendly as it emits fewer pollutants.
  2. More reliable than electric power.
  3. It is more economical and easier to store and transport.
  1. It is a non-renewable source of energy.
  2. It is highly combustible.
Biodiesel
  1. Reduces pollution by lowering the emission of CO2.
  2. It is safer to handle as it is less toxic than petroleum.
  3. Biodiesel can be produced locally; this can boost the local/national economy and reduce the dependence on foreign. Oil.
  1. More expensive than petroleum.
  2. Biodiesel fuel requires improved infrastructure for smooth distribution.
  3. Biodiesel derived from vegetable oil takes up precious land that can be used to grow food.
Propane
  1. It is an efficient-burning fuel.
  2. It is non-toxic and soluble in water.
  3. As it is a gas, it cannot harm the environment in the form of an oil spill or residue.
  1. It is a by-product of petroleum refining; hence, its supply depends on the availability of petroleum.
  2. Propane is stored at high pressure – it is dangerous in case of sudden rupture or decompression of the container.
Hydrogen1.     Hydrogen can be produced domestically.

2.     Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (EVs) do not emit harmful particles.

 

  1. Storing hydrogen requires high pressures, low temperatures, or chemical processes to be stored compactly. This is a challenge for light-duty vehicles.
  2. Hydrogen fuel is currently not cheap, but the more mainstream it becomes, the cost will gradually reduce.
Methanol
  1. Much easier to store than hydrogen.
  1. Highly toxic and flammable.
  2. Methanol is made from non-renewable fossil fuels.
  3. Low performance as compared to other alternative fuels.
  Biomass-based fuels
  1. Widely available and renewable as it is made from waste.
  2. It is less expensive than fossil fuels.
  3. It results in less garbage in landfills.
  1. Biomass fuels are not as efficient as fossil fuels.
  2. Wood is one of the most common biomass sources; this can lead to deforestation.
  3. It is carbon-neutral, but it releases methane gas harmful to the environment.

 

Thus, we can conclude that the hour’s need is to slow down our dependence on fossil fuels. So far, alternative fuels have proven to be a promising, environmentally-friendly replacement for fossil fuels.

Because there are multiple factors to consider when choosing an ideal alternative fuel, it may take a while to become mainstream and commercialized. But the data is encouraging, and if each of us does our part and chooses the better option for our planet, we can slowly but surely save our beloved Earth.

 

Author

  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.

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