Alternative, as we know, can mean a lot of things. We’ve discovered new ways to get around, whether it be with public transit or community-based transit, and we now know that each one has some pretty stellar benefits that come along with their use. But alternative transportation doesn’t stop with the type of vehicle you choose to go with.
In part four the guide, let’s take a look at fuels. From the fuels we currently use to the fuels we may be filling up with 50 years down the line, getting savvy with the metaphorical lifeblood of your car is essential if you want to travel sustainably!
The Norm: Petroleum
Our current “top dog” of fuels is petroleum. On the grand scale of things, petroleum provides nearly 40 percent of our energy supply, being about as big as coal, nuclear, and renewables all combined. With transportation, the vast majority of cars on the road require gasoline, a derivative of petroleum. Unfortunately, petroleum is also a major contributor to green house gas emissions, pollution, and a plethora of other problems like energy insecurity.
Simply put, it is because of the inherently poor profile of petroleum that we are seeking alternative transportation.
The Emerging: Natural Gas
Already, though, we are seeing emerging alternative fuels that make become the new norm. Let’s focus on one major alternative: natural gas.
The difference between CNG and LNG is the form the natural gas is in. CNG stands or compressed natural gas (a gas form that requires large space, but is more economical) and LNG stands for liquified natural gas (a liquid form that requires expensive cooling technology, but much more efficient with space).
If you’re like me, the first time you saw a vehicle using natural gas was on a bus, and it sported a big, yellow CNG sticker. The LA Metro Fleet, for example, has already reequipped their buses with natural gas, saving tons in carbon emissions and pollution. Despite their somewhat elusive nature – the fuel is inside the car, after – natural gas is already widely in use, and growing steadily every year. In fact, natural gas is used by nearly 13 million vehicles today, according to the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles. Environmentally, it is cleaner burning, but has a serious downside when it comes to extraction: fracking has an extremely destructive and dangerous effect on the environment.
The Future: Algae Biofuel
The future of fuel is just as exciting as what’s happening now. Algae biofuel is emerging as a plausible alternative that could take over the field of fuels. Though the science of algae biofuel is in its infancy, it is very possible that algae becomes a real alternative due to its dynamic nature as a fuel. Not only could algae biofuel be efficient for vehicles – with only 11 percent less energy output than petroleum – but it could also serve as a valuable tool for carbon sequestration, agriculture, and water conservation.
The Option: No Fuel, Please
Of course, a whole new breed of car is available too: electric. Electric vehicles are by far the most efficient, with miles per charge rather than miles per gallon to worry about. With a nearly 200 year old history (1834 is a claimed birthday for electric), electric cars are clean, quiet, and do well for energy security and environmental stewardship. There is an issue of power, though, as many see electric cars being limited by one serious problem: batteries. Not only do these limit the journey of the car, but they also require petroleum and are toxic. This has made many wonder if electric is really just an “else-where” emission vehicle rather than a “zero”emission one.