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A Student's Guide to Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Fuel Vehicles - They're in your future
But, what is an alternative fuel vehicle?
An alternative fuel vehicle is a vehicle that runs on alternative fuels.
So, what is an alternative fuel?

"Alternative fuels" are vehicle fuels that aren't made from petroleum. There are many kinds of fuels that vehicles can run on that aren't made from petroleum. The United States Department of Energy officially recognizes this list of alternative fuels:

  • Alcohols - ethanol and methanol.
  • Compressed natural gas (CNG) - natural gas under high pressure.
  • Electricity - stored in batteries.
  • Hydrogen - a very special type of gas.
  • Liquefied natural gas (LNG) - natural gas that is very, very cold.
  • Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) (also called propane) - hydrocarbon gases under low pressure.
  • Liquids made from coal - gasoline and diesel fuel that doesn't come from petroleum.
  • Biodiesel - a lot like diesel fuel, but made from plant oil or animal fat.

Almost all of the fuel we use for transportation is made from petroleum. Gasoline and diesel fuel account for all but about one-fourth of one percent of California's transportation fuel. Most California gasoline does contain a small amount of ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol), which increases the oxygen content of the gasoline for cleaner burning.

The fact that California is nearly 100 percent dependent on petroleum for transportation could cause a serious problem, like it did in 1973 and 1979 when the gas supply was limited and the prices went up. 1979 Gas Shortage photo

  • California's dependence on petroleum makes us vulnerable to price and supply disruptions.

  • Air quality concerns have increased the importance of alternative fuels and advanced transportation technologies like electric vehicles.

  • By increasing alternative fuel use, such as natural gas and electricity, consumers have fuel choices that compete with gasoline and diesel, broaden our supply base, and have lower environmental impacts.

Natural gas is the basic energy source for some of the alternatives to petroleum. On one hand, this is good because most of the natural gas we use comes from friendly North American countries, if not the United States itself. And at the present, there seems to be a plentiful supply of natural gas. So, the supply of natural gas is relatively stable and reliable. On the other hand, natural gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel, just like petroleum and coal, and so, it too will some day be used up if people continue to use a lot of it.

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Sites With More Information About Electric and Alternative Fuel Cars

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Page updated: July 22, 2010
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