|2016 Nissan Leaf charging port. Photo courtesy of Nissan.|
A growing number of drivers don’t like how dependent modern society is on gasoline. The fact is that gasoline use comes with many drawbacks. The prices can be volatile, meaning another gas crises could pop up at just about any time. Gasoline also produces quite a bit of air pollution when it's burned, which in turn triggers a number of other problems that affect everyone. There is also the issue that oil is often obtained from areas of the world where there is much political and social strife, which is why some people want to utilize energy sources that are closer to home.
10. Hydrogen. Despite the concerns about flammability that some have brought up, using hydrogen to power a car is actually safer than using gasoline, which is a highly volatile liquid. Hydrogen can power two types of vehicles: fuel cell cars and those that use a combustion engine that runs on hydrogen instead of gasoline. Some hydrogen vehicles are available to consumers right now, but they are restricted to markets like California.
9. Electricity. You likely have heard about electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S. Instead of using combustion to propel the car forward, the powertrain draws energy from a battery or an array of batteries. Electric motors come with many advantages, including full torque delivery from a standstill and quiet operation, which would also cut down on noise pollution in cities.
8. Hybrid powertrains. There is a large variety of cars on the market today that use both gasoline and electricity. Some run off gasoline engines and electric motors, while others use a gasoline generator to power the electric motor (like the Chevrolet Volt). The advantage of hybrid cars is that the allow drivers to go longer distances than most other setups, without having to stop for fuel.
7. Biodiesel. Diesel-powered vehicles are catching on at an increasing rate in the United States. They can be fueled by traditional diesel, or by a variety that is brewed using cooking oil and grease. Creating such a fuel mixture takes some expertise, but with the right training a car owner can become a pro before too long, making it possible to refuel in your own garage.
6. Liquefied natural gas. In areas like the United States, natural gas is actually plentiful. Even though it is a fossil fuel, it doesn't produce as much pollution as burning oil or coal. Liquefying the gas takes cooling it to the point it changes state, which also helps it produce more energy when it is burned. It is currently used to power large industrial trucks.
5. Ethanol. Corn is in high supply inside the United States, which has led to the creation of "corn fuel" or ethanol. Crops are used to create a type of alcohol that isn't fit for human consumption but that can power a vehicle. Some other countries create ethanol using other plant substances, like in Brazil where sugar cane is in high supply.
4. Compressed natural gas. You have likely seen vehicles on the road with a CNG sticker on them, indicating the car runs on this alternative fuel. It literally uses the same fuel as your water heater and maybe even your stove at home. CNG stations pressurize the gas so that it doesn't take up as much space. This alternative fuel is significantly cheaper than gasoline or diesel, but in some areas there are few fueling stations.
3. Liquefied petroleum gas. This fuel is used for camping stoves and even by some caterers as a way to keep large quantities of food warm. By keeping it under extreme pressure, the gas stays a liquid and contains more energy per square millimeter. The fuel isn't common in North America, but it is available in northern Europe as well as some parts of Asia.
2. Liquid nitrogen. Nitrogen is a common substance, making it a good candidate for a future source of fuel. It doesn't pollute nearly as much as fossil fuels. The fuel flows into an engine where it is heated up, and the resulting energy from the expansion turns mechanical parts like turbines to propel the car forward.
1. Compressed air. It might sound bizarre, but a vehicle can be powered by compressed air. High-pressure tubes store the air. The air is released into the engine, which converts the air's expansion into energy that moves the pistons. There are electric motors in the car that work to compress the air.